What is Penetration Testing

February 27, 2024
| Penetration Testing

Is your organization equipped to defend against the increasing number of cyberattacks? Penetration testing is one of the best ways to evaluate your organization’s IT and security infrastructure as it identifies vulnerabilities in networks and systems. Unpatched vulnerabilities are an open invitation to cybercriminals. The National Institute of Standards and Technology discovered 4,068 high-risk vulnerabilities in 2021 (NIST).

The recent surge in cyberattacks has fueled the demand for penetration testing. In June 2021, the White House released a memo that urged businesses to conduct penetration tests to defend against ransomware threats (The White House, 2021). Security experts need to view networks and IT infrastructure from the perspective of threat actors to successfully prevent, detect, respond to, and recover from cyberattacks. In this blog, we will explore the importance of penetration testing in depth and learn the role of a penetration tester.

What Is Pen Testing?

Penetration testing is a simulated cyberattack that’s used to identify vulnerabilities and strategize ways to circumvent defense measures. Early detection of flaws enables security teams to remediate any gaps, thus preventing data breaches that could cost billions of dollars otherwise. Pen tests also help assess an organization’s compliance, boost employee awareness of security protocols, evaluate the effectiveness of incident response plans, and ensure business continuity.

National Cyber Security Centre defines a penetration test as a method for gaining assurance in the security of an IT system by attempting to breach the system’s security, using the same tools and techniques as an adversary might (National Cyber Security Centre, 2017). Enterprises can use the findings from a penetration test to fix vulnerabilities before a security breach occurs. Penetration testing is a critical cybersecurity practice across industries, and skilled penetration testers are in high demand in many domains. 

Types of Penetration Testing

Multiple types of penetration tests are available, each with varying objectives, requirements, and scope. Let’s dive into the different forms of penetration testing.

Social Engineering Penetration Testing

In a social engineering test, testers attempt to trick employees into giving up sensitive information or allowing the tester access to the organization’s systems. This enables penetration testers to understand the organization’s vulnerability to scams or other social engineering cyberattacks.

Network Penetration Testing (Internal, External, and Perimeter Devices)

Here, the penetration tester audits a network environment for security vulnerabilities. Network penetration tests can be further subdivided into two categories: external tests and internal tests.

Here, the penetration tester audits a network environment for security vulnerabilities. Network penetration tests can be further subdivided into two categories: external tests and internal tests.

Even though the rise in adoption of cloud and IoT technologies has blurred the lines of the network perimeter, it is still the first line of defense. Regular penetration testing of perimeter devices such as remote servers, routers, desktops, and firewalls can help identify breaches and weaknesses.

Web Application Penetration Testing

Web application penetration testing is performed to identify vulnerabilities in web applications, websites, and web services. Pen testers assess the security of the code, weaknesses in the application’s security protocol, and the design.

This method of pen testing allows companies to meet compliance requirements and test exposed components like firewalls, DNS servers, and routers. Because web applications are constantly updated, checking apps for new vulnerabilities and developing strategies to mitigate potential threats is crucial.

Wireless Penetration Testing

With wireless technology becoming nearly omnipresent, businesses must identify, evaluate, assess, and defend their wireless infrastructures. Wireless penetration testing identifies security gaps within wireless access points, such as WiFi networks and wireless devices. Assessors look for vulnerabilities like weak encryption, Bluetooth exploits, authentication attacks, and malicious wireless devices to prevent data breaches.

IoT Penetration Testing

IoT penetration testing helps experts uncover security vulnerabilities in the ever-expanding IoT attack surface. This method helps ensure security preparedness by finding misconfigurations and fixing them to make the IoT ecosystem secure. It not only helps prevent security mishaps but also aids in maintaining regulatory compliance and minimizing operational disruptions.

OT Penetration Testing

As Operational Technology (OT) systems become more connected, they become more exposed to cyberthreats. Penetration tests detect the resilience of OT industrial control systems to cyberattacks, provide visibility, identify vulnerabilities, and prioritize areas of improvement.

Cloud Penetration Testing

With cloud computing becoming crucial for businesses’ scalability, organizations must bolster the security of cloud technologies to stay ahead of cyberattacks. Cloud penetration testing is performed to find vulnerabilities in a cloud-based environment. Cloud pen tests provide valuable insights into the strengths and weaknesses of cloud-based solutions, enhance incident response programs, and prevent any outward incidents.

