Penetration testing (or “pen testing”, for short) is a planned simulated attack against a company’s computer systems and security infrastructure to identify vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit during a cyberattack.
As data becomes the most valuable asset in the digital business ecosystem, information security has become the utmost priority for modern businesses. Information security penetration testing allows businesses to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their computer systems and information security infrastructure against various potential cyber-attacks through simulations and ethical hacking. This allows them to identify, understand, and patch up the security vulnerabilities for a holistic information security strategy.
Benefits of Penetration Testing
Ideally, you want a computer system and security infrastructure that has no security flaws. IT penetration testing provides you insights into how well you have achieved this goal and helps you:
- Find any weaknesses and vulnerabilities within your systems, from vulnerabilities in your infrastructure to the habits of your staff members.
- Show you the “real risks” of what a malicious agent can do by exploiting the identified system vulnerabilities.
- Test the robustness of your security controls, giving you insights into your security infrastructure’s abilities to identify and respond to any potential attack.
- Ensure business continuity in the event of a potential attack, allowing you to avoid any unexpected downtime or loss of connectivity.
- Have a third-party expert opinion to help identify strategic and budget priorities for the management.
- Ensure compliance with data security and privacy regulations.
- Build and maintain trust with customers, suppliers, vendors, and other stakeholders.
Types of Penetration Test
Before selecting a suitable provider, it is important to be familiar with the types of pen test available, as engagements vary in focus, depth and duration. Common ethical hacking engagements include:
- Internal/External Infrastructure Penetration Testing
An assessment of on-premise and cloud network infrastructure, including firewalls, system hosts and devices such as routers and switches. It can be framed as either an internal penetration test, focusing on assets inside the corporate network, or an external penetration test, targeting internet-facing infrastructure. To scope a test, you will need to know the number of internal and external IPs to be tested, network subnet size and number of sites.
- Wireless Penetration Testing
A test that specifically targets an organisation’s WLAN (wireless local area network), as well as wireless protocols including Bluetooth, ZigBee and Z-Wave. It helps to identify rogue access points, weaknesses in encryption and WPA vulnerabilities. To scope an engagement, testers will need to know the number of wireless and guest networks, locations and unique SSIDs to be assessed.
- Web Application Testing
An assessment of websites and custom applications delivered over the web, looking to uncover coding, design and development flaws that could be maliciously exploited. Before approaching a testing provider, it is important to ascertain the number of apps that need testing, as well as the number of static pages, dynamic pages and input fields to be assessed.
- Mobile Application Testing
The testing of mobile applications on operating systems including Android and iOS to identify authentication, authorisation, data leakage and session handling issues. To scope a test, providers will need to know the operating system types and versions they would like an app to be tested on, number of API calls and requirements for jailbreaking and root detection.
- Build and Configuration Review
Review of network builds and configurations to identify misconfigurations across web and app servers, routers and firewalls. The number of builds, operating systems and application servers to be reviewed during testing is crucial information to help scope this type of engagement.
- Social Engineering
An assessment of the ability of your systems and personnel to detect and respond to email phishing attacks. Gain precise insight into the potential risks through customised phishing, spear phishing and Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks.
- Cloud Penetration Testing
Custom cloud security assessments to help your organisation overcome shared responsibility challenges by uncovering and addressing vulnerabilities across cloud and hybrid environments that could leave critical assets exposed.
- Agile Penetration Testing
Continuous, developer-centric security assessments designed to identify and remediate security vulnerabilities throughout the entire development cycle. This agile approach helps to ensure that every product release, whether it is a minor bug fix or a major feature, has been vetted from a security perspective.
How often should pen testing be conducted?
It is recommended that all organisations commission security testing at least once per year, with additional assessments following significant changes to infrastructure, as well as prior to product launches, mergers or acquisitions. Organisations with very large IT estates, who process significant volumes of personal and financial data or have strict compliance requirements to adhere to, should conduct pen tests with a higher frequency.
Organisations can also benefit from agile pen testing, or continuous pen testing, in which regular testing is integrated into the software development lifecycle (SDLC), rather than testing at infrequent points in time. While traditional pen testing has the potential to impact on product release cycles, agile pen testing aligns with the release schedule to ensure that new features are secure and don’t present risks to customers.
Some of the Penetration Testing tool used:
- Burpsuite Professional
- Zed Attack Proxy
- Kali Linux
How does Pen Testing Differ from Automated Testing?
