Last Updated on October 9, 2022 by Redbot Security
What is Penetration Testing & Its Different Types
With technological advancements, it has become much easier for cybercriminals to find vulnerable points in the organization’s IT infrastructure and make an impact. As per Cybersecurity Ventures, cybercrime will cost the world $10.5 trillion annually by 2025. That’s why organizations are required to emphasize more on implementing top-notch cybersecurity measures to mitigate the chances of attacks. However, it is also crucial to test out current security measures and pinpoint vulnerabilities to uplift the overall security posture. This is where penetration testing comes into action.
Penetration testing is a great way to identify vulnerabilities before they are exploited by attackers. So, let’s explore in detail penetration testing and also discuss its different types.
What is Penetration Testing?
Penetration testing, pentesting, or pen test is an ethical cybersecurity assessment practice that targets to identify vulnerabilities by safely exploiting them the way attackers would do and then helping to eliminate those vulnerabilities. Penetration testing is conducted on the complete IT infrastructure of the organization, including networks, devices, applications, remote IT environments, etc.
Penetration testing is conducted by cybersecurity experts to sets up real-world scenarios that help an organization to see how well its current cybersecurity measures can perform over a full-scale cyberattack. It is also known in many other forms, such as cybersecurity assessment, ethical hacking, intrusion testing, technical risk assessment, technical security audit, and many more.
It is recommended that organizations must conduct penetration testing once per year. However, those organizations that involve a high volume of sensitive user data or have recently gone through a major change in the infrastructure should conduct pen testing multiple times.
Different Stages of Penetration Testing
The different stages of penetration testing are as follows:
The first stage of penetration testing is to gather the information. Cybersecurity experts or penetration testers start with knowing about the business and gathering all the information they need to execute tests rightly. This information can be collected by talking with the IT team of the organization or collecting insights directly from the organization’s infrastructure. Moreover, the testers also decide on what tests they are going to run on the organization’s infrastructure.
The second stage is to pinpoint the threats that are most likely going to penetrate and attack the infrastructure. Using the information collected during the first stage, the pen testers will identify the assets to consider, list out the potential threats, and then rank them based on their chances of occurrence. This way, they develop a complete map of all the potential threats that can currently impact an organization’s IT infrastructure.
This is the crucial stage, as now the pen testers will start ethical hacking to compromise the system and expose it to all the threats mapped out in the previous stage. They target all the selected assets, such as devices, networks, servers, etc.
During and after pen testing, the pen testers keep documenting all scenarios to develop a detailed report. The reports list the attacks attempted to compromise the infrastructure, the number of successful attacks, potential security loopholes, and other similar information. Moreover, the report might also list the best possible measures to mitigate the loopholes.
Key Benefits of Penetration Testing
Considering the growing cyberattacks and security vulnerabilities with increasing tech advancements and expanding IT infrastructures, it is more than ever important now to conduct penetration testing. Even the best IT teams can sometimes fail to identify a security loophole before getting hit by some form of cyberattack. So, some of the key benefits of penetration testing are as follows:
- Determine the position of your infrastructure’s security in different cyberattacks.
- Identify hidden security vulnerabilities.
- Witness how low-risk vulnerabilities can cause severe damage.
- Witness the impact of cyberattacks on your infrastructure and business.
- Assess how effective are your current cybersecurity measures.
- Identify the environment attackers will use to penetrate the system.
- Get suggestions on how to uplift your overall security posture.
Overall, penetration testing is the perfect way of testing the limits of your organization’s security investments before getting hit by a major cyber calamity.
Different Types of Penetration Testing
There are different types of penetration testing that testers use depending on the level of knowledge and access granted to them. Black box testing, gray box testing, and white box testing are the main types of penetration testing. So, let’s now explore them in detail:
Black Box Testing
Black box testing determines the vulnerabilities in an IT infrastructure that can be attacked from outside the network. In this penetration testing type, the testers are provided with no prior knowledge along with no access to the targeted system. The simplest example of black box testing can be an assessment of website security with no user access or any other information. So, the testers have to use their analytical skills to analyze vulnerabilities by acting as the user accessing the website. Testers will create an attack plan depending on the website functionalities, such as a forgotten password, login function, input-based web pages, etc.
