Penetration testing is a process designed to identify vulnerabilities in your system and provide remediation guidance. It’s important that you have an understanding of the steps that are required for penetration testing, as well as what needs to be done after the report has been delivered.
Penetration tests are conducted by various methods including social engineering, network scanning, and other techniques. The goal is to identify holes in your systems so they can be patched before malicious attackers find and exploit them. Penetration tests may not always reveal everything about a company’s cybersecurity posture but they will certainly help raise awareness of potential threats.
Let’s try to understand about pen test with this step-by-step guide in detail.
What is Penetration Testing?
Penetration Testing is a method used to check the security of computer systems, web applications, or networks. Penetration Testing is performed by talented and skilled IT Security experts or security professionals to determine if a system can be compromised or gain access by an unauthorized user or hacker.
Penetration Testing is also called pen-testing. Penetration testing usually focuses on finding system vulnerabilities or security vulnerabilities before they are exploited into real attacks by hackers.
If you watch the latest pen testing news, you’ll see many cases where a hacker has exploited areas and systems providing unauthorized access to various sensitive data like financial records, customer information, or intellectual property.
Why Penetration Test Required?
Pen testing can be performed for one of the following reasons: To identify vulnerabilities within your security infrastructure and make recommendations on how to fix them.
It can also be performed from an administrative perspective if the IT organization wants to ensure that its existing infrastructure is adequately secured and protected against malicious attacks.
In many cases, pen testing may be required by business insurers or regulatory compliance bodies for legal liability reasons. This is especially if the information security policies are not updated by the company.
And also there is a number of reasons also there like:
- To ensure the integrity and security of a network and information systems.
- To verify compliance with various standards applicable to the organization.
- To detect persons, devices, or activities accessing systems without authorization and alert the system owners.
- To define a security testing strategy for an organization.
How often to conduct pen testing?
According to Industry Best Practices, most organizations conduct penetration testing at least once a year. The frequency of conducting pen testing depends on the type of organization and its security requirements.
Tests can be conducted all year round as there are many new vulnerabilities discovered in newer versions of software or operating systems that may not have been found in the older versions.
If a cyber attack takes place, organizations may choose to conduct pen testing after the incident to find out how vulnerable their network is.
Penetration testing can also be performed for various reasons: At the time of software, rollout identifies vulnerabilities in new versions of operating systems, devices, or software and fixes them before attackers exploit them. It’s important that organizations keep their security policies up-to-date. To test the effectiveness of new security controls and mitigate vulnerabilities that may be present in their network.
Different phases of Penetration Testing
Depending upon the client’s requirement, different phases of pen testing can be conducted. The penetration test can be divided mostly into 5 phases, those are:
The first and foremost phase of a penetration test is the planning phase. As you know that before performing any action, proper preparation and strategy are required. Before starting this type of testing, IT security experts and network professionals should come together to design a test plan in coordination with other members of your organization.
The main goals of a penetration test are to identify and prioritize security vulnerabilities, strengthen the capacity of a network for a response during cyber attacks.
Secondly, it will help in determining how vulnerable your network infrastructure is to malicious attacks by hackers. It’s also essential to know what type of pen testing test plan will be carried out prior to conducting one. You should have an idea that what type of testing you need to get your desired result.
In this phase, we should collect the information required to perform penetration testing. Do these phases include gathering information about the nature of the business conducted by your organization, network infrastructure (i.e) number of servers in your company, and also the number of devices connected on a network?
Also, you should gather information regarding the operating systems being used in your network and is it up-to-date or old. If an operating system is not updated then there are chances that it might contain a number of vulnerabilities that could be used by attackers to break into your network.
The Discovery phase also includes identifying the critical information, software, and network resources that should not be accessed from outside. In this phase, you should also figure out if the remote employees have to access critical information via VPN.
Vulnerability Assessment Phase
It’s the phase that is used for finding the vulnerabilities of your network. The information collected in the discovery phase will be useful in this phase.
In this phase, we should focus on what malicious attackers look for and how they exploit the vulnerabilities in a network.
Post Exploitation Phase
This phase is all about ensuring that you have taken care of your network post-exploitation. You should know if the attacker has left malware or any other type of infection in your system after exploiting its vulnerabilities.
The main goal of this phase is to report the findings from all phases so that they can be used by the organization in order to strengthen its network infrastructure and also document the pen testing report for future reference. This will help them know their current level of vulnerability and how they have been attacked by malicious hackers in case any incident takes place.
Who Conducts Penetration Testing?
There are many different companies that can be hired to perform a pen test. The actual providers will vary based on your location and the requirements of your organization.
Some penetration testing companies may only offer audits, while others may only provide vulnerability assessments or even full-blown penetration tests.
