What Does a Penetration Tester Do?
Penetration testers are cybersecurity professionals who examine computer systems, networks, and applications for vulnerabilities and weaknesses that attackers might exploit. During penetration testing, various techniques are used to mimic real-world attacks and exploit vulnerabilities, such as social engineering, network scanning, and vulnerability scanning. A report is then provided to the organization’s IT and security teams with recommendations for addressing the vulnerabilities and improving security measures.
Penetration testers must be proficient in operating systems, networks, and programming languages. These security experts should also be familiar with the latest security threats and trends and able to think creatively and strategically to identify vulnerabilities and develop effective solutions. Penetration testers must also possess strong communication skills to communicate their findings and recommendations effectively to technical and non-technical stakeholders.
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National Average Salary
Penetration tester salaries vary by experience, industry, organization size, and geography. To explore salary ranges by local market, please visit our sister site zengig.com.
The average U.S. salary for a Penetration Tester is:
Penetration Tester Job Descriptions
When it comes to recruiting a penetration tester, having the right job description can make a big difference. Here are some real world job descriptions you can use as templates for your next opening.
[Your Company Name] needs a qualified penetration tester to join our IT team! As our penetration tester, you will be responsible for conducting regular audits and inspections in order to make sure our network and computer systems are secure. You will work regular office hours and will be required to configure information systems as well as design and create new systems in order to fix known vulnerabilities. The ideal candidate will have previous experience in the IT field, as well as ideally previous experience in a position as a penetration tester. You may also be required to assist other IT employees with tasks and present information to the correct supervisors when requested. If this position sounds of interest to you, please don’t hesitate to apply! We would love to have you on your team.
Typical duties and responsibilities
- Conduct formal testing on computer systems
- Assess the security of computer software and hardware
- Conduct security audits and legal cyberattack simulations by designing and utilizing hacking tools to access designated pieces of data during a predetermined time frame
- Generate tools for breaking into security systems
- Detect and correct system weaknesses
- Provide recommendations based on an assessment of hardware and software systems
- Implement solutions to enhance data security
- Provide IT support
Education and experience
This position requires a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, computer science, information technology, or a related field.
Required skills and qualifications
- Robust creativity and problem-solving skills
- Ability to think analytically
- Knowledge of technical systems and terminology
- Proficiency in scripting languages
- Ability to identify and exploit vulnerabilities
- Advanced written and verbal communication skills
- Deep knowledge of at least one programming language (Python, Go, Java, PowerShell, etc.)
- Advanced knowledge of Linux and/or Windows OS and experience in supporting and installing multiple software products
- Strong written/verbal communication and interpersonal skills
We are looking for talented penetration testers who like to break software and embedded devices.
- Web application penetration testing
- Mobile application penetration testing
- Source code vulnerability analysis
- Serious problem-solving skills
- US Citizenship
Good to have skills
- Ability to identify and exploit web vulnerabilities (XSS, CSRF, SQLi, SSRF, arbitrary file upload, etc.)
- Ability to identify and exploit mobile vulnerabilities (API issues, insecure storage, memory corruption, deep links, etc.)
- Network penetration testing experience
- Protocol analysis
- CTF experience
- A degree in CS or related field
- Secure coding practices
- Reading and writing assembly (x86 and ARM)
- Binary analysis tools and debuggers (IDA Pro, Ghidra, WinDbg, etc.)
- Exploit Development
- Embedded systems experience
- Physical security or red team experience
- Work with an awesome small team
- Salary and possible bonuses
- Conference attendance
- Flexible work, you’ll be involved in determining future projects
- Paying for training courses
- Healthcare and vacation benefits
- Retirement options
The Penetration Tester, will provide broad and in depth knowledge to conduct offensive cyber operations across the organization globally. In this role, you will conduct offensive security operations to emulate adversary tactics and procedures to test preventative, detective and response controls across the global technology landscape. You will use your expertise to help influence technology decisions and work as part of a team to create consistent approaches to the offensive security processes and techniques.