Similarly, a black box test on the network will start with a network connection. Afterward, testers will try to gather as much information as they could and then prepare an attack plan accordingly. To better understand it, consider the wireless network as an example. Testers will look for any access point weakness or other insecure network environments.
Black box testing is also handy when it comes to evaluating the chance of penetrations from the human factor. Social engineering penetration testing is the best example here. Testing out by email-based phishing attacks, SMS-based attacks, voice-based vishing, and similar other tests are the perfect way to check the success of the awareness campaigns and physical controls.
Advantages of Black Box Testing
- It reflects the closest attacker’s perspective, as the whole assessment is based on an unauthorized environment.
- It is a perfect assessment technique to pinpoint external vulnerabilities present in small and large systems.
- Testers use different open-source tools and other techniques to penetrate into the system, just like what attackers mostly do.
- It can detect server misconfigurations, SQL injections, validation issues, and similar other vulnerabilities.
Disadvantages of Black Box Testing
- There is no prior knowledge or access provided to testers, so the assessment is not deep.
- If the tester fails to find any external vulnerabilities, it might give a false assumption to the organization that its infrastructure is safe.
To sum up, black box penetration testing is an effective assessment practice for detecting external vulnerabilities in the closest to real-world attacks.
Gray Box Testing
Gray box testing determines the vulnerabilities in an IT infrastructure using low-level user access. In this penetration testing type, the testers are provided with some level of knowledge along with some access to the targeted system, such as login credentials, architecture diagrams, system code, etc. An example of gray box testing can be an assessment of website security from low-level access.
Gray box testing is perfect to determine what harm small information or privileged users can cause to an organization. It helps in testing whether low privilege users can somehow access functionality or data that is accessible to only high privileged users. Similarly, it also helps in testing the data handling by authenticated apps, such as SQL Injection and Cross-site Scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities. Moreover, it can also be used for advanced application or platform testing, such as integration with cloud components, using a framework like Rails, .NET, Django, etc.
Advantages of Gray Box Testing
- It reduces the time spent in learning about the infrastructure, as required in black box testing.
- The prior knowledge of architecture, design, or basic login credentials help to test APIs and web applications that involve user information to access applications.
- It is perfect for simulating different privilege-based threats to pinpoint relevant vulnerabilities and other loopholes, such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting, authentication error, and similar others.
Disadvantages of Gray Box Testing
- It does not provide access to the source code, so the test might won’t detect critical vulnerabilities.
- It can offer efficient results when network areas to be tested are defined properly.
Overall, gray box testing is meant to identify what level of harm a privileged user or partial information access can cause to an organization.
White Box Testing
White box testing determines the vulnerabilities in an IT infrastructure from both inside and outside. In this penetration testing type, the testers are provided with complete knowledge of the organization’s infrastructure and also have complete access to the system, applications, and network, including IP address, source code, network maps, credentials, configuration files, OS details, and similar other details.
White box testing is perfect for testing the strength of the applications, networks, and systems over privileged insiders and outsiders. Consider website application penetration testing as an example. In this test, the testers are provided with source code access, security architecture, access to multiple user levels, and similar other details. Afterward, the testers set up different threat scenarios to pinpoint all the insider and outsider threats.
Advantages of White Box Testing
- It is much faster than black box testing, as the tester has all the details and access needed.
- It is more accurate than black box testing.
- It highlights the different approaches attackers can take to compromise the system.
- It is a cost-friendly penetration type.
Disadvantages of White Box Testing
- It is much more difficult to implement.
- It might require some extra time to decide which areas to test out.
- It might be challenging to develop different test cases.
- It requires complete knowledge and access, so it hinders organizations to trust third-party authorities to implement this test.
Overall, white box testing offers the most comprehensive and detailed analysis of the security posture of an organization.
Wrapping Up – Summary Penetration Testing
Cyberattacks are not going to slow down anytime soon. In fact, the scale of cyberattacks is just getting bigger and more complex with every passing year. Organizations should implement cybersecurity measures, but they should also test out their infrastructures from the eye of cyber criminals. Penetration testing helps a lot here by offering an effective, safe, and rewarding testing experience. The above-discussed types of penetration testing can serve different cybersecurity assessment practices. So, try out the penetration testing with the right type that fits with your organization’s IT infrastructure and protect your on-premises and remote infrastructure from a major cyber incident.
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