Guide to Penetration Testing (PT)

Guide to Penetration Testing (PT)

The IT industry conducts a few tests to help prevent a breach. One of them is a penetration test or a pen test. It is widely considered as it exposes a company’s weaknesses before real hackers do, helping them avoid huge losses.

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As per a study by RAND, about 65 million people in the USA faced a cyber breach in the year 2019. These cyber-crimes have been growing each year. Therefore, penetration testing helps to exploit the vulnerability of the software before a hacker can access it.

What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing aims at assessing a network, system, web app, or any other resource to detect as many configuration issues and vulnerabilities as possible. Testers looking through the eyes of threat actors later exploit these vulnerabilities and find out the level of risk behind them.

This practice is also known as ethical hacking because it must be carried out within authorized boundaries. As penetration testing aims at looking for vulnerabilities in systems with the same techniques that hackers would use, it is crucial to observe due diligence and respect the limits set by the customer.

Present Security Landscape

The cyber security threat landscape is ever-evolving; with the pandemic, threat actors find new ways to exploit businesses. As of 2020, the average cost of data breaches stood at $ 3.86 million, which is expected to multiply manifold by 2025.

With data breaches having severe financial and reputational effects on organizations, it is essential to develop a security-first culture, where security is introduced right from the get-go.

Why Penetration Testing?

Especially for businesses that handle sensitive information, the importance of penetration testing cannot be overstated. However, penetration tests are not regular vulnerability scans because they mimic real-world attacks

Below we will understand the need for Penetration Testing.

Reduce cyber-risks

Penetration Testing will help your business find out issues before the public notices them. Penetration testing helps organizations find vulnerabilities and fix them, reducing the risk of breached business data. In addition, if you have a properly defined security program with penetration tests built into it, you’ll be able to measure your progress on an ongoing basis.

Satisfy stakeholder's requirements

Penetration testing helps organizations meet compliance requirements by systematically verifying that all vulnerabilities are eliminated. As a result, it reduces the risk of potential pricey penalties and lawsuits. It's also an effective way to monitor the efficacy of security controls.

Preserve organization’s reputation

A penetration test would expose vulnerabilities in a way that an external threat actor could exploit them. This gives the organization a strong case when they demonstrate that they have done their due diligence and acted responsibly to address any problems discovered by performing penetration tests.

Penetration Testing Stages

Penetration testing is the act of intentionally breaking into a computer system or network with the intent of finding security vulnerabilities. The penetration testing process as a whole is typically broken up into many states:

Planning and Reconnaissance

Reconnaissance is the first step in any attack. It is also one of the most critical steps. Information gathering can often be more important than how well you execute during an actual penetration test since information gathered may help detect unknown vulnerabilities before your assessment.

Discovery and Scanning

The penetration tester will use tools (such as Nmap, sqlmap, etc.) to perform detailed scans of the target environment. This is where system-level information like open ports and running services are discovered. Network mappings are also done during this stage.

Vulnerability assessment

Penetration testers identify the vulnerabilities of more sensitive targets in the environment. This stage is when vulnerabilities are discovered, but no attack is performed on them during this stage.

Exploitation

Once a penetration tester finds a problem, they exploit it to gain higher access levels. For example, when testing for SQL injection vulnerabilities, an attacker will try entering code in the search box so that they can see all of the data being returned from the database. If a vulnerability exists, this would mean that they could go back later and use the exploit to take control of it after gaining entry into the system.

Report and remediation

In this stage, the penetration tester releases a final report that details their findings. This report is usually given to managers and technical staff to implement any necessary changes and updates based on the recommendations provided by the test.

Rescan

If the client wants additional probes to be performed later, this is when they would be done. The penetration tester can perform another round of reconnaissance and scanning if needed.

Penetration Testing Methods

Penetration testing is the practice of finding and exploiting vulnerabilities in a computer system, network, or software application. There are many different methods for carrying out penetration tests, so it's essential to be familiar with the ones that will work best for you and your team.

Targeted

Targeted penetration testing concentrates on the specific systems and applications that a business or organization is currently using. This approach allows businesses to monitor their security measures' effectiveness closely and protect their most valuable data and resources.

External testing

In this type of penetration testing, the tester only needs to gain access from outside the organization's perimeter. In other words, they don't need to be on the same network as the business because they can hack their way in from another location or use a computer that is already compromised and residing on the internal network. For example: If an attacker can get on one of the business's partner networks, they can hack into their company's servers even if they are protected with firewalls.

Internal testing

This type of penetration testing is conducted by someone who already has access to the network (e.g., an employee or ex-employee). It also assumes that the attacker already has some access to the company's systems. This approach is less common than it used to be since it often takes longer for a hacker to escalate their level of access when compared to someone who starts with no permissions at all.

Blind testing ( Black Box Testing )

This type of penetration testing is done without any knowledge of what the tester will be facing. It involves finding vulnerabilities in a massive security audit so that it can take longer than other methods. This approach can also seem risky since there's no way to know beforehand what the tester will find on the network.

