Network security testing, also known as network penetration testing, is a simulation of the process by which a hacker would attack a corporate network, connected devices, network applications, or a business website. The simulation's objective is to detect security flaws before hackers can find and exploit them.
Network security testing identifies and confirms actual security flaws and provides information on how hackers can locate and exploit those flaws. When conducted consistently, the network security testing process will inform your business of any security model weaknesses. This enables your business to strike a balance between network security and continued business operations in terms of potential security exploits. Penetration testing is not just to protect the company and its assets. Network security testing enables you to safeguard consumer data, mitigate cyber risk, meet stakeholder needs, and maintain your organization's image and reputation. Additionally, the results of a network penetration test might aid your firm in improving its preparation for business continuity and disaster recovery. Researches show that compliance is no longer the primary motivation for penetration testing. According to a recent survey of cybersecurity engineers, and CISOs, just 16% of firms do testing only for compliance concerns, whereas 61% identify best practices as a motivation for testing.
While tests replicate the methods hackers would use to attack a network, the security test is conducted without malicious intent. As a result, network professionals should obtain appropriate authorization from organizational management before conducting a network penetration test. Additionally, if the penetration test is not properly planned and is missing critical components, the ultimate consequence may be a disruption of business continuity and daily operations.
By the conclusion of this article, you will have a better understanding of what network security testing is and its advantages. Additionally, you will learn how to conduct a network penetration test effectively and the best network security testing tools.
Why is Network Security Testing Important?
Conducting a security assessment of your computer systems to discover vulnerabilities is critical to your organization's security. While an automated vulnerability assessment may provide significant insight into your security posture, it cannot provide a complete picture of the security risks you face. That can only be accomplished via a network security test conducted by a knowledgeable security specialist.
Every day, new cyber security flaws are discovered and hackers exploit them. Vulnerabilities that have been fixed before might potentially be reintroduced when your infrastructure or apps evolve. To safeguard your network infrastructure, you should do network security testing regularly to:
- Assure consumers and other stakeholders of the security of their data
- Identify security issues so that they may be fixed or suitable measures implemented
- Ascertain the effectiveness of your current security procedures
- Check for flaws in new software and systems
- Identify new vulnerabilities in current software
- Compliance with the EU's GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard), and any other applicable privacy laws or regulations.
What Does a Network Security Test Do?
A network security test enables an in-depth analysis of your information technology infrastructure and your capacity to defend your systems, networks, users, and endpoints against external and internal efforts to gain unauthorized access to protected assets, disrupt operations, or steal data.
The primary reason for network security testing is that any firm must protect itself against data breaches. Network penetration testing often operates in the same way as ethical hackers, simulating cyber attacks as closely as possible. A minor vulnerability might expose critical information, jeopardizing your clients' confidence and resulting in a more severe breach of different norms and regulations. A good technique to estimate the potential for infiltration, in this case, is to define the various categories of risk to which you are exposed.
A single security breach at your firm might result in millions of dollars in losses. Security flaws and the resulting interruptions in the functionality of your network, and services may cause your company irreparable financial loss. It might have a detrimental effect on your reputation and consumer loyalty, produce unwanted headlines, and result in unforeseen penalties and fines.
Network penetration testing regularly helps minimize these costs by preventing and mitigating IT infrastructure intrusions. It is significantly preferable for your organization to take proactive security measures, regardless of the expense, than to suffer severe brand equity and financial stability losses.
As a result, you should conduct a network security test anytime you make changes to your network architecture. Penetration testers will examine your internet-connected systems for vulnerabilities and possible information leaks that hackers may use to undermine the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of your data and network.
A security breach has the potential to have a substantial impact on your business, partners, customers, and other third parties. However, by scheduling penetration testing consistently and implementing the essential actions and preventative measures to maintain data and system security, you can foster trust and confidence.
Certain regulations, regardless of sector, require penetration testing services. Penetration testing is a compulsory task mandated by authorities such as BRSA, EMRA, and CMB, as well as worldwide standards such as PCI-DSS, ISO 27001, and CoBIT. For instance, data security for the payment card industry guarantees that such tests are conducted to assure the safety of critical consumer information (PCI DSS). Complete records of your pen-testing may assist you in avoiding significant fines for noncompliance. Additionally, it demonstrates continuing due diligence by ensuring that the essential security procedures are maintained.
