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    What Is Penetration Testing? Skills and Uses

    By The Fullstack Academy Team

    Two cybersecurity professionals looking at a penetration testing project on a laptop.

    What Is Penetration Testing? Skills and Uses

    The prevalence and economic consequences of cyberattacks continue to be significant concerns in today’s digital world. In 2022, the FBI received more than 800,000 complaints of cyberattacks and cyber-enabled fraud, and the bureau estimated that the potential costs associated with those complaints could exceed $10 billion, according to the FBI’s 2022 Internet Crime Report.

    Given the pervasive and costly nature of cyberattacks, organizations of all sizes need to implement strong cybersecurity strategies. One of the most effective elements of a cybersecurity strategy can be penetration testing. While the concept of penetration testing may sound familiar, many may not have a good understanding of what it entails. What is penetration testing in cybersecurity, and how does it help to defend against cyberattacks?

    Individuals considering enrolling in an online cybersecurity analytics bootcamp can benefit from learning about penetration testing as well as the knowledge and skills that enable professionals in the field to help organizations remain stable and profitable.

    What Is Penetration Testing?

    Organizations need to identify vulnerabilities before a cyberattack occurs, and penetration testing can do just that. The scope of penetration testing encompasses a range of efforts on the part of professionals in cybersecurity; however, the goal is to pinpoint vulnerabilities that cybercriminals can exploit.

    By becoming a penetration tester, an individual develops strong ethical hacking skills. Professionals in penetration testing attempt to carry out mock attacks on an organization’s digital assets—for example, its applications, networks, or hardware—in an effort to detect security weaknesses.

    Conducting penetration testing also helps organizations comply with legal and regulatory requirements. For example:

    • Organizations that comply with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations must conduct risk assessments to prevent and detect security weaknesses. Conducting penetration tests can help organizations comply with that requirement.

    • Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires organizations to test and evaluate their controls for security over personal data. Performing penetration testing can enable organizations to fulfill that requirement.

    • The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) for security related to payment cards requires organizations to conduct penetration testing at least annually.

    Penetration Testing Tools

    When defining what penetration testing is, it can be helpful to review some of the testing tools that professionals use. Here are examples:

    • Specialized operating systems that are designed to enable penetration testing

    • Port scanners that can detect open “ports” or avenues for cyberattackers to gain entry to networks

    • Vulnerability scanners that are designed to identify potential openings in systems, applications, and websites

    • Network protocol analyzers that examine network traffic and identify suspicious activity

    • Password cracking tools that can identify weak passwords that users need to strengthen

    Ready to jumpstart a career in cybersecurity?

    Learn the skills you need to fight cybercrime with Fullstack Academy's part-time and full-time bootcamp offerings

    How Penetration Testing Is Used

    Anyone interested in working in cybersecurity can benefit from learning about different types of penetration testing and the steps in the testing process, both of which are outlined below.

    Types of Penetration Tests

    Various types of penetration testing enable cybersecurity professionals to detect vulnerabilities. These tests can include the following:

    • Application penetration tests identify vulnerabilities in applications and in assets related to those applications—such as systems, websites, and interfaces. These tests can identify threats, such as the introduction of malicious code or weaknesses in user authentication.

    • Hardware tests enable organizations to pinpoint weaknesses in the software that operates a piece of hardware or in physical access to the location of the hardware. These tests can identify software flaws that could allow hackers to access digital assets or weaknesses in physical access to a computing center.

    • Internal and external network tests detect weaknesses in assets such as routers, servers, and employees’ computers. Network tests can pinpoint avenues for attackers to exploit digital assets from the outside and ways that individuals inside an organization could abuse access to digital assets.

    • Personnel tests help organizations uncover weaknesses in employees’ approaches to cybersecurity. These tests can highlight ways employees could be manipulated into providing access to information or actions employees are taking that reduce physical security over digital assets.

    Steps in the Penetration Testing Process

    No description of penetration testing would be complete without a discussion of the steps in the testing process. The overall steps include the following:

    • Planning to define the testing scope, determine the types of tests to employ, and gain an understanding of the digital assets that will be the subject of the tests and potential vulnerabilities surrounding those assets.

    • Scanning to examine how a digital asset responds to access attempts. This can include observing software while it is running to learn how it manages intrusion attempts.

    • Accessing, which involves attempting to simulate attacks on digital assets to identify vulnerabilities. Examples of simulated attacks are attempts to inject malicious code, access data, and disrupt traffic on a website.

    • Maintaining access, which is testing to determine how long unauthorized access can go undetected. This is important because the longer unauthorized access remains undetected, the more damage hackers can do.

    • Analyzing results helps cybersecurity professionals determine how to address vulnerabilities and strengthen security to prevent future cyberattacks.

    The Skills of Penetration Testing

    Individuals interested in getting a cybersecurity job and working in penetration testing can benefit from developing knowledge and skills in technical areas such as potential vulnerabilities, computer networks, and programming languages. These are essential to identify malicious code and to develop code to simulate an attack. Keeping technical knowledge and skills current is critical in defending digital assets because technology and cybercrime techniques evolve.

    Successful penetration testers also have strong soft skills in areas such as teamwork and communication. Penetration testers frequently work on teams, so they must be able to work cooperatively. Their communication skills are also helpful when writing reports summarizing their test results or presenting vulnerabilities to management.

    Many other skills help penetration testers succeed, including the following:

    • Attention to detail

    • Creativity

    • Organization

    • Time management

    A great way for aspiring penetration testers to acquire and strengthen their skills is to attend a cybersecurity bootcamp. These bootcamps offer the opportunity to develop hard and soft skills and practice using them in various simulated scenarios.

    Ready to jumpstart a career in cybersecurity?

    Learn the skills you need to fight cybercrime with Fullstack Academy's part-time and full-time bootcamp offerings

    Become a Force for Good

    Individuals who learn what penetration testing is and how to conduct testing can make valuable contributions to securing our digital world. Equipped with the proper knowledge and skills, penetration testers conduct rewarding work that protects critical digital assets from cyberattacks.

    If you’re interested in boosting your knowledge and credentials in cybersecurity, explore Fullstack Academy’s online Cybersecurity Analytics Bootcamp to learn how it can help you pursue your professional goals. Offering exposure to in-demand cybersecurity techniques through curriculum, labs, and group projects, the bootcamp can be your launchpad to a fulfilling career. Take the first step on your cybersecurity career path today.

    Recommended Readings

    Cybersecurity Job Demand: The Growing Need for Cyber Professionals

    How to Become an Ethical Hacker

    Information Security vs. Cybersecurity: What’s the Difference?


    BreachLock, “GDPR and Penetration Testing”

    Comparitech, “How to Become a Penetration Tester”

    CSO, “11 Penetration Testing Tools the Pros Use”

    Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Report 2022

    IBM, What Is Penetration Testing?

    Imperva, Penetration Testing

    Indeed, What Are Penetration Tester Skills? (With Examples)

    National Institute of Standards and Technology, Implementing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Security Rule: A Cybersecurity Resource Guide

    Threat Intelligence, PCI Penetration Testing Explained