Hacking a company’s security used to take a lot of skill and time. Still, nowadays the technological advances have made it easier even for amateurs to find an organization’s vulnerable point. Penetration testing works by helping businesses find out where they are most vulnerable and most likely to face an attack and actively solve the weaknesses before they are exploited by hackers. For pen testing, it’s never a choice between penetration testers vs. penetration testing tools. Instead, it’s more of what penetration testing tools will help ethical hackers more, and let’s proceed to define penetration testing.
What is Penetration Testing?
A penetration test is a security exercise to evaluate the security of an IT infrastructure by trying to exploit vulnerabilities safely. The vulnerabilities may be found in operating systems, application flaws, services, risk end-user behavior, or improper configurations. This simulated attack aims to identify any vulnerable spots in defense of the system which may be used by attackers.
When a penetration tester does penetration testing correctly, it will not only stop criminals from having unauthorized access to a company’s system but will also create real-life scenarios that will show businesses how well their current defenses would perform in case of a full-scale cyber attack. In addition, the insights provided from the pen testing will be used to fine-tune your WAF security policies and patch up detected vulnerabilities.
Who Performs Pen Tests?
A pen test should be performed by someone with little or no knowledge of how your computer system is secured because they may be able to discover and expose blind spots that were missed by developers who built the system or an internal test. Therefore, external contractors or penetration testers are brought in to perform these penetration tests. They can also be referred to as ethical hackers since they will try to hack your system with permission and increase security measures.
Many of these ethical hackers are experienced developers with advanced degrees and a pen testing certification, but some are self-taught. Some of the pen testers are reformed criminal hackers who now use their expertise to help in fixing security issues instead of exploiting them.
Why Do you Need a Pen Test?
A company’s security team often needs penetration tests to evaluate their IT infrastructure security because a company may have robust security in one area but lack in another area of the organization. In addition, a successful cyberattack may result in high costs meaning no company should wait for a real-world example to play out before they do a security testing. Penetration tools can help expose potential vulnerabilities in any business security layer and allow an ethical hacker or a pen tester to address the security vulnerabilities before they turn to liabilities.
What Are the Benefits of Penetration Testing?
When it comes to penetration testing, even the best IT department may lack the objectivity to find some security flaws that may cause an organization to be exposed to hackers. Ensure the pen tester conducts white box testing, black-box testing, and other security assessments from the outside. Having an external ethical hacker that is not part of the business or company provide value in the following ways:
- The external ethical hacker can detect the hard-to-find security risks through application scanning and automated tools network.
- The simulated attack might help determine the feasibility of the organization’s security to hold up under different types of cyberattacks.
- Assess and quantify any potential impacts on your business and operational functions
- Show how exploring the low-risk vulnerabilities could cause a lot of damage in the high levels.
- Judge how well the system’s defenses will perform when faced with an attack
- Help to prevent future attacks by implementing and validating the updated security controls.
- To quantify the need for a bigger investment in personnel and security technology.
Pen testing also satisfies some compliance requirements for the security auditing procedures, including SOC 2, PCI, and DSS.
What Are the Different Types of Penetration Testing?
Vulnerabilities usually fall under three categories: human, hardware, software, and understanding more of what a pen test consists of and potential vulnerabilities your business may face.
a). Web Application Pen Testing
This Web App Penetration test involves searching out places in your application that might be the target system by a hacker. You should install a new third-party component that will allow pen testers to view sensitive information on the company website, opening the company systems. The attack simulations security professionals carry out are designed to:
- Find vulnerabilities or application security flaws.
- Provide actionable insights on how the address the security weaknesses found
- Summarize the risks and discover how they will affect the company
Your business or company should use an ethical hacker from an application development background since they will use the experience to zero out issues common with web development. This will help develop actionable strategies that address web application vulnerabilities such as:
- Insecure Direct Object References
- Cross-Site Request Forgery
- Cross-Site Scripting
- Weak Session Management
- Injection Flaws
b). Network Security Pen Testing
Ethical hackers use pen tests to find vulnerabilities where a hacker might exploit in different networks, systems, hosts, and network devices such as switches and routers. The penetration testers look for potential ways a hacker might find real-life opportunities to compromise a company by getting unauthorized access or gain physical access to any sensitive data. Ethical hacking by your security team should use focused network infrastructure pen tests to identify systems and network flaws like:
- Inadequate, Inconsistent or Non-Existent Password Protocols
- Product-specific Vulnerabilities
- Wireless Network Vulnerabilities
- Weak Passwords
- Rogue Services
It would be more beneficial to use security teams in supporting networks, hosts, or systems. This experience allows penetration testers to develop intrusion tests that will improve an organization’s security posture.
c). Physical Penetration Testing
This type of testing will measure the strength of a company’s current security measures and controls, and it will also look for any potential weakness vulnerable to manipulation by hackers. For example, the vulnerability could compromise your organization’s physical barriers, lime cameras or sensors, and locks that allow people from gaining access to sensitive business locations leading to a data breach.
