A penetration test, also known as a pen test, is an authorised cyber-attack on a system to check for its vulnerabilities and evaluate its level of security. Penetration testing includes breaching APIs, front-end servers, and even back-end servers. Penetration testing is considered to be a form of ethical hacking.
This mode of ethical testing generally involves the same tools and techniques that a real hacker would use to breach any website or application. Insights gained from pen test help business owners enhance their website’s security and fine-tune security policies.
In this article, we will take a deep dive into the stages of penetration testing, its methods, and its benefits.
Keep reading to know more!
Stages of Penetration Testing
In order to understand what is penetration testing, understanding its various process is essential.
Penetration testing is run in 5 stages to reach the core of system vulnerabilities and tackle them. These steps include:
Stage 1: Planning and Reconnaissance
This stage involves gathering information on the system to be hacked. Testers can use different methods to gather the necessary information. For instance, if the concerned system is an app, then testers might study its source code in order to gather crucial information. Other sources of information could be network scanning, internet searches, social engineering, and so on.
Another crucial part of this stage is deciding on which testing method to use.
Stage 2: Scanning
In this stage, penetration testers try to ascertain how the target system would react to any kind of intrusion attempt. This is done through the following methods:
- Dynamic Analysis: Refers to analysing a system’s code while it is running.
- Static Analysis: Refers to analysing a system’s code to estimate its performance when it runs.
Stage 3: Gaining Access
This stage involves the actual cyber attack, wherein testers use methods like SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and backdoor to look for weaknesses and open-source vulnerabilities. This stage also includes data theft, traffic interception, etc., to truly evaluate the reliability of the system in question.
Step 4: Maintaining Access
Once a pen tester has successfully hacked into a system, they now try and maintain their access to the system. This stage helps pen testers ascertain how easily hackers can access and steal in-depth and sensitive information from a system by remaining in it for longer periods without being detected.
Stage 5: Analysis
Once the simulated attack is complete, testers “clean up” their breaches so that no actual hacker can get into the system. Subsequently, the testers prepare a report outlining the system vulnerabilities they discovered. Additionally, the report may also include measures to minimise these threats and enhance the system’s security.
Methods of Penetration Testing
There are different methods of penetration testing. The most common ones are discussed below:
- Internal Testing: In this type of testing, the tester simulates an attack mimicking an attack that has been done behind a system’s firewall by an insider. Internal testing helps professionals understand several aspects, like how protected their system is from a phishing attack that led to an employee’s credentials being stolen.
- External Testing: External testing is done to understand the robustness of systems that are visible to everyone. This might include a website, e-mail, domain name, and so on.
- Targeted Testing: In targeted testing, the tester and security personnel work in tandem with each other’s actions. This helps organisations understand how to tackle hacking attempts in real time.
- Blind Testing: This testing method involves simply giving the name of the system to be hacked to the tester. Blind testing helps simulate how actual hacking attempts progress.
- Double Blind Testing: In this case, the security personnel is not given any prior information about the testing as well. Therefore, this helps organisations train their cybersecurity employees by creating real-life scenarios where hacking might take place.
Benefits of Penetration Testing
Penetration testing helps organisations with the following:
- Helps determine the robustness of their online systems
- Aids in finding weaknesses in company websites or apps
- Helps strategise future security policies and allocate budget accordingly
- Promotes compliance with security regulations and data privacy laws
It can be easily understood that penetration testing plays an important role in ensuring an organisation’s level of online security is up to the mark. Since most companies these days have an online presence, ethical hacking has become even more common to assess the vulnerabilities of any enterprise’s online assets. Naturally, the need for ethical hackers has also grown considerably.
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