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How to Learn Penetration Testing: Courses, Step-by-Step Guide, and More

Penetration testing is an essential part of any modern workplace, according to AIS Network. It is a task aimed at ensuring a business’s cybersecurity by evaluating the security of its IT infrastructure. If you learn penetration testing, you can potentially land a high-paying job in cybersecurity. 

But it takes effort to master this skill. You’ll need to take penetration testing courses and refer to other resources for pointers as you practice. 

In this guide, we’ll show you how to run a penetration test and the best courses you can take to learn this skill.

What Is Penetration Testing?

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A penetration test is an assessment of how secure a given computer network is. While running a pen test, the network security administrator is literally simulating a cyberattack on their own network. This allows them to identify any security vulnerabilities within the infrastructure. 

These days, cyber hacks are extremely common, and are becoming increasingly more sophisticated. Therefore, it is imperative for tech-reliant companies to invest in network security and cybersecurity. 

A penetration test can provide the company with a clear idea of how safe a network is. These tests can be performed on websites, internal and external networks, web applications, and social media profiles. Network security engineers can also evaluate whether specific devices attached to a network are safe. 

What Is Penetration Testing Used For?

computer screen showing the word security, while the cursor is pointing at it
There are many varieties of penetration tests depending on which part of a network is being assessed.

Penetration tests are used to evaluate security weaknesses in any area, whether it’s on an internal or external network, or on a website. Below, we’ll look closer at each of these possible applications. 

Internal Networks

During an internal network pen test, it is assumed that the hacker already has access to the computer system, meaning that the attack is coming from an employee. Thus the name internal network penetration test. 

When performing a test in this case, the engineer will simulate the hack attempt, keeping in mind that the hacker is already familiar with the network.

These tests are crucial to avoiding data breaches. Most employees have access to sensitive information that could cause major damage and financial loss in the wrong hands. That’s why it’s so important to evaluate internal security measures.

External Networks

An external network pen test is run using hacking techniques via the Internet, replicating the way a real hacker would gain access to a company’s computer system. This is performed remotely in order to most closely emulate a real external hack. 

Web Applications

With most businesses using an increasing number of web portals every year, it’s not surprising that they are also investing more in protecting the data on their web applications. If insecure development practices were used when a website was created, the owner of the site will be at greater risk of cybercrime. Data such as credit card numbers or other personal information will be vulnerable if any breach is made.

But pen tests can erase any concerns. The test will pick up on any anomalies that would indicate that a website is not secure.

Learn Penetration Testing: Step-by-Step

To learn about penetration testing, you should attend some formal courses, and study extensively. Below, we’ve compiled a list of the most important steps to take if you want to master pen tests. 

1. Learn About Pen Testing Tools

To master pen testing, you should understand how it works. Spend some time conducting your own research online to read up on how pen tests are conducted, paying particular attention to the tools that are used. 

Some devices that are key to a network security administrator’s arsenal are listed below. 

  • Metasploit
  • Nmap
  • THC Hydra
  • WireShark
  • Kismet

2. Learn Network Security Fundamentals

Penetration testing is extremely important to network security. Even if you don’t want to pursue a career as a network security engineer, understanding the basics of the job will boost your pen-testing abilities.

Some network security fundamentals include access management, monitoring malware activity, and blocking access to unauthorized personnel.  

3. Sign Up for a Bootcamp

Taking a course or coding bootcamp is arguably the best way to learn about penetration testing. Penetration testing courses will give you all the information and resources you need to succeed in this field. 

There are many great study options out there, with some classes offered online and others in-person. Most of these are short-term courses, so you don’t have to dedicate years of your life to learning pen-testing. 

4. Attend Webinars

Technology is constantly evolving, and so are hackers. If you want to become a security expert, you will have to be a lifelong learner. This means you must keep your toolkit up to date, and be very aware of the current malware trends.

Attending webinars is a great way to update your skills. At a webinar, you’ll be learning from and networking with cybersecurity veterans who can fill you in on the latest IT security trends.

5. Practice a Lot

Now that you have the theory down, it’s time to get real experience with pen tests. Practicing will improve your skills for when it’s time to carry out a real test while on the job. 

There are even practice websites that allow you to perform remote pen tests. One of the best is Pentest Practice, which offers a handy training environment for you to test your abilities.

The Best Penetration Testing Courses

There are many penetration testing courses that might interest you. You just need to find the one that you feel will fill in any pen-testing knowledge gaps you may have. We’ve done some research and rounded up some of the best pen testing courses, listed below.

Learn Ethical Hacking From Scratch

This Udemy course is one of the most complete in terms of its coverage of pen-testing techniques. In it, you’ll also learn about the basics of ethical hacking, such as server fundamentals, and how to fix vulnerable code. The lessons also cover SQL injections, and how to prevent them.

The most important part of this course is that it very thoroughly addresses how you can use pen tests to identify and fix system vulnerabilities to prevent attacks.

The class costs $12.99 and lasts 14.5 hours, so it’s very affordable when compared to other hacking courses. 

Penetration Testing, Incident Response, and Forensics

This course offered by IBM via Coursera will train you to use pen-test tools and will teach you how to correctly respond to a variety of possible hacking situations. You will also get an understanding of how to create reports based on the results of your tests. This is very important because it will help you identify similar vulnerabilities if they reappear.

This course takes around 17 hours, including several practice modules that will help you develop your skills through experience. It’s available in several languages, including French, English, and Russian.

Penetration Testing – Discover Vulnerabilities 

This edX course offered by New York University is part of a broader MicroBachelors Program in Cybersecurity. You can choose to complete the entire program in order, or just sign up for one of the courses. This penetration-testing class will show you how to identify weaknesses and configure vulnerability scanners to improve system security.

The free, self-paced course lasts five weeks, and will likely take about ten hours to complete. It’s not a bad deal, especially if you don’t have time to go to school for an actual bachelor’s degree in computer science. This course offers the next best thing, a certificate that will set you back a mere $166. 

Cybersecurity Specialization

This is a very technical course offered by the University of Maryland that you can find in Coursera. The lessons cover how to build a secure system, prevent SQL injections, and use cryptography to maximize security. Other subjects that will be touched on are software testing, user interfaces, and buffer overflow.

This is an intermediate course, and will take around eight months to get through. 

Cybersecurity Bootcamp

The cybersecurity bootcamp at Flatiron School is taught by some prominent leaders in the IT industry. This institution has developed some excellent online labs for those who want to improve their ethical hacking skills through hands-on experience. 

This program takes 480 hours to complete, and will give you very detailed information on how to identify and attack a network’s vulnerabilities. You’ll also learn all about firewalls and security protocols. The course can be taken either on a part-time or full-time basis, depending on your availability. 

Is Learning Penetration Testing Right for You?

Maintaining a secure IT infrastructure is crucial for all companies, and pen-testing skills are a big part of this. In fact, PayScale has reported that the average salary of a pen tester is around $85,000. If you combine this skill with others in the cybersecurity sector, you will have put yourself in line for one of the best jobs in tech.

This skill will continue to be in high demand in the coming years, as cybercrimes are unlikely to drop off. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be a 32 percent growth in the number of jobs available to information security experts in the near future. 

Companies will need to continue protecting their systems from malicious activities, and if you learn penetration testing, you can be a part of the solution.

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