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Penetration Testing in Cyber Security: What is it, Types, Pros and Cons

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25th Sep, 2023
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Penetration Testing in Cyber Security: What is it, Types, Pros and Cons

Penetration testing is a controlled hacking method in which a professional pen tester, acting on behalf of a business, uses the same tactics as a criminal hacker to look for weaknesses in the company’s networks or applications. The method comprises numerous steps, including information collecting, vulnerability scanning, exploitation, and reporting. 

Penetration testing is widely recognised as a vital technique to safeguard enterprises against cyber threats. This blog will discuss how to do penetration testing, why pen testing is important, and penetration testing methods to help you understand its significance and how it can benefit your organisation.

Define Penetration Testing in Cybersecurity

Penetration testing, often known as pen testing, is essential to cybersecurity. It entails analysing a computer system’s applications, architecture, and network for vulnerabilities and susceptibility to threats like hackers and cyberattacks. 

Penetration testing may benefit a company since pen testers are professionals who think like adversaries; they can analyse data to focus their assaults and test systems and websites in ways automated testing solutions following a script cannot. Penetration testing is a component of a thorough security examination.

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Who Runs Pen Tests?

Ethical hackers are IT professionals who employ hacking techniques to assist organisations in identifying potential entry points into their infrastructure. Most pen testers are security consultants or experienced developers with pen testing certification. It is ideal to have a pen test done by someone with little to no prior knowledge of how the system is secured since they may be able to find vulnerabilities that individuals familiar with the system are unaware of. Other consultants frequently do pen testing since they are trained to detect, exploit, and record vulnerabilities and use their findings to enhance the organisation’s security posture. 

Penetration Testing’s Importance

Here are the key reasons why penetration testing is important:

  • Identifying vulnerabilities: It can uncover hidden weaknesses in an organisation’s systems, applications, and networks. By simulating attacks, penetration testers can find security holes before malevolent groups exploit them. 
  • Testing security controls: Penetration testing provides a technique to assess the efficacy of an organisation’s security policies and processes. It helps validate the security mechanisms and suggests areas requiring improvements. By conducting frequent penetration testing, businesses may ensure that their security policies are robust and effective in guarding against possible threats.
  • Compliance and regulatory requirements: Penetration testing is often necessary to fulfil regulatory compliance standards and industry norms. It helps firms demonstrate their commitment to security and privacy by complying with the most demanding security criteria. Regular pen testing can help firms satisfy regulatory agencies’ security and privacy criteria.
  • Risk mitigation: Penetration testing significantly minimises risks connected with data breaches and software vulnerabilities. By detecting and fixing vulnerabilities, companies may lower the risk of a data breach and the potential harm it might cause. 
  • Improving security awareness: Pen tests act as a “fire drill” for businesses, allowing staff to learn how to manage break-ins. It helps increase awareness about potential security threats and teaches personnel about best practices for addressing and responding to security issues.

Types of Penetration Testing in Cybersecurity

Listed below are some common types of penetration testing in cybersecurity:

1. Cloud Penetration Testing

Cloud penetration testing is a simulated assault evaluating an organisation’s cloud-based applications and infrastructure security. The goal is to discover security risks and vulnerabilities and provide remedial recommendations. It entails modelling a controlled cyber assault to detect possible flaws. 

Several approaches and tools may be employed depending on the cloud service and provider. However, conducting cloud penetration testing poses legal and technological difficulties. Each cloud service provider has its testing policy. Cloud pen testing is critical for assuring the security of cloud environments, systems, and devices, and its suitability relies on context and purpose.

2. Network Penetration Testing

This method helps uncover security flaws in applications and systems by using malicious tactics to evaluate the network’s security. It includes simulating cyberattacks against the target system to find vulnerabilities that hackers may exploit. 

A network penetration test aims to enhance a company’s defences against cyberattacks. The benefits of this testing include getting insight into an organisation’s security posture, finding and fixing security control flaws, and making networks safer and less prone to assaults.

3. Web Application Penetration Testing 

Web application penetration testing is a rigorous procedure that simulates assaults on a system to detect vulnerabilities and exploits that potentially compromise it. 

This step is vital in the secure Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) to create a system that users can safely use, free from hacking or data loss risks. The process comprises obtaining information, discovering vulnerabilities, and reporting them, with continuous assistance for remedy.

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4. API Penetration Testing

API penetration testing is a key method to uncover security vulnerabilities in APIs, including sensitive information leaks, bulk assignments, bypass of access controls, failed authentication, SQL injection, and input validation problems. 

It comprises five stages — preparation, reconnaissance, vulnerability analysis, exploitation, and reporting. It helps firms achieve security compliance requirements and secure sensitive data, systems, and procedures.

5. Mobile Penetration Testing

Mobile pen testing helps find and assess security vulnerabilities in mobile apps, software, and operating systems. It seeks to expose weaknesses before they are exploited for malevolent advantage. 

Mobile apps are part of a wider mobile ecosystem that interacts with devices, network infrastructure, servers, and data centres. Tools like Mobile Security Framework, Mobexler, and MSTG Hacking Playground are available for testing.

6. Smart Contract Penetration Testing

Smart contract penetration testing is vital for detecting and exploiting flaws in self-executing blockchain-based computer applications. It includes playing the role of a “hacker” to find security holes in a system or network. 

Methods include unit testing, static analysis, dynamic analysis, and formal verification. Web3 penetration testing covers the particular security problems of blockchain technology and its ecosystem, with smart contract vulnerabilities being a prominent worry.