Double-blind testing 

This type of penetration testing provides the best of both worlds by offering a higher chance of success and providing an increased level of detail that can be used to identify specific vulnerabilities. It involves closely watching the pentesting process to ensure that all ethical guidelines are followed, and nothing is overlooked. This approach also provides the most accurate view of actual risk levels and security strengths and weaknesses.

Penetration testing methods

Penetration testing types

Depending on the goals of a penetration test, it is in your best interest to seek out a specialist with experience in this area. The seven main types of penetration testing are:

Social engineering test

This type of penetration testing primarily focuses on the human element and the likelihood that someone will give away sensitive information over the phone or via email.

Web application test

This type of penetration testing analyzes the security of a website and its associated infrastructure. This type is essential for businesses that conduct ecommerce transactions, as the last thing you want to happen is for your customers' data to end up in the wrong hands.

Physical penetration test

This type of penetration testing focuses on the physical security measures that are implemented at a workplace. If you're looking for more details about the level of access someone has to your home or office, this is the type you want to go with.

Network services test

This type of penetration testing centres on different services, including protocols for email and other forms of communication. Anytime you have an open service that isn't required for day-to-day operations, it's essential to ensure that it can't be abused or leveraged as part of an attack.

Client-side test

This type of penetration testing primarily focuses on employees’ devices, including their specific configurations, use. This can be especially important for businesses that have adopted bring your device ( BYOD ) policies since IT security staff members have little or no control over what types of problems may arise.

Remote dial-up war dial

This type of penetration testing primarily focuses on employees’ devices, including their specific configurations, use. This can be especially important for businesses that have adopted bring your device ( BYOD ) policies since IT security staff members have little or no control over what types of problems may arise.

Wireless security test

Your business should only use wireless networks and systems if required since this type of penetration testing primarily focuses on the security of these types of connections. If your business doesn't need them, it's best to avoid using them to lower the chances of being hacked or used for illegal purposes.

Generic test cases for Penetration Testing

Many generic test cases can be put together to form nearly any type of penetration testing. However, it's important to note that these types often focus on vulnerabilities rather than the actual security tests themselves. The following are some examples of common generic test cases:

1. The security of wireless access points can be tested by attempting to gain unauthorized un-encrypted access to the network

2. A social engineering test involving a home or small business owner can be performed to determine how much information is shared over email and what types of personal data may be at risk.

3. Port scanning attempts can be made to determine which ports are open and whether or not they can be used for malicious purposes.

4. Penetration testing can be performed on website security by attempting to access private areas that aren't supposed to be shared with the public, including customer databases and other assets.

5. The security of a personal network can be tested by attempting to gain unauthorized access through the web, email, or other means.

6. Attempting to hack into a client's computer and bypass any security measures that may be in place ( such as firewalls ) is also classified as penetration testing.

7. A wireless network security test should always involve determining if the wireless network has been intentionally or unintentionally configured in a manner that makes it vulnerable to attack.

8. A penetration test of social media sites and other online forums that allow user comments should always involve determining whether or not abusive language is allowed on the site, including speech that is threatening or privacy-invasive in nature.

Top 5 Penetration Testing Solutions

Penetration testing is a type of security assessment that looks for vulnerabilities in the system. It's important to know what these are before hackers can exploit them. Here are my top 5 penetration testing solutions.

1. NMAP

burpsuite

NMAP ( Network Mapper ) is a free open source security scanner that can identify hosts and run various network scanning techniques such as port scanning, version scanning, script scanning, and more.

2. Metasploit

burpsuite

Metasploit is a free penetration testing tool that can test the security of networks by using exploit modules made available by trusted hackers. It's a potent tool, but you need to know what you're doing if you want to use it without running into any problems.

3. Wireshark

wireshark

Wireshark is a free open source network protocol analyzer that can monitor, capture and analyze network traffic. It's similar to tcpdump in some ways, but there are plenty of reasons why you might choose Wireshark over its counterpart.

4. OWASP

burpsuite

The Open Web Application Security Project ( OWASP ) is dedicated to providing an open-source method of testing the security of web applications. This type of penetration testing often involves taking advantage of loopholes because a business owner or developer failed to follow web application security guidelines.

5. Appknox

appknox

Appknox helps you extend your security with just a click on your dashboard. The company makes sure to assign their top security researchers to break down your app to exploit vulnerabilities and detect threats. Features such as getting detailed assessment reports and remediation steps provide world-class security with penetration testing.

Conclusion

Penetration testing is the missing tool that fills up the gap between your aspiration and your requirements. Running a penetration test before an app or software launch will save you a million bucks in case there is a data breach. With modern UI and real-time DAST, pen-testing has become easier than ever.


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Taryar
Taryar W

Senior Security Researcher

Singapore Airlines

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