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Ethical Hacker Vs. Penetration Tester

Jan 31, 2019

With so much business being done online, cybersecurity is a top priority for companies. Ethical hackers think like malicious hackers to prevent security breaches, while penetration testers manage all elements of network security.

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Comparing Ethical Hackers to Penetration Testers

Ethical hackers and penetration testers both work in corporate settings, where they apply their knowledge of computing networks and systems security to prevent security breaches. Penetration testers may work as part of an IT team as they oversee all sides of network security. Ethical hackers use their hacking smarts to prevent the not-so-ethical hackers from attacking the system. Other similarities and differences are discussed below.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2019)* Job Growth (2016-2026)**
Ethical Hacker Bachelor's degree in computer science, information security or a related field $95,000 28% (for all information security analysts)
Penetration Tester Bachelor's degree in information security or a related field $80,963 28% (for all information security analysts)

Source: *PayScale.com; **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Ethical Hackers vs. Penetration Testers

Ethical hackers and penetration testers have similar daily responsibilities in that they work to expose vulnerable areas in the network of a company in order to prevent hacks, viruses, and other forms of security attacks. Ethical hackers use their expertise to test attacks on a network the way a malicious hacker would, exposing security flaws and fixing these areas of concern. Penetration testers roles are a little broader, overseeing security in everything from mobile applications to source code. They may also work more directly with employees on the safety of their daily work and routine computing practices.

Ethical Hacker

Ethical hackers use their hacking expertise to inform companies of vulnerable areas in their networks. This is done through tests using their hacking know-how, as well as personally created worms, viruses, and other malware. A deep knowledge of hacking, computer programming, and IT is vital, as is the ability to clearly explain these intricate issues to the companies they work with. Prior experience is required, and certifications, such as the Certified Ethical Hacker certification issued by the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants, could be preferred.

Job responsibilities of an ethical hacker include:

  • Stay informed on the latest trends in hacking and IT
  • Develop solutions for problem areas in a network
  • Fine tune a network's detection mechanisms
  • Prepare reports outlining vulnerabilities and potential breach points

Penetration Tester

Penetration testers are cybersecurity professionals who work to prevent security breaches for companies and other organizations. They test networks using a variety of tools to pinpoint which areas are most vulnerable, such as threat modeling, attack & penetration testing, and code review. Communication with employees is important, as these testers must convey the best safety practices during daily computer use. Penetration testers may work as part of a larger department, such as IT or cybersecurity, or as independent contractors. A bachelor's degree in information technology or a related field is useful, but applicable experience may be just as important.

Job responsibilities of a penetration tester include:

  • Develop methods for detecting attacks
  • Create programs to test network security
  • Determine the needs and concerns of company management
  • Explain basic security practices to clients

Related Careers

In our tech-driven world, individuals who are interested in computers and computing networks have numerous in-demand options available for employment. Like hackers and penetration testers, computer programmers must debug, test, and look for errors, but in this case, they do so in the programs that they create. IT specialist is another position that keeps companies' networks safe, secure, and running efficiently.

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