It’s important to educate yourself on what services are available and make sure you select a provider that can offer the full range of services.
Types of penetration tests
There are different types of penetration testing in order to get your desired result. You should know about each type and select the type that suits your need. Following are the most common types of pen tests:
External Penetration Testing: Also known as external network security testing, it’s testing carried out at the outer edge or boundary of a network to validate its security. Also, the testing is designed to detect unauthorized access from outside as well as inside your network.
Internal Penetration Testing: It’s a penetration test that is performed on internal network resources with an aim to discover vulnerabilities and weaknesses that are present on any internal systems like servers, workstations, databases, VPN, routers, switches, and even peripherals.
Mobile Penetration Testing: Mobile penetration testing is a type of security testing that is performed on mobile devices such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones. It’s used to discover vulnerabilities like spyware, malware, and password-protected apps.
What is Penetration Testing Process?
Pen testing always starts with some kind of planning phase. This may be as simple as mapping out your network, or it may require more in-depth documentation which includes documenting your network, systems, and processes.
The actual penetration testing process depends on the type of provider you are working with. Different providers have different methods of operation for their pen testing.
Some providers utilize automated tools to perform network vulnerability scans and then hand the results over to a human pen tester to work through a checklist or review reports of potential vulnerabilities that may exist on the network.
Other providers offer highly skilled humans who will manually analyze and identify potential vulnerabilities in your environment through a combination of manual processes, technology-based assessment tools, and human analysis skills.
Usually, there’s a phase where remediation is performed once the penetration testing has been completed by the provider. This includes identifying new holes that have been uncovered and they’re being closed out.
How Much Does a Pen Test Cost?
Prices for penetration testing vary widely depending on the scope of the work required to be performed, and which provider is performing the assessment.
Typically prices for pen tests start around $10,000 per day for smaller providers but can cost upwards of $50,000 per day for some of the larger providers.
Difference Between Penetration Testing and Vulnerability Assessment
While they both sound like similar concepts, there are a few significant differences between pen testing and vulnerability assessments that should be noted: A Pen Test is performed from an offensive perspective where the goal is to compromise systems and gain access to sensitive information or data.
A Vulnerability Assessment is performed by an outside party and ultimately they are providing a report on the potential of the security infrastructure being compromised, not actually attempting to break in themselves.
Vulnerability assessments will always be cheaper than pen tests due to their nature. However, one thing that is important to note is that if you hire a provider to perform only vulnerability assessments, it may not be enough. A Vulnerability Assessment is just the first step in securing your infrastructure.
If a security hole is found during one of these tests and isn’t immediately closed out, it can easily lead to another potential security breach down the road. Penetration testing should always be performed in conjunction with, or after the vulnerability assessment has been performed.
Can You Have a Pen Test Without Breaking Any Rules?
Technically no. To perform a pen test you must have authorization from someone in your organization. This can be as simple as asking a technology professional to authorise an email giving permission for the testing, or it can be more complex depending on the location of the organization.
It’s important to note that if you have a CISO in your security environment, they are most likely responsible for authorizing the pen test. If this is not the case then it’s important to educate yourself on who has authority over pen testing and how to go about obtaining their permission to conduct the test.
What Happens When a Vulnerability is Found?
Once discovered and documented, the security provider will notify you of any new or existing vulnerabilities in your environment that have been found during their assessment. This step is very important as if left un-fixed these vulnerabilities may lead to further compromise of your network and valuable data.
The provider will then provide a detailed report on all of the vulnerabilities they have found, as well as potential ways to close holes where possible. They may also recommend additional testing or assessment be done depending on the findings listed in their report.
Penetration Testing Tools or Toolkit
There are a number of pen testing tools available on the internet which can be downloaded freely and they help you to find out vulnerabilities easily without having any technical knowledge about them.
You can use some of the free tools for penetration testing like:
Network Mapper (Nmap): It is one such very well-known tool that scans your network and maps all connected devices to create a report on your current bandwidth utilization. Also, it helps you in determining which devices are running services that are known to have security issues. Nmap is installed on most operating systems and it’s the first tool any ethical hacker will use when conducting a penetration test.
Aircrack: It is another free tool that can be used for performing various attacks on the wireless network. Aircrack-ng is useful in monitoring wireless networks and collecting information about the access points through which wireless networks are being hosted.
Kali Linux: It is one such very popular software that is considered to be an ultimate hacking toolkit. An attacker can use various tools which come with Kali Linux for performing attacks on computers and network systems.
Metasploit: A testing framework that helps in developing and executing exploit codes through which attackers can access the system.
Nessus: It is a network vulnerability scanner that performs comprehensive scans of a computer or network to identify vulnerabilities in its security and firewall settings. Security experts also use it for verifying whether the remote employees have proper permission to access the critical data and information from outside.