Pen testing elucidates vulnerabilities in your target settings. You will obtain a report identifying the issue of access points and vulnerabilities in your system and networks after the test. Additionally, it contains recommendations for software and hardware upgrades that can enhance your security.
What Are the Types of Network Security Tests?
There are several approaches to penetration testing. When it comes to testing an organization's complete security architecture, there are two approaches available: internal and external techniques.
- Internal network penetration testing: Internal networks are only accessible to persons who have been granted access to an organizational network, such as employees, contractors, or suppliers. Internal networks include any resource that is only accessible to these parties, such as an intranet, desktops, or cloud storage. Internal users, unfortunately, have the potential to become insider threats, whether via an unintentional opening of a phishing email or with malevolent intent. These dangers offer a very significant risk since they already have legitimate access to internal assets. Insider attacks may be particularly destructive since these threat actors face far fewer hurdles to accessing an organization's most sensitive or secret data. Internal network security tests reveal vulnerabilities in assets accessible to workers or contractors that reside inside your network. Internal network pen tests simulate a disgruntled employee or a threat actor with stolen credentials to expose possible vulnerabilities such as orphaned accounts or poorly managed access rights. Due to the fact that these tests begin with internal access, they may try to accomplish higher-value goals such as obtaining high-level rights, compromising the domain, or gaining access to other important assets and/or information.
- External networks penetration testing: External networks comprise any assets that are visible to the public, including the internet in general. By utilizing these external assets, threat actors seek to acquire access to an organization's internal systems. Due to the fact that many organizational applications, such as websites, mail servers, and even consumer portals, retain connections to these external networks, they might act as a gateway if not adequately safeguarded. Attackers may try to steal sensitive data or seize control of an asset in order to utilize it for illicit purposes such as crypto mining or as part of a botnet. External vulnerability assessments reveal flaws in your internet-facing assets, such as websites, apps, and API endpoints. These tests look for known software security vulnerabilities on external network assets and detect holes in access restrictions, trust connections, and integration problems that might be exploited as part of a sophisticated attack. External penetration testing uses the same tactics as adversaries to attack vulnerabilities in an organization's front-facing perimeter or circumvent them entirely via the use of phishing campaigns or other social engineering techniques.
Another technique for categorizing network security testing is based on the amount of information supplied and the tester's level of competence.
- White box testing: This is the most advanced kind of testing since it enables testers to verify and investigate a system's internal workings. As a result, white box hackers are given as much information about the system as feasible.
- Black box testing: In this case, the ethical hacker begins with a bare minimum of information. Because the hacker is ignorant of the intricacy of the infrastructure being attacked, this sort of test is used to simulate brute-force attacks. It's critical to keep in mind that if the perimeter cannot be accessed during this sort of penetration test, any interior weaknesses will go undetected.
- Gray box testing: This is a middle ground between the two other extremes of testing. As a result, the test team has only a limited understanding of the system. This sort of test tries to give a more in-depth analysis of the network's security, including information on external and internal vulnerabilities.
Additionally, penetration tests may be categorized according to their component parts and attack vectors.
- Social engineering test: Social engineering is human-centric and so represents one of a business's cybersecurity's weakest links. It is often carried through via email phishing.
- Network infrastructure testing: This test examines the network architecture for holes and vulnerabilities that may be exploited across internal and external access points. They often target network areas such as intrusion prevention system deception, firewall bypass testing, and DNS level attacks.
- Web application security testing: This uses application logic and session management weaknesses to carry out cyber attacks, such as SQL injection and XSS.
- Wireless network testing: This test exposes vulnerabilities in unsecured wireless networks and evaluates the possible harm that might be produced.
How to Perform Network Security Test?
A network penetration test, being a systematic activity, needs the use of defined procedures and frameworks to be successful. Network security testing often uses tried and true techniques to determine if an application system has actual or prospective vulnerabilities. It is always prudent to follow the following guidelines prior to initiating your network security testing:
- Priority Should be Given to the Most Critical Areas: In the case of network security, public-facing areas are considered critical. Thus, the focus should be on firewalls, web servers, routers, and switches, as well as systems that are accessible to a large number of people.