Although both pen testing and automated testing aim to test for security vulnerabilities in a company’s system, the methodology and tools they use and the depth of analysis differ between the two. Penetration testing mainly involves manual efforts – with support from automated scanning and testing tools – to test for vulnerabilities in and beyond the popular lists and business logic. Automated testing often overlooks these giving the same results repeatedly when you run multiple tests on the same system. On the other hand, experts responsible for pen testing can go beyond scripted routines and think like hackers to test a company’s systems against potential attacks and analyse the system’s response to identify vulnerabilities and strategise for holistic information security.
Penetration Testing Steps
You can break down penetration testing into four stages or steps as follows:
- Planning and Reconnaissance: This stage involves understanding the scope and goals of pen testing, gathering information about the target system, and understanding potential security vulnerabilities.
- Scanning: This step understands how the target system would respond to various potential attacks, either by inspecting the system’s code in a single pass or while running for a better “real-life” simulation of the attack.
- Gaining Access: This stage uses various attack strategies to uncover vulnerabilities in the target system and then exploit them to gauge the potential damage – like unauthorised access, data breach, or traffic interception – they can cause.
- Maintaining Access: In this stage, the goal is to see if you can establish a persistent presence using the vulnerabilities long enough to gain in-depth access and exploit the company’s information for days or even months.
Reporting and Remediation
The last stage of penetration testing is the analysis and web application firewall (WAF) configuration. This involves compiling all the results of pen testing into a report outlining the vulnerabilities the testers could exploit, the sensitive data they were able to access, and the amount of time they remained undetected within the system. Analysing this information can help IT security experts to configure the WAF settings to patch the identified vulnerabilities and protect the company’s security infrastructure against potential future attacks.
Penetration Testing Best Practices
No matter what stage of penetration testing you are in, adhering to the pen testing best practices can give you the best possible results. You can categorise the pen testing best practices across four categories as follows:
- Set a clear scope for testing, including the specific objectives and conditions for the test, the reason (or focus) of pen testing, the target environment, potential liabilities, and a follow-up plan.
- Establish your budget based on your testing objectives and the value of your assets. Consider things like in-house or third-party testing, type of testing, and scope of the test that can affect your budget.
- Choose the right penetrating testing methodology (from common methodologies like OSSTMM, OWASP, NIST, ISSAF, or PTES) based on the objectives and scope of your test.
- Find the right pen testers, either in-house or third-party experts, to get the most reliable results.
- Prepare for the pen test to get the maximum results, including reviewing the work of your pen tester, cleaning up the test environment, having your team ready in place, and getting proper authorisation for pen testing.
- Establish monitoring protocols before starting the test to monitor pen testing performance, log the testing impact, and take necessary actions to establish risk management protocols.
- Prioritise the pen test results and start strategising to patch the vulnerabilities pen testers discovered.
- Review your system vulnerabilities, identify the root cause, re-evaluate your security measures, and adapt via remediation.
Role of Penetration Testing Company
As discussed above, penetration testing plays a critical role in highlighting the strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities of your security infrastructure, allowing you to develop a holistic information security strategy. Although such testing is integral to your security strategy, you may not have in-house experts to carry out pen testing, you may lack resources and insights into current industry best practices, or you simply need a fresh set of eyes to review your security systems and WAF configurations. This is where penetration testing companies come in, giving you access to third-party experts with specialised tools and experience with standard testing guides, methodologies, and frameworks.
TÜV SÜD is an internationally trusted information security penetration testing service provider, adhering to the highest testing standards with the latest hacking and cybersecurity breach techniques. A reliable security partner allows you to future-proof your security infrastructure and computer systems. With comprehensive pen testing service, including detailed reports (with risk assessment), suggestions for network security improvements, verification of the effectiveness of implemented improvements, in-depth penetration testing assessment, and related certifications, you can make sure all your computer systems and security infrastructure are safe against any potential cyber attack.
With data becoming the most important resource in the digital business ecosystem, information security has become the topmost priority for modern businesses. Penetration testing allows you to assess how your computer systems respond to potential cyber-attacks under a controlled environment, highlighting the weaknesses and vulnerabilities in your security infrastructure. It allows you to develop strategies to safeguard your systems and ensure business continuity. Even without in-house expertise, you can rely on third-party experts and information security penetration testing companies to assess the current state of your security systems.