7. Social Engineering Testing

This security assessment approach examines an organisation’s vulnerability to social engineering attacks. It replicates real-world attacks, allowing the firm to play the role of the opponent and discover strengths and vulnerabilities. 

The assessment helps measure employees’ adherence to security policies and procedures, demonstrating how quickly an invader may convince them to breach security restrictions. It can be part of larger penetration testing, attempting to find flaws and vulnerabilities with a clear route to remedy.

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What Are the Phases of Penetration Testing?

Some stages of penetration testing are:

Step 1: Reconnaissance and planning

In this step, the tester acquires as much information about the target system as possible, including network architecture, operating systems and applications, user accounts, and other pertinent information. The purpose is to acquire as much data as possible so the tester can prepare an effective assault strategy.

Step 2: Scanning

Once the tester has obtained enough information, they employ scanning tools to examine the system and network flaws. This phase analyses the system flaws that can be exploited for targeted attacks.

Step 3: Obtaining entry

This step involves a comprehensive investigation of the target system to detect potential vulnerabilities and assess whether they can be exploited. Like scanning, vulnerability assessment is a helpful technique but is more potent when integrated with the other penetration testing phases.

Step 4: Maintaining access

Once the tester has obtained admission, they aim to retain access to the system for as long as feasible. This step is essential because it allows the tester to see how long they can remain unnoticed and what amount of harm they can accomplish.

Step 5: Analysis

Here, the tester evaluates the penetration testing findings and provides a report detailing the vulnerabilities detected, the methods used to exploit them, and recommendations for remedy.

Step 6: Cleanup and remediation

The final stage of pen testing entails cleaning up the environment, reconfiguring any access acquired to enter the environment, and preventing future unwanted entry into the system using whatever means required.

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Methods of Penetration Testing

Here are some of the most commonly used methods:

External testing

External penetration testing involves assessing the network’s security outside the organisation’s boundary. The purpose is to uncover vulnerabilities that can be exploited by an attacker who is not authorised to access the network.

Internal testing

This approach involves assessing the network’s security within the organisation’s perimeter. The purpose is to detect vulnerabilities that can be exploited by an attacker with access to the network.

Blind testing

Blind testing includes verifying the network’s security without any prior knowledge of the network’s infrastructure. The purpose is to recreate a real-world attack situation where the attacker has no prior knowledge of the network.

Double-blind testing

This approach entails verifying the network’s security without any prior knowledge of the network’s infrastructure and the knowledge of the IT employees. The purpose is to imitate a real-world attack where the IT personnel is unaware of the testing.

Targeted testing

This approach includes assessing the security of a single network area, such as a particular application or service. The purpose is to uncover vulnerabilities peculiar to that section of the network.

Penetration Testing vs Vulnerability Assessments

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Here is a table that summarises the main differences between vulnerability assessments and penetration testing:

AspectVulnerability AssessmentPenetration Testing
PurposeIdentify potential weaknesses in an organisation’s IT infrastructure through high-level security scansSimulate real-world attacks to test the effectiveness of security measures and provide a more in-depth analysis of the organisation’s security posture
AutomationCan be automatedRequires various levels of expertise
ReportProvides a higher level of risk assessmentContains detailed step-by-step guides to reproduce and fix vulnerabilities
CostGenerally more cost-effectiveGenerally conducted less frequently and are higher in cost

What Are the Benefits and Drawbacks of Pen Testing?

Enumerated below are some advantages and disadvantages of pen testing:

Penetration testing benefits

  • Identifies vulnerabilities: Pen testing may discover several vulnerabilities, including software problems, configuration issues, and weak passwords.
  • Indicates attention to security: Regular penetration testing indicates dedication to the security of digital systems to clients and the industry.
  • Avoids penalties and other implications: Pen testing helps organisations avoid fines and other consequences of non-compliance.

Penetration testing drawbacks

  • Can be expensive: Mistakes during pen testing can be costly, perhaps triggering losses of critical information.
  • Encourages hackers: Pen testing might inspire hackers to target the company.
  • Disruptive: Pen testing may interrupt operations if not conducted appropriately.

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Conclusion

While penetration testing offers considerable advantages in detecting vulnerabilities and strengthening security, companies should carefully assess the costs, resources, and potential constraints involved with the practice. Treating penetration testing as part of a holistic security plan that includes frequent updates, patches, and continuous monitoring to enable persistent protection against emerging threats is crucial.

Profile

Rohan Vats

Blog Author
Software Engineering Manager @ upGrad. Passionate about building large scale web apps with delightful experiences. In pursuit of transforming engineers into leaders.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1How does pen testing differ from automated testing?

Automated testing is faster, more cost-effective, and can be quickly scaled to test big or complicated systems. Still, manual pen testing delivers superior outcomes owing to human skill, confirmation of findings, and the capacity to unearth vulnerabilities and flaws not listed in popular lists.

2What are penetration testing examples?

Penetration testing includes simulating cyberattacks on a system to uncover weaknesses, such as testing a company's network defences by attempting to breach them through phishing attacks or exploiting software flaws.

3What are the risks of penetration testing?

Effective penetration testing calls for cautious making plans, clean protocols, and collaboration with stakeholders to stabilise its advantages against the risks of unintentional disruptions, data breaches, and legal violations.

4Which tools are used for Vapt?

Burp Suite, Nessus, Metasploit, Nmap, and OWASP Zap are tools used for Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing (VAPT).

5What is the salary of a pen-testing tester?

The average salary for a penetration tester in India is INR 5.3 lakhs annually.

6What are the 5 pen-testing tools?

Hashcat

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