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What is Penetration Testing?

What is Penetration Testing?

One of the most important steps to building a robust security program is evaluating how effective it is. Knowing if the controls, processes, and systems you’ve invested in will actually meet your company’s specific security, privacy, and compliance needs is essential.

Allow us to introduce you to one of our favourite tools for assessing your security program: the penetration test.

Penetration testing is great for getting a comprehensive understanding of exactly how a hacker could gain access to your systems and what you can do to address those vulnerabilities.

Brief Overview: What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing, also known as pen testing, is an authorized simulated attack on a computer system, network, or web application. The results identify the vulnerabilities and weaknesses that a bad actor could exploit.

Ultimately, it shows a real-world simulation of an attack, allowing you to see how your security program would hold up against the real thing. Regular pen tests help organizations discover and address their security flaws before they become a problem.

There are several types of penetration testing, including external testing, internal testing, and blind testing. Each type of testing has its own objectives and focuses on different aspects of the environment being tested. 

What Are the Types of Penetration Testing?

There are generally three approaches to pen testing: 

  1. Black box: No credentials. Only the URL and IP are provided to the tester.
  2. Grey box: Credentials and other information are provided to the tester.
  3. White box: For Web and Mobile apps. Source code is provided to the tester.

“No two companies are exactly the same, so no two security programs should be the same either. The tools you use to evaluate your security posture and capabilites will depend on your business’s specific security, privacy, and compliance needs – including the type of penetration test you choose to leverage.” – Nishank Kedar, Lead Penetration Tester at Carbide

Penetration testing can be executed on your network, web application, mobile application, wireless network, and your infrastructure. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular types of penetration tests and when they might be used.

External Penetration Testing

This type of penetration test focuses on the security of your external-facing systems like websites and web applications.

When to use it: To ensure that your website is secure, particularly if your website handles sensitive information like payment details, healthcare data, or other personal information.

Internal Penetration Testing

This is how you can assess the security of your internal systems and network from hackers, disgruntled current or past employees, and third-party risks.

When to use it: To ensure that anyone working within your company’s systems can’t access sensitive information that isn’t required to perform their duties.

Blind Penetration Testing

Blind testing is a type of penetration test where the tester is given limited information about the target system, simulating a real-world attack scenario. This type of test is often more challenging for the tester, but the results are usually more comprehensive.

When to use it: When you have a more flexible timeline and you want to find out how well your security controls would hold up against a real attack.

Targeted Penetration Testing

This approach gives the tester specific information about the targeted system, like its IP address, and is asked to focus their efforts on finding particular vulnerabilities.

When to use it: When you want to focus on finding vulnerabilities in a specific application or system.

Social Engineering Penetration Testing

Social engineering testing focuses on the human element of security. They say the people in your organization can either be your biggest vulnerability or your greatest line of defence.

When to use it: To help determine if your team is susceptible to phishing attacks or if they’re following security best practices like proper password management.

Deciding which type of test is right for your organization will depend on your specific security needs and goals. Whether you’re looking to find vulnerabilities in your website, internal network, or employees, there’s a type of penetration test that’s right for you.

Who Performs Penetration Tests?

Penetration tests are usually performed by ethical hackers, also known as white hat hackers or penetration testers. These professionals are experts in the field of security and are trained to think like hackers. They use their knowledge of security threats and common malicious techniques to simulate an attack on a target system and identify its weaknesses.

What are your options for who can provide penetration testing for your company?

External Penetration Testing Providers

Companies can hire third-party penetration testers to perform regular security assessments and provide recommendations for improving the security of their systems. Software vendors can also hire them to test their products for vulnerabilities before they are released to the public.

In-house Security Teams

If your organization has the capacity, you can build an internal team that can run regular penetration testing. These in-house teams can conduct the full gambit of regular assessments including pen testing. Then they can work closely with your team to improve your security posture.

What is the General Process for a Penetration Test?

Planning and Preparation 

Before conducting a penetration test, it is crucial to:

  • Define the scope of the testThe scope of the test should take into account the objectives of the test, the systems and applications being tested, and any legal and ethical considerations.
  • Gather information about the target systemDetermine the operating system, hardware and software configurations, and network topology. The objectives of the test should be clearly defined. They should take into account the scope of the test, the critical assets being protected, and the overall security posture of the organization.
  • Determine the legal and ethical considerationsIf your company deals with personally identifiable data, you may need to add extra steps like implementing a legal contract between your pen tester and the company to ensure the data is handled in a secure and ethical way. Check with your legal to confirm whether or not this is necessary. 

The Four Stages of a Penetration Test

The methodology for conducting a penetration test involves four stages: reconnaissance, scanning and enumeration, exploitation, and post-exploitation.

  1. Reconnaissance – gathering information about the target system, such as IP addresses, domain names, and open ports.
  2. Scanning and Enumeration – assessing the target system and identifying vulnerabilities.
  3. Exploitation – attempting to exploit vulnerabilities to gain access to the target system or data.
  4. Post-exploitation – consolidating access to the target system and gathering additional information about the system, such as passwords and other sensitive data.

Types of Penetration Testing Tools

Building the right roster of tools and methods to run your penetration test is essential to yielding the best results from your assessment.

“Understand what you wish to uncover from your penetration test and build your tool case based on that. From scanners like Nmap and Nessus, proxy interceptors like Burp Suite and OWASP ZAP, to fuzzing, sniffing & spoofing, and exploitation tools like Metaspolit, sqlmap, searchsploit, and even source code review tools, there are a number of ways to gain comprehensive insights into your security program.” – Nishank Kedar, Lead Penetration Tester at Carbide

Keep in mind, some of these solutions are paid, and some of them are open source or “OSINT” – Open Source Intelligence software (OSINT). Third-party providers will have access to a full roster of tried and tested tools, but if you plan to build an in-house team, include the cost of solutions in your plans. 

How Combining Penetration Tests with Carbide Accelerates Compliance

Ready to fast-track your journey to compliance? Combining the comprehensive information resulting from regular penetration tests along with Carbide’s Platform, team of experts, and robust services ensures true security and streamlined compliance. From SOC 2, PCI DSS, and any framework in between, we’re here to support you in meeting the many requirements on your plate, including regular penetration tests.

Get started today with a pen test quote and discover how we accelerate the security and privacy compliance process so you can focus on your business.