- Tool Selection: Among the numerous available tools, ensure that you select one that includes the features necessary for your testing.
- Security Patches Should be Installed on Time: The system under test should always have the most recent security patch installed.
- Knowledge of Security Policies: Testers should be familiar with the security policy or protocol that is being used. This will aid in the effective testing and comprehension of what is and is not covered by security guidelines.
- Appropriate Interpretation of Examination Results: Vulnerability testing may occasionally produce false-positive results and may occasionally be unable to identify issues that are beyond the capability of the testing tool being used. In these instances, testers should be sufficiently experienced to comprehend, analyze, and decide on the outcome.
Typically, four major stages are required to conduct a successful network penetration test.
- Step 1- Information gathering and scope determination: Typically, the information gathering step happens at the start of the security testing activity. It may, however, be an iterative and self-reinforcing process that occurs throughout the network penetration test as successful incursions provide further knowledge about the target. Security professionals and test specialists collaborate with the company to identify and inventory all network assets, such as firewalls and other devices. The information-gathering process begins with the client's expectations being defined and clarified. Penetration testing must be a disciplined, concentrated effort to be effective. This is because it may not be practicable to investigate the whole perimeter of an IT infrastructure from a practical or economical standpoint. As a consequence, a critical component of the information collecting step is selecting the penetration test's scope. Scoping is a list of all the engagement limits and perimeters that the security team will investigate throughout the testing process. Thus, the scope of a test dictates its amount of penetration, and scoping is the process through which the pen test's engagement limits are defined. You must discuss and agree on a day and time for the penetration test, whether it will be conducted in a production or staging/testing environment, and if the client wants vulnerabilities exploited or just found and reported on. Due to time limits and other practical considerations, some components of the system, such as its associated devices, may be omitted from testing.
- Step 2- Reconnaissance and Discovery: Ethical hackers must do extensive reconnaissance in order to determine how to close vulnerability flaws. This is particularly true for black-box pen testing, in which the ethical hacker must get the knowledge required to attack vulnerabilities independently. Reconnaissance and discovery are exploratory techniques used to assess an organization's total security architecture. This phase enables security specialists to conduct a secret reconnaissance of their target's resources and security posture. Active reconnaissance entails probing and interacting directly with the target system in order to elicit a useful response. The logical outcome of a good reconnaissance is discovery. When you uncover and identify a way to break a network's security, you take steps to exploit those vulnerabilities.
Step 3- Exploitation, Execution, and Escalation: The third stage of penetration testing is the real exploitation of the vulnerabilities uncovered during reconnaissance in information security systems. The purpose of this step is to determine how far an ethical hacker may penetrate the system without being detected. These simulated attacks take place in a controlled setting, and the tester selects either the simplest attack vector or the most crucial exploit depending on the information collected during reconnaissance. Cross-site scripting, buffer overflow, SQL injection, and privilege escalation are just a few of these threats. After gaining a footing within the system, the attacker may pivot and proceed further inside to compromise additional assets, such as vulnerable Linux or Windows operating system workstations.
Step 4- Reporting and Remediation: Following the conclusion of the penetration test, the tester(s) should create a report summarizing the results for the organization. The report should contain information about the procedure, the detected vulnerabilities, the evidence gathered, and suggestions for remedy. It should prioritize repair activities for validated vulnerabilities (zero false positives) according to their exploitability and effect. Additionally, it offers a full explanation and POC for each discovery, as well as a remediation plan. Remediation is a critical procedure that entails addressing security flaws discovered during the testing phase. This should spark a spirited debate about the most effective ways of mitigating each of the detected vulnerabilities. Remediation may include a variety of measures, including the following:
- Patching and updating software
- Changing setup or operating parameters
- Creating and implementing new security processes, methods, and tools
What Are Network Security Testing Tools?
To aid in network security testing, a range of security assessment tools are available, including freeware and commercial software.
