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What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing is a cybersecurity term which refers to a simulated series of cyber attacks in order to find security vulnerabilities. These security loopholes might be found in computer operating systems, networks, and applications, as well as inappropriate setups and unsafe end-user activities. These tests may also be applied to verify the effectiveness of defensive systems and end-user compliance with IT security regulations.

Penetration testing methodologies, as well as highly specialized vulnerability scanning tools, are used by cybersecurity professionals to assess the stability of a company's security protocols, regulatory requirements, employee awareness and training, and the company's ability to detect and respond to threats and incidents such as security breaches.

What Does Penetration Testing Mean?

Penetration testing is used to methodically attack computers, gateways, web programs, wireless communications, network equipment, portable devices, servers, as well as other sources of vulnerability using human or computer methods. Once a vulnerability has been successfully exploited on a single system, the tester may attempt to use the infected system to perform subsequent manipulations on other existing resources, particularly by using root access to gradually gain higher security clearance and depth control computer assets and data.

Evidence of any security issues discovered during pen testing is frequently gathered and presented to IT and network security management to aid them in making strategic decisions and prioritizing repair actions. The primary objective of penetration testing is to assess the probability of a computer or end-user vulnerability and any potential repercussions for the assets or activities involved.

Why is Penetration Testing Important?

Penetration testing is critical for a company's cybersecurity since it teaches staff how to respond to any type of security breach.

Penetration testing can also provide solutions to help businesses prevent and detect attackers, as well as quickly remove them from their systems.

Pen testing reports might also assist the developer in making fewer mistakes. Assume developers have a good understanding of how an unknown party launched a cyber attack on a program, computer system, or other piece of software they helped design. They'll be more motivated to learn more about cybersecurity as a result, and they'll be less likely to make similar mistakes in the future.

What are the Penetration Testing Advantages?

The network or computer system owner has given permission for the pentester to conduct a series of cyberattacks and produce a report on the server's functionality. You may check your present security procedures via pen testing and assess any concerns at the conclusion of the session. Ethical hackers that perform this type of penetration testing typically document each step of the procedure at each separate network layer. As a result, even if you use various protection strategies, you may be confident in the security of the company's server.

Here are some advantages of penetration testing-

1. New Technology Testing

One of several key goals among most penetrative testing is to evaluate new items or technologies. They may assist you in improving the technology's security, allowing consumers to have a safer and more enjoyable experience. The optimal time to begin penetration testing is during the development stage, so you can eliminate any vulnerabilities as soon as possible.

Load checking your modern technology for weaknesses might help you figure out if it's secure enough for broad adoption and production. Because it is simpler to resolve problems at the early phases of development, such preventive steps could save both time & expense.

2. Compassion Building

Frequent penetration testing reduces a company's chance of hacking and data exfiltration, ensuring the highest levels of user information security. In this manner, you may make a lasting impact on your users and gain their confidence and goodwill, resulting in long-term success for your company.

Conducting a penetration test would allow estimating how long it will take a possible hacker to break the security and train security personnel to react promptly in the event of an attack.

3. Crisis Handling

Pen testing may assist security professionals in learning how to respond quickly and efficiently in the event of a security threat or other issues. Because company networks might be exposed to a variety of assaults, it's critical for the staff to understand how to respond to each one. This would allow measuring your team's preparation for cyberattacks while also allowing them to make perfect their approach.

What Are the Disadvantages of Penetration Testing?

Pen testing has a number of drawbacks, including the risk of losing critical data, inciting attackers, and revealing your system to thieves. Whenever you start vulnerability scanning, you'll really have to figure out if it's an acceptable and effective strategy for the company.

1. Test Conditions

Pen testing is a time-consuming and costly process. You must decide whether the difficulties and expenses incurred with this strategy are fair to the testing circumstances and range.

Could it be good enough to put your business's security at risk only to look at one part of its system? Given the various possible drawbacks of pen testing, it may be preferable to get the most out of every test by extending its coverage.

Nevertheless, if you would like to run a pen test throughout your whole services and IT infrastructure, make absolutely sure the security professionals are ready to look through every part of your IT resources. This requires considerably more time, attention to detail, and money.

Simultaneously, many companies ignore the importance of a testing process. Serious assaults happen with little or no notice. For most of such, make sure your infrastructure and equipment are tested under the ideal circumstances available.

It probably isn't worth it all to expose a company to the dangers and drawbacks of vulnerability assessments if you don't get an accurate assessment and coverage of the IT's pros and cons.

2. Question of Ethics

Vulnerability testing's morals are sometimes questioned since IT employs most of the similar tactics used by criminals to find weaknesses in a company's network and technologies.

Others say that vulnerability assessment encourages abusive behavior as well as techniques because the exploitation done in such assessments is identical to that done by criminals.

Each company must determine on its own whether or not it embraces its moral aspects of pen-testing. It is also crucial to consider how consumers, suppliers, and collaborators could perceive vulnerability scanning responsibly.

What are the types of Penetration Testing?

