What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration Testing Discussion

what is penetration testing (pen-testing)? Definition

Last Updated on September 8, 2022 by Redbot Security

What is Penetration Testing (pen-testing)? 

This is a series discussing Penetration Testing –  View additional Pen-Testing Discussions:

  • Article 2 (Black-Box, Gray-Box, White-Box)
  • Article 3 (What is Manual Penetration Testing)

Article 1 – Penetration Testing Overview

Penetration testing, also called pen testing or white hat / ethical hacking, is the art and science of testing a network, web application, mobile app, IoT devices, wireless networks and control systems to find critical security vulnerabilities that an malicious actor (hacker)  could potentially exploit, causing harm to your business and or clients.

Penetration testing is typically performed in two major steps.  1) scanning for vulnerabilities 2) manually attempting to exploit those vulnerabilities. These Steps can be broken down into further stages.  Learn more about Penetration Testing Stages and Manual Penetration Testing here.   The overall penetration testing process involves gathering information about the target before the test (scoping), and then identifying possible vulnerabilities and proceeding with proof of exploit and attack paths. Once the actual penetration test is complete, the penetration testing company will optimize a report based on vulnerabilities, exploits and the steps to remediate the problems. The reporting level is critical in identifying weaknesses in your systems, with the knowledge of knowing how to fix them, before your company is exposed.

Other forms of penetration testing are also popular, which include:

• Mobile application penetration testing
• Client server (or legacy) application penetration testing
• Device penetration testing, (including workstations, laptops and consumer devices (eg. tablets and smartphones)
• Wireless penetration testing
• Telephony or VoIP penetration testing.

The penetration testing process typically includes: conducting research; identifying vulnerabilities; exploiting weaknesses;
reporting findings; and remediating issues.

It’s important to note that cybersecurity is a moving target, so once items have been remediated and retested, your systems still needs proactive measures (patches, updates, monitoring etc) since a penetration test and security assessments are only accurate for the point in time that test were performed. This creates an ongoing need for vulnerability scanning and penetration testing and most smart companies have some level of ongoing assessments.

The main high level objective of penetration testing is to identify potential security weaknesses that if exposed and attacked by a bad actor, would cause some form of harm and destruction to a company or client. Another form of Penetration testing is called client awareness and it can also be used to test an organization’s security policy, compliance and the company  employees’ security awareness.

Penetration testers are known as ethical hackers and Pen-tests are often referred to as white hat hacking, because in a pen test, the act is (or should be) controlled and simulated and used for the purpose of helping companies achieve an overall better security posture.

Penetration Testing Goals

The overall goal of a penetration testing is to find holes and weaknesses, however companies have various projects that many times require unique or custom goals, making the one-size fit all penetration model not the best for

Goals may including highlighting weaknesses in a company’s security policies or may include source code review and more advanced industrial control systems (ICS) testing. Some penetration testing projects may have the unique goal of seeing if a penetration tester can jump from box to box or from camera to camera. Most companies seeking out penetration testing services already have robust security measures in place (or think they do) and are looking to test those systems against real world simulated attacks. The goals for every penetration test are typically defined in a document called “Penetration Testing Scope”.

Penetration Testing – Scoping

Since scoping/project details will vary based on customer expectations, i.e., number of IP addresses, systems and other factors, it is virtually impossible to provide an out of the box “one size fits all” pricing quotation.  A solid pen-testing company will want to know at the very least -preliminary information and customer requirements in order to provide the most accurate quote/timeline and expectations.  Be wary of a “one price fits all” pen-test as these low price solutions that fit any scenario are most likely using an automated scan and just checking off boxes.

Why Penetration Testing?

Penetration tests should be controlled. Penetration testing companies will establish an action plan and communication plan and typically report critical vulnerabilities immediately upon finding them. A penetration test (pen test) involves the use of a variety of manual and automated techniques to simulate an attack on an company’s information systems – either from malicious outsiders or from the company’s  own staff.

The main reason companies perform penetration testing typically fall into a category below:

• A growing requirement for compliance and or compliance related issues (doing business with other companies and sharing critical information)
• The impact of serious security attacks on similar companies and or industries
• A reliance on 3rd party vendors or outsourced services
• Significant changes to business processes, locations, networks or devices
• To develop a greater awareness about  Cyber security attacks, and to be more proactive, rather than reactive.

Penetration testing can be invaluable, but it is labor-intensive and requires great expertise to minimize the risk to targeted systems. Systems may be damaged or otherwise rendered inoperable during the course of penetration testing, even though the organization benefits in knowing how a system could be rendered inoperable by an intruder. Although experienced penetration testers can mitigate this risk, it can never be fully eliminated. Penetration testing should be performed only after careful consideration, notification, and planning”

• Mobile application penetration testing
• Client server (or legacy) application penetration testing
• Device penetration testing, (including workstations, laptops and consumer devices (eg. tablets and smartphones)
• Wireless penetration testing
• Telephony or VoIP penetration testing.

The penetration testing process typically includes: conducting research; identifying vulnerabilities; exploiting weaknesses; reporting findings; and remediating issues.