- Conduct highly complex offensive security operations testing consistent with known adversary tactics techniques and procedures and contribute to the development of objectives and approaches taken to remediate risk
- Document security issues and impacts identified through offensive operations in a clear and concise manner to facilitate reporting to impacted stakeholders
- Provide guidance and recommendations to stakeholders responsible for security remediation actions to close identified gaps and remediation validation testing
- Consult with defensive operations teams on adversary tactics to guide and mature cyber defensive countermeasures
- Independently handle complex issues with minimal supervision, while escalating only the most complex issues to appropriate staff
- Other duties as assigned
- Bachelor’s degree in a related field or equivalent experience
- Two years of experience in security principles such as attack frameworks, threat landscapes, and attacker tactics, techniques and procedures
- Minimum of four years of related work experience
- Experience in offensive security, with the ability to think like an adversary
- Strong ability to identify and exploit security gaps/vulnerabilities on endpoint devices, applications, and networks
- Strong experience in operating system and application security hardening and best practices
- Strong investigative mindset with an attention to detail
- Experience with multiple operating systems to include Windows, Mac OS, Unix/Linux, and mobile platforms
- Experience conducting assessments for solutions consisting of a variety of technology stacks and architectural implementations and hosting providers
- Exposure and understanding of enterprise solutions from a functional and security perspective
- Assist in scoping and executing prospective engagements
- Understand and safely use various open source penetration testing tools and when appropriate, emulating hacker tactics, techniques, procedures
- Develop comprehensive and accurate reports and presentations for various consumers of penetration testing results
- Estimated work load is 1-3 assessments per month, consisting of a 1-2-week assessments including report writing
- While in-between assessments, you will be expected to improve any existing processes, develop tools, and potentially find new clients and perspective hires
- Develop scripts, tools, or methodologies to enhance MSI’s penetration testing processes
- Bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) in a technical field
- Minimum of one (GPEN, CEH, and/or GWAPT) certification required
- Must have or be willing to get Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) certification within 6 months
- 2-5 years experience in at least three of the following:
- Network penetration testing and manipulation of network infrastructure
- Web Application Penetration Testing
- Email, phone, or physical social-engineering assessments
- Shell scripting or automation of simple tasks using Perl, Python, or Ruby
- Developing, extending, or modifying exploits, shellcode or exploit tools
- Developing applications in C#, ASP, .NET, Objective C, Go, or Java (J2EE)
- Reverse engineering malware, data obfuscators, or ciphers
- Source code review for control flow and security flaws
- Strong knowledge of tools used for wireless, web application, and network security testing
- Thorough understanding of network protocols, data on the wire, and covert channels
- Solid understanding of Unix/Linux/Mac/Windows operating systems, including bash and PowerShell
- OSCE, or OSWE or SANS certification
- Ability to travel up to 25%
- Ability to successfully interface with clients (internal and external)
- Ability to document and explain technical details in a concise, understandable manner
- Ability to manage and balance own time among multiple tasks, and lead junior staff when required
- Must have the ability to gain United States Security Clearance
Candidate Certifications to Look For
- EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH). As an EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker candidates will be certified by the largest cybersecurity certification program available. This certification is widely recognized and allows candidates to understand the proper ethical hacking methodology and techniques, as well as ensures that candidates understand the proper complex security concepts.
- IACRB Certified Penetration Tester (CPT). The IACRB Certified Penetration Tester certificate is offered by the Information Assurance Certification Review Board, which is a widely recognized and legitimate certification board. This certificate allows a penetration tester to prove their expertise and experience in penetration testing, system security, and general security procedures. Because of this, this certification can be immensely beneficial as a standard for any penetration tester looking to get the proper certificates and training.
How to Hire a Penetration Tester
Consider the following when hiring a penetration tester:
- Recruiting: Do you have the internal resources and tools to source and recruit for this role successfully?
- Complexity: Do you need a senior professional, or will mid, or even junior-level skills suffice?