Computer networks, programs, customer side, mobile, psychological manipulation, and architectural vulnerability scanning are among the several forms of pen-testing. To simulate multiple attacks, a vulnerability test can be conducted both internal as well as external. A pentester might not have previous experience in the company IT interface and systems they're seeking to break. Penetration testing can be divided into three following categories:

1. White Box

Whenever a legitimate tester performs white box vulnerability scanning, s/he has complete knowledge of the program code and IT ecosystem.

White-box pen testing is the ideal solution for testing since it gives a full examination, including internal and external threats. The intimate association among white-box pentester and engineers gives a high degree of system understanding, but it may influence tester behavior because they work on information that hackers don't have.

There are certain drawbacks to white box assessments. Considering the pen tester's accessibility, deciding what regions to focus on, for example, can take far longer. Furthermore, this form of testing frequently necessitates the use of complex and costly instruments.

2. Black Box

In a black box pentest, the tester starts without any clue. S/he is not provided any information excluding some general public information. In this case, the security professionals plan for some unprivileged attacks, from initial access throughout executes to exploit. That simulation is by far the most realistic since it shows how such an attacker without any inside information might approach and damage a company. Nonetheless, because of this, it is also the most expensive alternative.

While testing a program, the pentester has to be objective and impartial. Those are knowledgeable with both the programming language and internal layout of an item they are testing. Because they are too acquainted with the programming language and lack an impartial viewpoint, they may overlook a weakness in between.

This method of pen-testing discovers a broad range of weaknesses, including cybersecurity configuration errors, SQL injections, Cross-site scripting, feedback validation problems, and so on, unless performed by a highly trained pentester.

This method provides an accurate threat analysis for the user-end programs while having the advised that this be done on a regular basis on workflows.

3. Gray Box

Gray box pen testing allows the construction of more specific test environments by having partial knowledge of the structure of the system or networks underlying it.

Security professionals believe that having an ethical hacker uncover the weaknesses in the organization is preferable to having an opponent or insider do so. Grey Box Testing gives focused, real information about vulnerable flaws. It also gives a better understanding of what your system appears like from a hacker's standpoint. This makes it easier to manage risk mitigation measures in order to lessen the possibility of a breach or the harm it causes.

The pentester is not needed to develop test scenarios in the gray box persisting. Rather, the testing phases are planned using techniques that assess internal data, application activity, and understanding of software architecture.

Black-box, Gray-box and White-box penetration testing

Figure 1. Black-box, Gray-box and White-box penetration testing

What is the Difference Between Blackbox and Whitebox Penetration Testing?

A black box vulnerability scanning would begin with knowing nothing about the testing scopes other than the company's identity. To choose which computers to check, researchers would first conduct open-source espionage to determine which computers correspond to the company, and afterward, attempt to obtain access to all those host computers. The benefit of a black box test is noticeable: it simulates the method that a genuine hacker might use in a massive assault. However, because there could be separate computers that are difficult to detect, the risk of missing peripheral hosts which should be inspected is significantly greater.

By comparison, it is when the examiner has complete knowledge of the IT environment before running the experiment. Utilizing the external vulnerability scans as an instance, the above implies that the testing is aware of any and all IPs in scope as well as everything about either system, such as what Operating system they are running, what infrastructure they are using, application types that are installed, and so on.

What Are the Different Types of Penetration Testing?

What kind of pen-testing process will be used is usually determined by the project scope as well as the needs of the company. Here are the most common pen-testing types-

1. Network Security Tests

A network pen test detects security threats in programs by assessing the network security, or lack of, applying different hostile tactics.

The vulnerability scanning technologies like port and network analyzers and security flow detectors are mostly used to determine the network's baseline. Understanding the baseline of a network helps to see what security measures are in place to detect vulnerabilities as well as the possible threats to the network attack surface.

Network Penetration Testing

Figure 2. Network Penetration Testing

2. Cloud Security Tests

Conventional vulnerability scanning approaches are not cloud-native and only focus on on-premise procedures. Cloud vulnerability scanning necessitates specialized knowledge and skills not found in traditional pen-testing. Companies may use cloud penetration testing to enhance their entire cloud security interface, security alerts, and work accordingly. Furthermore, enterprises will better understand existing cloud resources, including how attack-resistant cloud technology security is and whether weaknesses persist.

Cloud Security Test

Figure 3. Cloud Security Test

3. Web Application Tests

Pentesting for web applications involves simulating unapproved attempts both within and outside its resources to access company information.

Because of the massive growth of web apps, an increasing amount of web resources are now being spent on creating apps and adjusting configurations to work effectively in this new environment. Nevertheless, this new phase has created a new attack vector for unscrupulous attackers to exploit for unwilling advantages.

Because certain online apps include sensitive information, it's critical to maintain them safe at all times, particularly because many of these are accessible to common users.

Web Application Penetration Testing

Figure 4. Web Application Penetration Testing

4. Social Engineering Test

A social engineering penetration test is a method used by cybersecurity professionals to test social manipulation strategies on a company's personnel to truly comprehend the cyber security infrastructure, where weaknesses exist, and how to exploit those from the viewpoint of a cyber attacker. This approach is designed with the company's expertise in mind, as a qualified tester will masquerade as an attacker to investigate security vulnerabilities and evaluate acute awareness of harmful messages and websites.