It’s important to note that cybersecurity is a moving target, so once items have been remediated and retested, your systems still needs proactive measures (patches, updates, monitoring etc) since a penetration test and security assessments are only accurate for the point in time that test were performed. This creates an ongoing need for vulnerability scanning and penetration testing and most smart companies have some level of ongoing assessments.

The main high level objective of penetration testing is to identify potential security weaknesses that if exposed and attacked by a bad actor, would cause some form of harm and destruction to a company or client. Another form of Penetration testing is called client awareness and it can also be used to test an organization’s security policy, compliance and the company  employees’ security awareness.

Penetration testers are known as ethical hackers and Pen-tests are often referred to as white hat hacking, because in a pen test, the act is (or should be) controlled and simulated and used for the purpose of helping companies achieve an overall better security posture.

Penetration Testing Goals

The overall goal of a penetration testing is to find holes and weaknesses, however companies have various projects that many times require unique or custom goals, making the one-size fit all penetration model not the best for

Goals may including highlighting weaknesses in a company’s security policies or may include source code review and more advanced industrial control systems (ICS) testing. Some penetration testing projects may have the unique goal of seeing if a penetration tester can jump from box to box or from camera to camera. Most companies seeking out penetration testing services already have robust security measures in place (or think they do) and are looking to test those systems against real world simulated attacks. The goals for every penetration test are typically defined in a document called “Penetration Testing Scope”.

Penetration Testing – Scoping

Since scoping/project details will vary based on customer expectations, i.e., number of IP addresses, systems and other factors, it is virtually impossible to provide an out of the box “one size fits all” pricing quotation.  A solid pen-testing company will want to know at the very least -preliminary information and customer requirements in order to provide the most accurate quote/timeline and expectations.  Be wary of a “one price fits all” pen-test as these low price solutions that fit any scenario are most likely using an automated scan and just checking off boxes.

Why Penetration Testing?

Penetration tests should be controlled. Penetration testing companies will establish an action plan and communication plan and typically report critical vulnerabilities immediately upon finding them. A penetration test (pen test) involves the use of a variety of manual and automated techniques to simulate an attack on an company’s information systemes – either from malicious outsiders or from the company’s  own staff.

The main reason companies perform penetration testing typically fall into a category below:

  • A growing requirement for compliance and or compliance related issues (doing business with other companies and sharing critical information)
  • The impact of serious security attacks on similar companies and or industries
  • A reliance on 3rd party vendors or outsourced services
  • Significant changes to business processes, locations, networks or devices
  • To develop a greater awareness about  Cyber security attacks, and to be more proactive, rather than reactive.

Different Types of Penetration Tests

Many Penetration tests performed by the Top Penetration Testing Companies will include common hacking techniques and may or may not include the use of automated Penetration Testing tools along with Manual Penetration Testing.
what is penetration testing (pen-testing)? Definition

Secure VPN Data Breach: The Pulse Secure VPN zero-day has been exploited resulting in the breach of several undisclosed defense firms and government organizations. via purplesec

Advanced Penetration testing tools used to perform various phases of a Pen-test

  • Tenable.io
https://www.tenable.com/products/tenable-io
  • Kali Linux version 2019.1
https://kali.org
  • BurpSuite Professional
https://portswigger.net/burp
  • OWASP ZAP Proxy
https://www.owasp.org/index.php/OWASP_Zed_Attack_Proxy_Project
  • Metasploit Framework
https://github.com/rapid7/metasploit-framework
  • NMAP Security Scanner 7.7.0
https://nmap.org/
  • DNSRecon
https://github.com/darkoperator/dnsrecon
  • SSLScan
https://github.com/rbsec/sslscan

Penetration Testing Certifications

When seeking a top penetration testing company, ensure your penetration tester is qualified and well versed in methodology, techniques and tactics along with having the knowledge and experience to provide controlled penetration testing. A few Penetration Certifications include:

Conclusion

Penetration testing can be invaluable, but it is labor-intensive and requires great expertise to minimize the risk to targeted systems. Systems may be damaged or otherwise rendered inoperable during the course of penetration testing, even though the organization benefits in knowing how a system could be rendered inoperable by an intruder. Although experienced penetration testers can mitigate this risk, it can never be fully eliminated. Penetration testing should be performed only after careful consideration, notification, and planning

Share your thoughts!  Have you conducted a successful penetration test?  Are you looking for career opportunities?  Have you found this article useful?  Join the discussion and view article 2 – Penetration Testing and Types of Penetration Testing

Redbot Security

Penetration testing (pen-testing) is the art and science of identifying a company’s security vulnerabilities and potential weaknesses using simulated real world hacker techniques. Learn more about penetration testing and how it’s the perfect security measure to prevent cyber attacks.
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What is Penetration Testing (pen-testing)?
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What is Penetration Testing (pen-testing)?
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Penetration testing (pen-testing) is the art and science of identifying a company's security vulnerabilities and potential weaknesses using simulated real world hacker techniques. Learn more about penetration testing and how it's the perfect security measure to prevent cyber attacks.
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