Cybersecurity has many components including penetration testing. This is a security process that involves ethical hackers and penetration testers who assess a system’s defences by thinking like a hacker. In this blog post, we will provide a detailed definition of penetration testing and explain how it works!
What is Penetration Testing?
Penetration testing is the practice of simulating controlled cyber assaults to assess and evaluate a computer system’s, an application’s, or a network’s security. This is done to find flaws before it gets exploited by someone with ill intent. The tester attempts to gain access to systems or data in order to evaluate the security posture of the organisation.
What attacks can you test for?
There are a variety of different types of attacks that can be simulated during a penetration test, including but not limited to:
Brute force attacks – These attacks involve trying every possible combination of characters in order to gain access to a system or data.
Denial of service (DoS) attacks – These attacks are used to disrupt the availability of services or resources on a network.
Social engineering attacks – These attacks involve tricking users into revealing sensitive information or compromising systems.
Man-in-the-middle attacks – These attacks exploit vulnerabilities in secure communications protocols to eavesdrop on and manipulate traffic.
Phishing attacks – This is used to deceive users so that they reveal personal information or install malware.
SQL injection attacks – These attacks exploit vulnerabilities in web application development to inject malicious code into database queries.
Cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks – These attacks exploit vulnerabilities in web applications to inject malicious code into user input fields.
Remote access attacks – These attacks allow a malicious actor to remotely control and exploit systems connected to the network.
Wireless attacks – These attacks exploit vulnerabilities in wireless networks and devices to gain access to sensitive data.
Benefits of Penetration Testing
Penetration tests can provide many benefits for an organisation, including:
Identifying vulnerabilities: By identifying and exploiting vulnerabilities, penetration testing allows organisations to fix potential security holes before they are exploited by malicious actors.
Improving security: Penetration tests help organisations improve their overall security posture and ensure that systems are properly protected from external threats. They also provide valuable insight into how a network or system might be breached in the future, so organisations can take preventative measures against such attacks.
Compliance requirements: Many industries require regular penetration testing to prove compliance with various regulations and standards, such as PCI DSS or HIPAA. These standards dictate what types of controls must be implemented on a computer system or network in order to protect sensitive data from unauthorised access/use.
How Does Penetration Testing Work?
Penetration testing is typically carried out by a third-party security consultant who has expertise in software penetration testing and attack methods. The tester will attempt to gain access to systems and data within the organisation. If the attack was successful, it would imply that the system is vulnerable to that attack.
The process of conducting a penetration test usually involves the following steps:
- Planning and scoping: The first step is to plan and scope the test, which includes identifying the systems or networks that will be tested, as well as the specific tests that will be conducted.
- Reconnaissance: Next, reconnaissance is performed to gather information about the target systems and networks. This includes identifying the IP addresses, ports, and other components which are reachable via the internet.
- Vulnerability identification: Vulnerabilities are identified by exploiting the systems and networks using various attack methods.
- Exploitation: Once a potential vulnerability has been detected, it is then exploited to confirm it.
- Post-Exploitation: In this stage, the tester takes advantage of any access that has been gained during the exploitation phase to collect more information or damage the system further
- Reporting: Finally, the results of the penetration test are documented in a report and shared with the client.
Different Approaches to Penetration Testing
Several different approaches can be used during a penetration test, depending on the specific needs of the organisation. The three most common approaches are:
Black box testing: Also known as blind testing, black box testing is the most comprehensive type of penetration test. The tester does not know anything about the systems or networks that will be examined in this method.
White box testing: This is less comprehensive than black box testing, but it is more accurate because the tester has access to all the information about the target systems and networks.
Grey box testing: It combines elements of both black and white box testing, providing a balance between accuracy and comprehensiveness.
The advantage of using a combination of different approaches is that it allows for a more thorough assessment of the security posture of the organisation. However, it could cost more.
Each type of attack will attempt to exploit a different vulnerability in the system or network.
Who Uses Penetration Testing?
Organisations that want to assess the security of their computer systems and networks can use penetration testing. It is also performed by organisations that need regular security audits. Pen testing is also used by organisations that have been breached and need to determine how the attack occurred and what vulnerabilities were exploited.
List of Industries that use Penetration Testing
- Financial services – Organisations such as banks and credit card companies are high-value targets for cybercriminals, and therefore need to have robust security measures in place. Penetration testing can prevent financial data from being stolen or manipulated.
- Healthcare – The healthcare industry is a target for hackers due to the large amount of sensitive data it stores. Penetration testing can help identify vulnerabilities before personal records are stolen in a data breach.
- Government – Governments are prime targets for cyber attackers, as they hold valuable information about their citizens and other entities.
- Education – Educational institutions store large amounts of personal data on students and staff members, making them attractive targets for hackers. Penetration testing can help prevent data breaches through the identification of vulnerabilities.
- Retail – E-commerce sites and other retail organisations are increasingly using penetration testing to identify weaknesses in their security that could be exploited by hackers.
Each industry has its own specific security needs and requirements that must be met in order to protect sensitive data.
Who performs Penetration Testing?
Penetration tests are carried out by qualified security individuals or teams. Companies use internal employees, or external pen testing firms to perform penetration tests.
Pen test team roles and responsibilities:
Project manager: The project manager is responsible for planning the overall structure of a penetration test. This includes identifying the systems or networks that will be tested, as well as deciding what attack methods will be used during the test. They also manage any third party contractors and ensure that all security requirements are met throughout the course of a penetration test.
Tester: A tester is an individual who performs various types of attacks on target systems to identify vulnerabilities and assess the security of a network or computer system.
Scripter: A scripter is responsible for developing automated scripts that can be used to exploit vulnerabilities during a penetration test.
Analyst: The analyst is responsible for documenting the results of a penetration test and providing recommendations for mitigating any identified vulnerabilities.
This is just an overview of the roles and responsibilities involved in conducting a penetration test. Many other specialised roles may be involved.
Drawbacks of Penetration Testing
- Pen testers are not always reliable: Some pen testers may be less than honest about their findings or try to cover up vulnerabilities to protect themselves from liability. This can lead organisations into a false sense of security, which could result in significant damage if an attacker were able to exploit those vulnerabilities later on down the road.
- It’s expensive: The cost of penetration testing varies widely depending upon many factors including how much time it takes and what type of system will be tested (i.e., a network versus a single computer). In general, though, it is costly for most companies–especially small ones without large budgets or resources at their disposal.
- It can be disruptive: Penetration testing can often be disruptive to normal business operations. Systems may need to be taken offline for extended periods of time to allow testers access and conduct their tests. This can cause frustration among employees, as well as lost productivity due to the downtime.
- There is potential for data loss/damage: In some cases, attackers may be able to damage or delete data during a penetration test. They could also potentially exploit vulnerabilities to steal sensitive information. This could result in significant financial damages and reputation losses for the organisation.
Despite these potential drawbacks, penetration testing is still a valuable security measure for organisations that want to ensure their systems are secure from external threats like hackers and cybercriminals.
Penetration tests should never replace other forms of security testing, such as Security audits, physical security measures, intrusion detection, etc. but they can be a valuable addition to an organisation’s overall security strategy.
Pentests should be performed regularly by organisations of all sizes. By understanding the benefits and risks associated with penetration testing, organisations can make an informed decision about whether or not this type of security measure is right for them.