Social Engineering Tests

Figure 5. Social Engineering Tests

5. IoT Security Tests

Every Internet of Things (IoT) component which will be linked to a system in normal operating conditions is subjected to an Internet of Things security test. Cyber attackers are aggressively targeting smart devices, ranging from webcams to door locks, with the objective of serving harmful or illegally obtained programs and descriptions about the reasons and aims for the significant risks. IoT provides a variety of distinct issues when contrasted to even more typical areas of pen-testing.

However, the network component that connects IoT items is frequently weak, and hostile attacks against IoT systems on a single platform could be compromised with just one vulnerability. It is critical to employ both automated systems and human vulnerability testing methodology to perform thorough specialized vulnerability scanning on the communications infrastructure and related communication ports.

IoT Security Test

Figure 6. IoT Security Test

How is Penetration Testing Done?

Penetration testing stages are explained below:

1. Planning and Preparation

The planning and preparation step involves:

  • Defining the pentest's scope and goals.
  • Gathering general information on the system and IT equipment.
  • Determining the testing method.

Moreover, the tester tries to find as much information as possible from open sources. This information helps to find the attack surface and the potential vulnerabilities to exploit the system.

2. Discovery

In the discovery process, the tester tries different types of exploration techniques to find more data from the target. However, both static and dynamic analysis helps the tester to find the attack surface and the vulnerability.

The tester tries to find the exact vulnerability on any attack surface by initiating simulated attack vectors by utilizing several methods.

Different types of pen-testing have different findings. However, it is the process of discovering the target.

3. Penetration Attempt and Exploitation

When the tester has discovered enough information, s/he could identify the possible vulnerabilities. In this phase, the tester attempts to penetrate the system with the exploitations.

The tester will attempt to escalate existing access rights inside the system while the system is compromised, the opportunity to perform a variety of further tasks. Penetration testers with administrator capabilities can detect security flaws in those other attack surfaces, such as poor configuration, unsecured accessibility to confidential documents, or insufficient user and access controls.

4. Analysis and Reporting

In this period, the pentester analyzes the findings from the previous steps. After recognizing the vulnerabilities and security flaws, the testing process requires a complete analysis of the methodologies and the results of the exploitations.

After analyzing the findings, the report helps the company know what has been done to check the system and documentation of vulnerabilities found in the system.

5. Clean Up and Remediation

Cleaning up and remediation is the process of fixing the vulnerability responsible for exploitation and detecting and deleting the unnecessary components from the system.

A variety of pen testing requires a wide range of activities to clean and fix the security vulnerability. For example, network penetration testing can be limited to the network interface and attack surface. But, in a web application pen-testing, the process of cleaning up and remediation is completely different.

6. Retest

Penetration testing is a constant process. Without periodical effort, pen-testing may not be effective. Moreover, security vulnerabilities are an increasing issue of concern. The computer system and the resources should remain free from any kind of threats that could attack the system. It's absolutely worthless if the penetration testing is not done timely with a periodical approach.

So, there are no alternatives to retesting and maintaining a regular interval.

How Often Should Penetration Testing Be Done?

The question is relative in terms of the scope and the effort. Consequently, the number of the equipment and the type of the experiment will define how long the process should run as well as how often penetration testing should be done. There is an exact answer, like once a month or twice a year. Rather, companies that deal with financial documentations and sensitive identical data should keep their security system under pen-testing continuously.

What is the Difference Between Penetration Testing and Vulnerability Assessment?

Penetration testing and vulnerability assessment are two different things with different workflows belonging to the same genre. Often vulnerability assessment is considered a process of penetration testing. However, the assessment of vulnerability can function individually.

The following are the contrast between penetration testing and vulnerability assessment according to the characteristics.

1. Goal

The goal of vulnerability assessment is to uncover the known vulnerabilities at the IT interface, where the exposure of penetration testing is to uncover as well as to exploit the vulnerabilities to show how an attacker could exploit the system.

2. Scope

The scope of vulnerability assessment is wide and relies on scanning different components, where penetration testing is a focused and deep cybersecurity approach.

3. Outcome

From a vulnerability assessment, companies may get a list of vulnerabilities to be fixed. In addition, penetration testing involves a methodical explanation as well as fixing the vulnerabilities.

4. Uses

Vulnerability assessment is best for the basic level of security concerns. On the other hand, penetration testing is the understanding of all existing facts of IT security.

What is the Best Penetration Testing Tool?

Third-party pen tests are common, but because they may be costly and outdated rapidly, many businesses conduct their checks using pen-testing tools.

For an open-source tool, Metasploit could be the best tool for penetration testing. It is a vulnerability detection and testing tool. It offers an assessment of penetration test results, supported by a large open-source list of known vulnerabilities, so remedial actions may be completed quickly. Nevertheless, it does not scale to the corporate strategy, as well as some customers report that it is slightly reluctant to use.

However, Netsparker Security Scanner is a common and powerful penetration testing tool that runs automatically on the web. Including everything, cross-site scripting to SQL injection can be detected by the system. Additionally, it can be used on web pages, internet applications.

Metasploit console

Figure 7. Metasploit console