- Duration: Is this a one-time project, or an indefinite need?
- Management: Can you effectively direct the work effort?
- Urgency: Are there any deadlines associated with this need?
- Headcount: Do you have the budget and approval for an internal employee, or should you consider alternate options?
Answering these questions will help determine the best course of action for your current hiring need. Fortunately, various great options exist for every scenario, no matter how unique. We recommend the following options when hiring a penetration tester:
1. Use 4 Corner Resources (or another professional recruiting firm)
The heavy lifting is done for you when working with a top-tier staffing company like 4 Corner Resources. We source, screen, recruit, and deliver only the most qualified candidate(s), saving you significant time and effort throughout the hiring process while you remain focused on your core business. Understanding your needs and ensuring the right candidate for the position is the key to our success.
This is the best route to take when:
- You need to fill the position quickly
- You want access to a vast talent pool of high-quality, prescreened candidates
- Your position is suited for temporary hiring services, contract staffing, or contract-to-hire recruiting, and you intend to direct the work activity.
- You are hiring an employee as a direct placement but aren’t able to recruit effectively or efficiently with your internal staff.
- You aren’t familiar with current salary rates, market trends, and available skill sets
2. Advertise your opening on a top job board
Your best option may be to advertise your opening on a proven job board. There are many widely used job sites out there that draw visits from qualified candidates. If you have someone internally who can dedicate the time and energy to sort through applications and screen individuals effectively, this can be a great choice.
We recommend using a job board when:
- Your internal recruiting team has the knowledge and experience to assess candidate qualifications
- You are hiring a direct employee and have time to manage the entire recruiting effort
- You have a process for receiving, screening, and tracking all resumes and applications
- You are prepared to respond to all applicants
We recommend using CareerBuilder when hiring a penetration tester:
CareerBuilder has been a trusted source for hiring since 1995. Reach 80+ million unique, diverse U.S. job seekers annually by posting your jobs through their talent acquisition channels. Through CareerBuilder, you can engage candidates and drive them into your sourcing pipeline. We recommend using CareerBuilder for hiring when you have the internal resources and processes to review, screen, and reply to all applicants.
3. Leverage your internal resources
You can utilize your own website, social media, and employees to assist in your search for top candidates.
A company website posting should be the first step in notifying prospective candidates that you are hiring. Social media can also be a powerful tool for spreading the word about your new opening. As far as exposure is concerned, this option can be as good as some job boards when you have a large enough following across various platforms, like LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter.
Current employees are every organization’s greatest asset. Encourage your internal team to promote job openings to their network by offering cash and other incentives.
We recommend these options when:
- Your brand has great name recognition
- You can consistently monitor and respond to candidate activity through your website and social media accounts
- You have a process in place to quickly and broadly communicate job openings and requirements
- You have an effective employee referral program in place
If you aren’t sure which path is best, schedule a discovery call today with our seasoned recruiting professionals. The 4 Corner team is on standby to help you find the best option for your unique hiring need.
Sample Interview Questions
- Which vulnerabilities should be prioritized, and what effective solutions should be developed in collaboration with IT and security teams?
- What are your experiences with various operating systems and coding languages, and how do you apply these skills to penetration testing?
- In order to ensure thorough penetration testing, how can you avoid the risk of disrupting systems during testing?
- What type of penetration testing techniques have you used, such as social engineering, network scanning, and vulnerability scanning?
- If you were conducting a penetration test and found a critical vulnerability, what did you do to report and resolve it?
- How do you adjust your communication style when communicating your findings and recommendations to technical versus non-technical stakeholders?
- How do you stay on top of security threats and trends and integrate this knowledge into your penetration testing?
- What steps do you take to ensure your penetration testing is thorough and comprehensive, and how do you test for zero-day vulnerabilities?
- What was the most challenging penetration testing project you encountered, and how did you overcome it?
- Do you have experience conducting penetration tests on cloud-based systems and applications?