35 Questions to Ask About Pentesting in an Interview (With Sample Answers)
Pentesting, also called “penetration testing,” is a skill used in “ethical hacking” to find potential security threats to an organisation ahead of time. When you interview for a cybersecurity job with this responsibility, hiring managers want to know that you know the common terms and processes they use. Learning about these common interview questions can help you prepare for interviews for jobs like penetration tester or penetration testing engineer. This article talks about 35 of the most common pentesting interview questions and shows you how to answer them.
15 interview questions about pentesting, with examples of how to answer them
Here are some possible questions and things to think about when preparing for a pentesting interview:
1. Could you explain how information is kept safe?
Since penetration testing is part of a company’s security plan, the interviewer may want to know what you know about the field in general. Think about what parts of information security you could talk about and how businesses use them.
Example: “Information security is how businesses keep hackers from getting into their systems and data. It can include the steps an organisation takes to make sure security is in place, how technology is set up, and who is in charge of this area.”
2. What is pentesting in your own words?
Interviewers might ask you to describe what pentesting means to you to see how well you understand it. You can give a brief overview of this process and explain how it helps an organisation meet its security goals.
Example: “Pentesting is a type of testing that companies use to find and stop security risks. This helps organisations be proactive about how they handle risks in their systems, networks, and programmes.”
How does penetration happen? What are the different stages?
Hiring managers might ask you about the different phases of pentesting you’ve been a part of. You can give a short summary of each, since each may require a different set of skills. You might want to say if you tested during any of these times.
Example: “There are five steps to pentesting: reconnaissance, scanning, getting access, staying connected, and covering your tracks. The first is to act like a hacker to get information about a business, like its IP address. Hackers use scanning to find possible ways to get into a company. To get and keep access, you have to break into systems and get information once you’re inside. Covering tracks means getting rid of logs and other signs that a tester broke into a system. At my last job, I mostly did the first two steps by using a third-party account to find out about our company’s weaknesses.”
What kinds of encryption are there?
Since encryption is a common way for companies to protect their data, hiring managers may ask about these different ways. You can show you understand encryption by briefly explaining each term and how you might use it.
Example: “There are two main types of encryption: symmetric and asymmetric. Users and the people who own the information can use the same key to encrypt and decrypt information with symmetric encryption. Asymetric means that there is both a private key and a public key to protect more sensitive data.”
5. What makes a system vulnerable?
Vulnerability is a big deal in cybersecurity, so interviewers may ask you what you know about it. Think about giving specific examples of what could make a system or programme easier to attack, and if you can, use examples from your previous jobs.
Example: “If a system or programme doesn’t have extra security features like firewalls or advanced encryption, it’s more likely to be attacked. At my last job, I made sure that every new programme we needed had security, since many of them didn’t. This helped us figure out what security steps we could take to keep our data safe.”
6. How do you test for holes?
This question tells the interviewer how you use the standards for pentesting in your own work. Think about talking about the steps you take to get ready for a new test, the methods you use, the tasks you do, and how you end testing.
Example: “First, I look at the software that needs to be tested to decide which method to use. Most of my time at my last job was spent testing web applications. I spent a lot of time checking things out and looking for holes. Once I was done, I would find out what data was at risk and try to hack as much as I could. We could figure out the level of risk and take steps to protect ourselves if we had this information.”
7. Have you looked for security holes in different ways?
Some companies may need different kinds of testing, in which they give a tester a certain amount of information. Think about making a list of each method and how much you know about it. How well you know black-box testing can show how good you are at pen testing.
Example: “I’ve done black-box testing, white-box testing, and gray-box testing. We mostly did gray-box testing on our old systems, which had a lot of security controls, but I often did black-box testing on new software that I didn’t know anything about.”
8. Could you describe XSS?
XSS, which stands for “cross-site scripting,” is something that hiring managers might ask you about. Since there are different kinds, you could say which one you know best and whether or not you used it to test the sites of your company.
Example: “I did stored XSS attacks when I was testing to see if our customers could be attacked this way. During one test, I found that I could put malware on our contact site and get customer information every time a form was filled out. We added a firewall and a way to find malicious files to that site to stop similar attacks and get notified if a threat got through again.”
9. Which part of protecting data is the most important?
Interviewers may want to know what you think about this because a company needs a number of things for safe systems and protected data. Consider writing about some of the precautions you can take to keep your data safe and why you think they work best.
