What is Penetration Testing?

What is Penetration Testing?

What exactly is penetration testing? Let’s take a deep dive into the process of penetration testing and how it helps keep your systems secure.

What is penetration testing? Why is it a critical part of your cybersecurity strategy? It’s simple. You can’t know if your cybersecurity is working if you don’t regularly test your defenses. Penetration testing is the process of identifying, testing, and highlighting vulnerabilities in your cybersecurity.

Often known as ethical hackers, penetration testers use the same techniques as cyberattackers to gain access to your systems. But when they’re done, they tell you how they did it so you can fix any vulnerabilities they uncover.

How does a penetration test work? Let’s find out.

Network Penetration Testing

How do banks and safe companies prove a safe is actually burglar-proof? They find the best ethical safecrackers they can hire to break into them. Penetration testing is the same principle. Penetration testers, also known as ethical hackers since they are hacking into a system with the permission of the owner to enhance security, identify potential vulnerabilities in cybersecurity measures, test to see if they can exploit those vulnerabilities, and then report back on how they did it.

There are five basic phases in a typical penetration test.

Goal-Setting: Objectives And Goals

The overall aim of penetration testing is to find weaknesses in computer systems and networks before an attacker does. However, specific objectives may vary based on the priorities of the organization and the digital infrastructure they must secure. The organization being tested may wish to ensure the security of specific networks or systems, and or wish to focus on a web application versus a local area network.

Reconnaissance: Planning and Scanning

In the first step of penetration testing,, the tester plans out a simulated cyberattack on your systems.

Testers will inspect the system and note potential avenues of attack. Depending on the parameters of the penetration test, this can be the most time-consuming part of the testing. Testers may research anything from names and email addresses to network topology and IP addresses, using social engineering and other methodologies.

Testers will also use various scanning tools to explore the system and identify potential weaknesses and avenues of attack.

Infiltration: Gaining System Access

The testers use the information they gathered to attempt infiltration of the network and systems. They exploit vulnerabilities and see how deep they can get and what access privileges they can obtain.

In The System: Leveraging Access

In this phase, testers measure the potential impact of a vulnerability and/or successful penetration by using the access they’ve gained. They attempt to maintain their access long enough to replicate the likely goals of cyberattackers.

Not all vulnerabilities are created equal. In this stage, the testers quantify the damage they could do or the data they could access had their penetration been an actual cyberattack.

Output: Analysis and Reporting

After their simulated cyberattack concludes, the testers analyze their efforts and prepare a detailed report covering the entire testing process.
This report includes:

  • Detected and exploited vulnerabilities.
  • Tools and techniques used to exploit those vulnerabilities.
  • Points and princesses where cybersecurity measures were effective in resisting penetration.
  • Recommendations to remediate vulnerabilities.

Both IT/cybersecurity staff and non-technical executives and managers often read this report, so many testers write both a technical report and a simplified executive report that minimizes technical jargon.

The point of the penetration testing is to give organizations the data they need to make optimal cybersecurity decisions. While IT and cybersecurity personnel must do the work to close vulnerabilities, non-technical personnel are often involved in the decision process, and a good penetration testing team knows how to break these concepts down for non-technical stakeholders to understand.

Types of Penetration Testing

There are several common types of penetration testing, including:

  • External penetration test: This simulates an attack from outside the company and is the most common type of penetration test.
  • Covert penetration test: In this type of test, the target’s IT and cybersecurity teams aren’t told that a penetration test will occur, allowing an honest assessment of how a cybersecurity team would respond to a genuine attack.
  • Internal penetration test: This type of test assesses how vulnerable a system or network is from someone who already has access credentials (such as a dissatisfied employee)

Tools Of The Trade

Penetration testers use many tools and techniques to gain access to a system. Some of these tools include:

  • Social engineering: A penetration tester may use social engineering attacks such as phishing or even physically accessing a facility to find passwords written down on people’s desks.
  • Brute force: A brute force attack is a trial-and-error method used to decode sensitive data. An attack of this method is often used to crack passwords and encryption keys, SSH logins, and API keys. The attacker uses scripts or bots to input different combinations of characters as rapidly as possible until the correct combination is found.
  • SQL injections: Structured Query Language Injection is a code injection technique used to modify or pull data from databases. Inserting specialized and malicious code into an entry field with SQL can allow an attacker to retrieve or destroy data or manipulate the database in an unauthorized manner.
  • Specialized hardware or software: Port scanners, vulnerability scanners, web application assessment proxies, and software such as network mappers and data packet analyzers are all important tools for penetration testers. Some of these tools, like NMAP, a network mapper, are intended for other purposes but are invaluable for cyberattackers.

Who Are The Ethical Hackers?

Contrary to what you may have learned in cheesy 90s movies, hackers aren’t edgy teenagers looking for cheap thrills. “Black hat” hackers are focused criminals looking for big profits. White hat hackers, the good guys, are simply cybersecurity professionals using their expertise to protect and defend against the black hats.

Penetration testers work under shared methodologies and frameworks, with advanced certifications such as the following:

  • OSCP (Offensive Security Certified Professional)
  • OSWP (Offensive Security Wireless Professional)
  • CompTIA Security+
  • CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional)
  • PCI-ISA (Payment Card Industry – Internal Security Assessor)
  • CASV (Continuous Automated Security Validation)
  • CRTP (Certified Red Team Professional)
  • CREST (Council for Registered Ethical Security Testers)
  • CRT (Crest Registered Penetration Tester)
  • CPSA (CREST Practitioner Security Analyst)
  • CYSA+ (Cybersecurity Analyst)

They say it takes a hacker to catch a hacker. Hiring a reputable penetration testing service means you’ve got the certified, ethical, professional hackers are on your side.

Penetration Testing: The Bottom Line

Penetration testing is critical to identifying vulnerabilities in your digital infrastructure. Businesses and organizations are spending more than ever before on cybersecurity, but recent studies show that much of that spending is allocated inefficiently. Penetration testing helps your cybersecurity team determine where to allocate your resources so your networks and systems are as secure as possible.

iFlock holds the right certifications and has the right expertise to perform thorough penetration testing. We provide expertise and a trusted partner so you can allocate your limited cybersecurity resources efficiently and protect your digital assets.

iFlock helps keep your digital infrastructure safe. Learn more today!

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