Numerous operating system distributions have been designed specifically for penetration testing. Typically, such distributions include a pre-packaged and pre-configured collection of tools. The penetration tester is not required to track down each unique tool, which increases the likelihood of complications, such as compilation difficulties, dependency issues, and configuration mistakes. Additionally, purchasing new tools may not be feasible in the context of the tester. Several notable penetrations testing operating system examples include the following:
- Kali Linux (it replaced BackTrack in December 2012), which is based on Debian
- Parrot Security OS, which is based on Debian
- BlackArch is a Linux distribution based on Arch Linux.
- BackBox is based on Ubuntu
- Pentoo, which is based on Gentoo
- WHAX, which is based on Slackware.
Also, numerous more specialized operating systems allow penetration testing, each of which is more or less specialized in a particular area of penetration testing.
Numerous Linux distributions include known operating system and application vulnerabilities and may be used as targets for practice. These solutions enable novice security professionals to experiment with cutting-edge security techniques in a lab setting. the OWASP Web Testing Environment (WTW), Damn Vulnerable Linux (DVL), and Metasploitable are all examples.
We shall categorize and list available network security testing tools based on their functionality in the sections below.
To execute a network penetration test effectively, it is critical to grasp the critical methods and tools required for such reconnaissance. The following are some of the tools that are used to conduct reconnaissance and discovery:
- Port scan: Port scanning is a common reconnaissance technique for determining whether ports on a system are open. Port scanning helps a pen tester to ascertain the network security and service availability of a system. Additionally to assisting with fingerprinting, this method identifies which ports are open and receiving data (listening). By fingerprinting a network, the user is able to identify security devices such as firewalls that exist between the sender and the destination. Hackers are particularly interested in stealth port scans that can go unnoticed in a system's log files. Some port scanning software samples are listed below:
- Nmap or Network Mapper
- TCP Port Scanner
- Port Authority
- Ping Sweeps: Ping sweeps are used to establish a range of IP addresses that correspond to active hosts. This network scanning approach is capable of concurrently pinging several network addresses. This network probe is used by a hacker to send a series of ICMP ECHO packets to servers in order to determine which ones answer. This helps them to ascertain which are viable. Some ping sweep tools are as follows:
- SolarWinds IP Address Manager (IPAM)
- ManageEngine OpManager
- PingPlotter Pro
- Sniffing Packets: These technologies enable you to identify and examine data packets as they transit over a network. Sniffing tools are frequently referred to as packet analyzers or network protocol analyzers. These tools are used by network managers to monitor their networks for spoofing packets, wandering IP addresses, and abnormal packet production from a single IP address. However, hackers use them to identify weak network services such as ports and protocols and to conduct man-in-the-middle attacks. Top packet sniffing tools are given below:
- Network Mapper
- Vulnerability Scanning: This process includes the use of technologies to discover configuration issues and other known vulnerabilities in networks and network hosts, such as the presence of malware. You should, however, be aware of the distinctions between penetration testing and vulnerability scanning. The most popular vulnerability scanning tools are listed below:
- Web Application Security Testing: These tools are crucial for assessing the security of web applications at each stage of their development and identifying configuration flaws. Static and dynamic analysis techniques are used to identify vulnerabilities in application software code. Top web application security testing tools are as follows:
- Burp Suite: Burp Suite integrates many apps for testing and safeguarding online applications, including powerful web application scanners, an intercepting proxy, an intruder tool, and a sequencer tool.
- Zed Attack Proxy
- Social Engineering Attacks and Internet Information Queries: Social engineering attacks are typically used to acquire covert access to information systems by duping individuals into providing their login credentials. Best social engineering tools include the following:
- Social engineering toolkit(SET)
- Exploitation: If you identify a vulnerability and wish to check that other controls are adequately mitigating the risk, and exploitation framework may assist you in determining whether the vulnerability is exploitable. While there is no replacement for a professional penetration tester, several of these frameworks provide automated exploitation modes that simulate the actions of a low-skilled attacker. Several exploitation tools include the following:
- Metasploit: Metasploit is the most often used framework for configuring the exploit to be targeted and the payload to be utilized at the exploitation stage. The Metasploit Project is a security project that disseminates information about security flaws and assists in penetration testing and the generation of IDS signatures. It is open-source, free, and publicly accessible.
- Core Impact: While Core Impact is an expensive instrument, it is widely regarded as one of the most powerful on the market. The program is capable of exploiting both zero-day and known vulnerabilities throughout its attack run.