Using physical pen testing will help your organization stop unauthorized access into secure environments and offer invaluable guidance and ways to correct the critical issues. Some industries that will be at most risk include:
- Armored Transport Services
- Banking Institutions
- Healthcare Institutions
- Retail Services
- Government Services
- Technology Firms
- Hospitality Services
d). Cryptocurrency Penetration Testing
A Cryptocurrency pen test will look for security weaknesses in your systems, applications, hosts, software, or devices used in storage protocols and cryptocurrency transactions. In addition, this type of pen testing should check the social engineering side, such as phishing on the vendors and company employees and stakeholders to gain passwords or any other essential data to hack cryptocurrency networks.
e). Cloud Security Penetration Testing
This type of pen test is essential in helping companies invest in cloud technology to protect vulnerable assets and network security, making pen-testing important. In addition, the autonomy and flexibility offered by some cloud environment solutions will expose organizations to new security threats. Therefore, companies should employ penetration testers who understand the risks associated with using cloud technology.
These tests find potential exposures from an organization’s network, application, and configuration in a business cloud setup. This could give hackers access to internal systems, sensitive data, and company credentials.
f). IoT Security Penetration Testing
An IoT security pen test focuses on exposing any new software and hardware flaws that could allow hackers to gain access to the business’s sensitive data and take over a company’s system. This pen test will examine different IoT devices such as Insecure Protocols, Misconfigurations, Insecure APIs, and Product-specific Vulnerabilities. These vulnerability scans should assist security experts in applying a layered methodology, and it will help spot the security weaknesses before any hacker finds them.
What Are the Stages of Penetration Testing?
Pen testing is different from the other cybersecurity evaluation methods as it can be adapted from any organization or industry. Depending on the infrastructure of an organization, you may need to use certain hacking tools and techniques. The methodologies and techniques may also vary based on the company standards and IT personnel.
The pen testing process can take five stages, and it involves:
1. Planning and reconnaissance
This is the first stage, and it involves:
- Defining the scope and goals of the pen tests should also include the computer systems to be addressed and the testing methods to be used.
- Gather intelligence such as mail server domain and network names to understand better how a target works and some of its potential network vulnerabilities.
Scanning is the second step, and it involves understanding how your target application in the system reacts to the different intrusion attempts. Again, information such as IP addresses will help to determine any information on firewalls and other connections. This is done using:
a). Static analysis
This involves inspecting an application code and estimating how it behaves while running, and these pen-testing tools will scan the whole code in a single pass.
b). Dynamic Analysis
This also involves inspecting the application code in a running state, and it is a more practical way of scanning. It will provide a real-time view of the application’s performance.
3. Gain Access
This stage will use web application attacks such as backdoors, cross-site scripting, and SQL injection to help uncover any vulnerability issues. Security experts will then exploit the vulnerabilities by escalating privileges, intercepting traffic, and stealing data. This vulnerability assessment will help know the extent of damage they can cause.
4. Maintaining access
This stage involves seeing if the vulnerability can be used to achieve a persistent presence in an exploited computer system for a long period enough for a criminal hacker to gain in-depth access. Maintaining access is meant to imitate any advanced and persistent threats that may remain in the computer systems for months to steal an organization’s sensitive data.
The analysis is the last stage, and it involves compiling the results of the simulated cyber attack, and it should detail:
- The data breaches accessed
- The specific vulnerabilities exploited
- The period the ethical hacker remained in the target system undetected
The information gathered will be analyzed, and it should help a user configure an enterprise’s WAF settings and other application security patches to protect the organization’s infrastructure against future attacks.
How Often Should You Do Penetration Testing?
Penetration testing should be performed regularly, and regular penetration testing will allow businesses to locate and mitigate cyber-attacks. A business should involve security professionals or pen testers to take a penetration test when some changes occur, such as:
- Applying security patches
- Adding a network infrastructure
- Establishment of new office locations
- Performing application upgrades or any other infrastructure
- Modifying end-user policies
Frequently Asked Questions on Penetration Testing Services
1. Is a penetration test expensive?
Penetration testing is different for every organization, depending on its size and complexity. Still, the average price for a small and non-complex organization is about $4000, and for a large and complex one, it can be $100,000.
2. What is WIFI penetration testing?
A wireless penetration test examines your network using a method similar to a standard and wired penetration test, even though they focus on wireless as the gateway of exploitation to vulnerabilities. Penetration testing should imitate a real-life attack in all the ways possible.
3. Can I Pen-test my network?
Yes, you can do your pen tests on your network. Still, it would be best if you familiarized yourself with pen-testing frameworks such as OSSTMM and Penetration Testing Execution Standard, among others.
4. Is a Pen-test safe?
Yes and No. They are safe if done properly, an. However, suppose tests are not done correctly. In that case, they may expose sensitive data, crash servers, corrupt crucial production, and other adverse effects on your security posture associated with imitating a criminal hack. Notably, you will need to trust your ethical hacker.
Jacky Chou is an electrical engineer turned marketer. He is the founder of Indexsy, Far & Away, Laurel & Wolf, a couple FBA businesses , and about 40 affiliate sites. He is a proud native of Vancouver, BC, who has been featured on Entrepreneur.com, Forbes, Oberlo and GoDaddy.