Knowledge

What is Pen Testing? (The Essential Guide)

Penetration testing is a core tool in any security arsenal.

It helps organisations assess their security posture and find weaknesses in their systems before attackers do.

But how does penetration testing work? And why is penetration testing important?

In this post, we’ll look at what penetration testing is, the different types of pen testing, penetration test phases and more.

Let’s get into it:

Contents:

  • What is penetration testing in cyber security?
  • The five steps of pen testing
  • Different types of pen testing
  • Common pen testing strategies
  • What happens after a pen test?
  • How penetration testing works with SOCs
  • Protect your company against cyber attacks with Trust Hogen

What is penetration testing in cyber security?

Penetration testing, also known as pen testing or ethical hacking, is the process of simulating a cyber attack on a computer system to test its security.

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The goal of penetration testing is to identify and exploit vulnerabilities in a system so that they can be fixed before a real attacker finds and exploits them.

Penetration testers use a variety of tools and techniques to carry out their tests, which may include:

  • Scanning for open ports and services
  • Trying known exploits
  • Brute force attacks
  • Social engineering

Why is penetration testing important?

Penetration testing is important because it can help to find and fix security vulnerabilities in a system before a real attacker does.

It’s also an excellent way to test the security of a system and see how well it would stand up to a real attack, all while supporting GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and DPA (Data Protection Act) compliance.

Not only will you see the true capability of your cyber defence through a penetration test, but you will be able to assure customers and stakeholders that their data is being protected.

The five steps of pen testing

The penetration testing process can be broken down into five actionable steps:

1) Planning and Reconnaissance

The first step in any penetration test is to plan and reconnoitre.

This stage involves:

  • Understanding and defining the scope of the test, including testing methods to be used and systems to be addressed in the test.
  • Identifying the target systems and networks and collecting information about them.

2) Scanning

This phase of penetration testing is aimed at scanning and enumerating the target systems and networks.

Also known as vulnerability scanning, a variety of tools are used in this stage to identify open ports, check the target’s network traffic and gather information about the operating system, software and hardware.

This is usually done through:

  • Static analysis: Automated tools are used to scan the code for security vulnerabilities.
  • Dynamic analysis: The application is tested in a live environment, typically with real data.

3) Gaining Access

Web application attacks are used in this stage to find and exploit vulnerabilities before gaining access to the target system.

These vulnerabilities will be exploited by the ethical hacker attempting to steal data, intercept traffic, etc. The true aim of this stage is to understand how much damage could be caused by an attack.

These attacks may include:

  • SQL injection attacks
  • Cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks
  • Remote File Inclusion (RFI) attacks

4) Maintaining Access

Once access has been gained to a system, the attacker will want to maintain that access in order to gain further information or launch future attacks.

The aim of this is to imitate advanced persistent threats, which are real-world attacks that involve an attacker gaining and maintaining access to a system over an extended period of time.

The attacker may do this by:

  • Planting backdoors or rootkits
  • Hijacking user sessions
  • Escalating privileges
  • Creating new user accounts

5) Analysis

The final stage of the penetration testing process is to analyse the data collected during the test and produce a report.

The report will detail:

  • Any sensitive data that was accessed
  • Which specific vulnerabilities were accessed
  • The length of time the pen tester was able to remain undetected in the system.
  • Recommendations for improving security.

To learn more, read our post on The 5 Stages Of Pen Testing: What To Expect And How To Prepare.

Different types of pen testing

Although they all have similar aims, not all penetration tests are the same.

Below are some of the different pen testing types.

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Web application penetration testing:

A web application penetration test is a type of security test that is specifically designed to assess the security of web applications.

The aim of a web application penetration test is to identify any security vulnerabilities that could be exploited by an attacker.

Network pen testing:

A network penetration test is a type of security test that is specifically designed to assess the security of networks.

The aim of a network penetration test is to identify any security vulnerabilities that could be exploited by an attacker.  This can be internal, external or wireless

Cloud penetration testing:

A cloud penetration test is a type of security test that is specifically designed to assess the security of cloud-based systems.

The aim of a cloud penetration test is to identify any security vulnerabilities that could be exploited by an attacker.

Social engineering penetration testing:

A social engineering penetration test is a type of security test that is specifically designed to assess the security of organisations against social engineering attacks.

The aim of a social engineering penetration test is to identify any vulnerabilities that could be exploited by an attacker.

Physical penetration testing:

A physical penetration test is a type of security test that is specifically designed to assess the security of physical locations.

The aim of a physical penetration test is to identify any security vulnerabilities that could be exploited by an attacker.

Common pen testing strategies

  • External testing: This type of test is focused on assessing the security of an organisation’s external systems, such as its website and web applications.
  • Internal testing: This type of test assesses the security posture of an organisation from within its network. It simulates an attack by an insider threat.
  • Targeted testing: This type of test is focused on a specific system, application or network. It is typically used to assess the security of new systems before they are deployed.
  • Blind testing (closed-box pen test): This type of test is conducted without any prior knowledge of the organisation’s systems, making it more challenging for the ethical hacker.
  • Double-blind testing (covert pen test): Also known as a zero-knowledge test, this type of test is conducted without any knowledge of the organisation or their systems. It is the most difficult type of test to conduct.

What’s the difference between Whitebox, Blackbox and Greybox pen testing?

The strategies above can be broken down into three groups: Whitebox, Blackbox and Greybox pen testing:

Whitebox pen testing:

In a Whitebox test, the ethical hacker is given full access to the organisation’s systems and networks. This allows them to conduct a more comprehensive test but it does mean that the test is less realistic.

Blackbox pen testing:

In a BlackBox test, the ethical hacker has very limited information about the organisation’s systems and networks. This makes the test more realistic but it can also mean that the test is less comprehensive.

Greybox pen testing: 

A Greybox test is somewhere in between a Whitebox and Blackbox test. The ethical hacker is given some information about the organisation’s systems and networks but not everything. This makes the test more realistic than a Whitebox test but not as realistic as a Blackbox test.

So, what’s the best type of pen testing for your organisation?

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It really depends on your specific needs and objectives. If you’re looking for a comprehensive assessment of your systems, then Whitebox testing may be the best option.

But if you’re looking for a more realistic assessment of your organisation’s security posture, then Blackbox testing may be a better option.

Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution and it’s important to tailor your pen testing strategy to meet your specific needs.

What happens after a pen test?

Once a pen test has been conducted, the ethical hacker will provide a report that details their findings.

This report will include a list of all the vulnerabilities that were identified, as well as recommendations for how to fix them.

It’s important to note that a pen test is not a silver bullet. It’s just one part of a comprehensive security strategy.

Organisations should also implement other security measures, such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems and incident response plans.

How penetration testing works with SOCs

A Security Operations Centre (SOC) is a team of security professionals who are responsible for monitoring and responding to security incidents.

Penetration testing can be a valuable tool for SOCs. It can help them to identify weaknesses in their systems and put in place measures to mitigate the risks.

SOCs can also use penetration testing to test their own incident response plans. This can help to ensure that they are able to effectively detect and respond to security incidents.

Penetration testing is just one part of a comprehensive security strategy. SOCs should implement other security measures, such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems and incident response plans.

Fortunately, Trust Hogen offers effective penetration testing as a service, alongside a highly comprehensive SOC.

Trust Hogen is a leading independent managed service provider (MSSP), dedicated to keeping the data of companies safe and secure.

Protect your company against cyber attacks and contact Trust Hogen today.