Example: “I think it’s important to have strong network security so that hackers can’t get into our databases. Even more important could be intrusion detection systems, since some threats can’t be stopped. These systems can help businesses respond quickly to threats and keep an eye on safety at all times.”
10.Do you have the same kind of experience with risk analysis?
Things like risk analysis and testing are things that interviewers can ask about. Since pentesting is a more specific way to look for threats in software and networks, you could talk about how basic risk analysis can help you decide how to test.
Example: “I first worked as a risk analyst for an advertising company. I learned the basics of cybersecurity and the different kinds of threats a company could face through this job. When coding new products, I worked with designers to look at any possible risks. I told them how likely it was that someone would do something bad so they could make security better.”
11. Have you been on different teams that look for holes in security?
Interviewers may want to know what parts of pentesting you know the most about. You can talk about any testing you’ve done on the red, blue, or purple team. You could talk about a project you worked on with one of these teams, what your part was, and how you worked with the other people.
Example: “When we moved our systems to a server in the cloud, we did penetration testing to see what security risks there were. I had to play the hacker since I was on the red team. I made up a few situations in which I thought we were most likely to get hurt. Working with the purple team, who knew a lot about threats and how to protect against them, they told me how the blue team planned to deal with attacks, so I thought of different ways to attack them when they might not be ready.”
12. How do people usually shorten words?
Like many other technical fields, penetration testing has its own set of abbreviations that teams often use. Hiring managers can see how well you understand these key ideas and how well you might fit with their team, which might use a lot of acronyms. Consider writing down some common acronyms and what they stand for.
Example: “When testing and talking to people at my old jobs, I often used abbreviations. We used terms like “two-factor authentication,” “two-version priority ceiling protocol,” and “triple data encryption standard encryption protocol,” which all mean the same thing. I also learned to talk about the most common ways to model threats using less technical acronyms, like STRIDE.”
13. Do you have a degree or certification in this area?
Even though some jobs don’t require certifications, interviewers may still ask about them. This can show that you want to learn the latest techniques or that you can do specialised tasks. You might want to list any certifications you have and how they’ve added to your experience.
Example: “I have two certifications in this area: an EC Council Council Certified Ethical Hacker certificate and an Offensive Security Certified Professional certificate. I learned about some of the tools and methods hackers use most often. With this new information, I gave my organisations more things to think about when turning on and keeping up security features for our programmes.”
Related: 10 of the Best Information Security Certifications to Help Your Career
14. What does “sniffing data packets” mean?
The interviewer might ask you about data packet sniffing, which is a way to find out where threats come from. This can require knowledge of networks, databases, and certain software, so if you have experience with pentesting, you might want to share it with these areas of technology. You could also talk about the tools used to find these threats.
Example: “Data packet sniffing is a way to look at network traffic to find weird activity or users who shouldn’t be there. Most of the time, I did these things with the Wireshark software. We checked our networks often at my last job to make sure they were safe. I would look at the data if there were any new threats to see if we could figure out where they came from or who was behind them.”
15.What kinds of malware have you found when testing?
During cybersecurity interviews, the hiring manager can ask you about malware and other threats. You can name a few of these to show you know the basics. Think about giving examples from jobs you’ve already had.
Example: “Most of the malware I’ve seen are quickly spreading viruses, trojans, and spyware. When I worked for a financial company, there were a lot of spyware attacks that tried to get login information and other sensitive data from our databases. I often pretended to be spyware to see how safe our system was and gave regular updates on how we could fix security holes.”
More interview questions about pentesting
Here are some additional questions you might experience:
- How do you explain words that are very hard to understand and threats to leadership?
- What do SSL and TLS connections do?
- When you did penetration testing, what was the hardest thing you had to do?
- How familiar are you with a Diffie-Hellman exchange?
- What does it mean to “enumerate the files,” and why is it important?
- Have you ever used a tool that tests itself?
- How do you check encrypted emails?
- What does social engineering have to do with pen testing?
- What checking software have you used?
- Could you explain CSRF?
- How do you use SQL injection?
- Do you know of any other ways to test how safe something is online?
- Tell me about a time you needed help with pentesting and asked someone else for it.
- What does it mean to model threats?
- Have you ever used the Common Vulnerability Scoring System?
- Who are the people who are most likely to try to hurt you?
- What are some of the systems you checked to see if they were weak?
- How do you deal with privileges getting bigger?
- Do you know what kinds of software tools can be used to scan ports?
- How does connecting wirelessly differ from connecting with wires?