What is penetration testing? All you need to know before hiring a penetration testing company

What is penetration testing? All you need to know before hiring a penetration testing company

Penetration testing is a simulation of a cyber attack aimed at gaining unauthorized access to targeted systems and data. It involves detecting the existence of targeted systems and applications, analyzing them, and evaluating whether they contain vulnerabilities, followed by exploiting these vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access to systems and data.

In essence, penetration testing involves scanning for vulnerabilities and exploiting them to gain unauthorized access to systems and data after detecting and analyzing the targeted systems and applications. It is conducted with the knowledge and consent of system administrators and typically involves making certain information and resources publicly available, making it the domain of ethical or white-hat hackers.

During penetration testing, various attack methods are attempted to infiltrate the system like a real attacker would. Vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the system are then reported to the client. The client is provided with assistance to address and remediate the reported vulnerabilities before the process is considered complete. To complete the penetration testing process, all reported vulnerabilities must be addressed and remediated.

Penetration testing methods

Penetration testing relies on three main methods, which vary based on the level of information available to the penetration testing team about the target system.

Black box pentest

In this type of test, no information about the systems is provided to the penetration testing expert. The penetration test is conducted using only publicly accessible information about the system, similar to a real hacker.

White box pentest

In this test, the penetration testing expert is provided with full information about the systems used by the company. The goal here is to identify the potential damage that an insider threat or an attacker who has already breached the system and gained a foothold could cause to the company.

Grey box pentest

Grey box penetration testing falls between white box and black box testing. In this approach, the penetration testing expert is provided with information and privileges known to an unauthorized user of the system, striking a balance between the extremes of the other two methods.

Types of penetration testing

Penetration testing varies based on the structure of the target and aims to conduct appropriate enumeration, identify attack vectors, and perform penetration activities into the system. Unauthorized access to the penetrated target and elevation of privileges also differ based on the target’s structure. Therefore, it is essential for the penetration testing team to consist of experts competent in all these test types.

Generally, penetration testing can be classified as follows:

Internal network penetration testing

This aims to identify all machines connected to the organization’s internal network. It focuses on identifying security vulnerabilities in network infrastructure such as firewalls, routers, and switches.

External network penetration testing

These tests evaluate the security of an external network perimeter. They inspect externally accessible components like firewalls, web application firewalls (WAFs), and other security devices.

Web application penetration testing

This examines the security vulnerabilities of web-based applications. It includes testing for SQL injection, bypassing security firewalls, and authorization controls.

API penetration testing

API penetration testing assesses the authorization and authentication controls, data validation and accuracy mechanisms, data privacy and security, API access controls, and error handling.

Mobile application penetration testing

This targets security vulnerabilities in applications running on mobile platforms like iOS or Android. It includes testing for data storage, authentication, and security firewall controls.

Cloud system penetration testing

This type evaluates the security level of a business’s cloud-based infrastructure. It examines the cloud service provider’s servers, storage areas, databases, and network components.

Critical infrastructure/SCADA penetration testing

This assesses the security level of an organization’s critical infrastructure systems. It involves detecting security vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure systems like energy distribution, water treatment, industrial automation, etc.

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) testing

This aims to determine how long systems can withstand potential DDoS attacks. DDoS attacks target the “availability” component of information security and weaken security by causing access interruptions to the targeted systems.

Wireless network system testing

WiFi testing is a type of penetration testing aimed at identifying weaknesses in a business’s wireless network. It includes testing for wireless network devices, passwords, user vulnerability detection, etc. Additionally, laptops, tablets, smartphones connected to the wireless network can also be tested.

VoIP infrastructure penetration testing

This is conducted to assess the security level of voice communication systems. It aims to identify security vulnerabilities in VoIP networks. VoIP infrastructure penetration testing evaluates elements such as authorization controls, data integrity, network security, and physical access.

Social engineering testing

This targets the human layer and aims to test the cybersecurity awareness of company employees. Social engineering tests are used to evaluate the effectiveness of email security infrastructure. These tests may include methods such as sending fake emails (phishing), contacting via phone, or reaching out via social media.

Penetration Testing Methodologies

Penetration testing methodologies refer to the approaches that need to be followed for conducting penetration testing effectively. In a broader sense, penetration testing methodology comprises standard and accepted rules created by various communities and organizations to achieve better results during penetration testing and ensure its repeatability.

Some of the most commonly used methodologies include:

OSSTMM (The Open Source Security Testing Methodology Manual)

OSSTMM is a methodology used for conducting security tests on a wide range of areas, including physical security, network security, and application security.

OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project)

OWASP methodology is a comprehensive approach widely used to ensure the security of web applications. It includes stages such as information gathering, configuration management, vulnerability detection, and reporting.

ISSAF (Information Systems Security Assessment)

ISSAF is a methodology used for the security assessment of information systems. It involves stages like information gathering, attack planning, and vulnerability detection.

NIST SP800–115

This methodology, created by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), defines the stages of penetration testing in detail.

PTES (Penetration Testing Execution Standard)

PTES is a standard that provides a detailed explanation of the penetration testing process. It includes stages such as information gathering, attack planning, exploitation, and reporting.

Penetration Testing Phases

Penetration testing is a systematic process consisting of several sequential phases. In essence, this process can be evaluated in seven steps:

1. Scope definition

A scope form is filled out between the penetration testing team and the client. This helps determine the nature and quantity of the systems to be subjected to the test.

2. Information gathering

After defining the scope, information about the system to be penetrated is collected. The more information gathered at this stage, the more successful and comprehensive the attack will be.

3. Vulnerability scanning

In this stage, misconfigurations and vulnerabilities in operating systems, applications, and services running on the target system are identified.

4. Gaining access

Using the collected information and identified vulnerabilities, attempts are made to gain access to the system. The aim is to bypass devices such as firewalls, intrusion detection, and prevention systems to gain access to the resources on the system.

5. Privilege escalation

The goal in privilege escalation is to elevate permissions from a compromised user account to a more privileged user account. Once privilege escalation is achieved, almost unlimited access is obtained across the system.

6. Pivoting

In this stage, after gaining access as a user, attempts are made to compromise the accounts of other users on the network. This process involves testing for network eavesdropping and reading user session information stored in specific databases to compromise other users.

7. Reporting

Reporting is the final and most important stage of penetration testing. In this stage, the vulnerabilities found throughout the process, along with proposed solutions, potential impacts of the vulnerabilities, methods of exploiting the vulnerabilities, distribution graphs of vulnerabilities, and details of applied attack methods, are presented to the client.

If you want to hire a penetration testing company, please don’t hesitate to drop us a line. Remember, security comes first, and staying aware is key to a smooth digital journey.