A penetration test, colloquially known as a pen test, pentest or ethical hacking, is an authorized simulated cyberattack on a computer system, performed to evaluate the security of the system.
Standard penetration test is performed to identify both weaknesses (also referred to as vulnerabilities), including the potential for unauthorized parties to gain access to the system's features and data, as well as strengths, enabling a full risk assessment to be completed.
The main objective of system penetration testing is to identify security weaknesses. Vulnerability testing can also be used to test an organization's security policy, its adherence to compliance requirements, its employees' security awareness and the organization's ability to identify and respond to security incidents.
Typically,professional penetration testingprovides information about security weaknesses that are identified or exploited through pen testing is aggregated and provided to the organization's IT and network system managers, enabling them to make strategic decisions and prioritize remediation efforts.
A wide variety of software security testing tools are available to assist with penetration testing, including free-of-charge, free software, and commercial software. Penetration tools scan code in order to identity malicious code in applications that could result in a security breach. Pen testing tools examine data encryption techniques and can identify hard-coded values, such as usernames and passwords, to verify security vulnerabilities in the system.
Important aspect of any penetration testing program is defining the scope within which the pen testers must operate. Usually, the scope defines what systems, locations, techniques and tools can be used in a penetration test. Limiting the scope of the penetration test helps focus team members - and defenders - on the systems over which the organization has control.
Here are several of the main vulnerability penetration testing approaches:
- Targeted testing is performed by the organization's IT team and the penetration testing team working together. It's sometimes referred to as a "lights turned on" approach because everyone can see the test being carried out.
- External testing targets a company's externally visible servers or devices including domain name servers, email servers, web servers or firewalls. Theobjective of penetration testingis to find out if an outside attacker can get in and how far they can get in once they've gained access.
- Internal testing mimics an inside attack behind the firewall by an authorized user with standard access privileges. This kind of test is useful for estimating how much damage a disgruntled employee could cause.
- Blind testing simulates the actions and procedures of a real attacker by severely limiting the information given to the person or team performing the test beforehand. Typically, the pen testers may only be given the name of the company.
- Double-blind testing takes the blind test and carries it a step further. In this type of pen test, only one or two people within the organization might be aware a test is being conducted. Double-blind tests can be useful for testing an organization's security monitoring and incident identification as well as its response procedures.
- Black box testing is basically the same as blind testing, but the tester receives no information before the test takes place. Rather, the pen testers must find their own way into the system.
- White box testing provides the penetration testers information about the target network before they start their work. This information can include such details as IP addresses, network infrastructure schematics and the protocols used plus the source code.
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F.A.Q about Penetration Testing
What Is Penetration Testing?
There is a considerable amount of confusion in the industry regarding the differences between vulnerability assessment and penetration testing tool,as the two phrases are commonly interchanged. However, their meaning and implications are very different. A vulnerability assessment simply identifies and reports noted vulnerabilities, whereas a pentest attempts to exploit the vulnerabilities to determine whether unauthorized access or other malicious activity is possible. Penetration testing typically includes network penetration testing and web application security testing as well as controls and processes around the networks and applications, and should occur from both outside the network trying to come in (external testing) and from inside the network.
What is a pentesting tool ?
Penetration tools are used as part testing to automate certain tasks, improve testing efficiency and discover issues that might be difficult to find using manual analysis techniques alone. Two common penetration testing tools are static analysis tools and dynamic analysis tools. Tools for attack include software designed to produce brute-force attacks or SQL injections. There is also hardware specifically designed for pen testing, such as small inconspicuous boxes that can be plugged into a computer on the network to provide the hacker with remote access to that network. In addition, an ethical hacker may use social engineering techniques to find vulnerabilities. For example, sending phishing emails to company employees, or even disguising themselves as delivery people to gain physical access to the building.
What are the benefits of penetration testing?
- Manage the Risk Properly. For many organizations, one of the most popular benefits of pen testing services is that they will give you a baseline to work upon to cure the risk in a structured and optimal way. It will show you the list of vulnerabilities in the target environment and the risks associated with it.
- Increase Business Continuity. Business continuity is the prime concern for any successful organization. A break in the business continuity can happen for many reasons. Lack of security loopholes is one of them. Insecure systems suffer more breaches in their availability than the secured ones. Today attackers are hired by other organizations to stop the continuity of business by exploiting the vulnerabilities to gain the access and to produce a denial of service condition which usually crashes the vulnerable service and breaks the server availability.
- Protect Clients, Partners, and Third Parties. A security breach can affect not only the target organization but also their associated clients, partners and third parties working with it. However, if company schedules a penetration test regularly and takes necessary actions towards security, it will help professionals build trust and confidence in the organization.
- Helps to Evaluate Security Investment. The pen test results will give us an independent view of the effectiveness of existing security processes, ensuring that configuration management practices have been followed correctly. This is an ideal opportunity to review the efficiency of the current security investment. What needs to be improved and what is working and what is not working and how much investment needed to build the more secure environment in the organization.
- Help Protect Public Relationships and Guard the reputation of your company.A good public relationship and company reputation are built up after taking many years struggle and hard work and with a huge amount of investment. This can be suddenly changed due to a single security breach.
- Protection from Financial Damage. A simple breach of the security system may cause millions of dollars of damage. Penetration testing can protect your organization from such damages.
- Helps to tests cyber-defense capability. During a penetration test, the target company’s security team should be able to detect multiple attacks and respond accordingly on time. Furthermore, if an intrusion is detected, the security and forensic teams should start investigations, and the penetration testers should be blocked and their tools removed. The effectiveness of your protection devices like IDS, IPS or WAF can also be tested during a penetration test.
- Client-side Attacks. Pen tests are an effective way of ensuring that successful highly targeted client-side attacks against key members of your staff. Security should be treated with a holistic approach. Companies only assessing the security of their servers run the risk of being targeted with client-side attacks exploiting vulnerabilities in software like web browsers, pdf readers, etc. It is important to ensure that the patch management processes are working properly updating the operating system and third-party applications.