Database Penetration Testing

Database security is of utmost importance to organizations as the end goal of an attacker is to gain access to their databases and steal confidential information. Database penetration testing checks the privilege level access to the database. Pen testers attempt to access your database, identify access points, and afterward, discuss how to secure your database in the event of a breach.

SCADA Penetration Testing

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems are a form of industrial control system that can monitor and control industrial and infrastructure processes and critical machinery (Cyber Arch, 2021). SCADA penetration testing is an effective method to secure SCADA systems from external threats. It helps gain a comprehensive understanding of any potential risks and security gaps.

Mobile Device Penetration Testing

Given the staggering number of mobile applications available in the market, they are a lucrative target for malicious actors. A recent report that analyzed 3,335 mobile apps discovered that 63% of the apps contained known security vulnerabilities (Synopsys, 2021). Mobile device penetration testing is essential to the overall security posture. It helps assess the security of a mobile device and its applications, discover vulnerabilities, and find flaws in application code.

Penetration Testing Steps

There are five penetration testing steps: reconnaissance, scanning, vulnerability assessment, exploitation, and reporting. Let’s take a closer look at each of these phases.
Penetration Testing Steps

What Happens After a PenTest?

Penetration test results, which are usually summarized and analyzed with a report, help organizations quantify security risks and formulate action plans. These reports provide a comprehensive view of a network and its vulnerabilities, enabling companies to remediate gaps and strengthen their defense, particularly if a report discovers that a network has been compromised.

Building a penetration testing report requires clearly documenting vulnerabilities and putting them into context so that the organization can remediate its security risks. The most useful reports include sections for a detailed outline of uncovered vulnerabilities (including CVSS scores), a business impact assessment, an explanation of the exploitation phase’s difficulty, a technical risk briefing, remediation advice, and strategic recommendations (Sharma, 2022).

Think of penetration tests as medical check-ups. Consistently checking the robustness of cybersecurity measures is vital for any business. Regular assessment ensures that your company can adapt to the ever- evolving threat landscape.

Popular Penetration Testing Tools

To conduct penetration tests, not only do you need skilled pen testers but also advanced, cutting-edge tools to detect vulnerabilities. Here’s a list of some of the popular pen testing tools on the market:
Nmap (Network Mapper) is an open-source utility tool that can carry out tasks such as network inventory, managing service upgrade schedules, and monitoring host or service uptime (Shakreel, 2016). It uses IP packets to determine what hosts are available on the network, what services they offer, which operating systems they use, and which packet filters/firewalls are in use. Nmap supports all major operating systems, including Linux, Windows, and macOS. Nmap integrates an advanced GUI and various utilities, including Zenmap, Ncat, Ndiff, and Nping.
This is an open-source framework with an ever-expanding database of exploits, enabling pen testers to simulate cyberattacks on networks. Metasploit uncovers systematic vulnerabilities on networks and servers. Its open-source framework allows pen testers to use custom code to find weak points in a network. Metasploit also offers a customization feature that can be used with most operating systems.
Burp Suite Professional
Burp Suite Professional is one of the leading tools for web security testing. Its advanced manual and automated features help identify the top ten vulnerabilities listed in the OWASP. Burp Suite allows assessors to generate and confirm clickjacking attacks for potentially vulnerable web pages. It lets you alter all HTTP(S) communications passing through your browser and find hidden attack surfaces.
Zed Attack Proxy (ZAP), maintained under the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), is a free, open-source penetration testing tool instrumental in testing web applications. It intercepts and inspects messages sent between the browser and web application, alters them, and sends them to their destination. OWASP-ZAP is flexible and extensible, meaning it can be used as a stand-alone application and as a daemon process.
Hydra is one of the most effective pen testing tools for performing password and brute force attacks. It is a parallelized login cracker that supports numerous protocols to attack. It’s very fast, flexible, and easy to add new modules to Hydra (KALI, 2022).
This is one of the most widely used network protocol analyzers that helps thoroughly scan network traffic. Wireshark conducts a thorough inspection of hundreds of protocols, which gets updated periodically. It has live capture and an offline analysis feature. Wireshark is a multi-platform tool that can run on Windows, Linux, macOS, Solaris, FreeBSD, and NetBSD. It can integrate the most powerful display filters available in the industry and offers rich VoIP analysis. Penetration testers can browse the captured network data via a GUI or a TTY-mode TShark utility.
John the Ripper

This tool is free, open-source software that helps crack passwords. John the Ripper offers several password-cracking modes and can be configured to meet the user’s requirements. Though it was originally designed for the Unix operating system, it now supports 15 platforms, most of which are Windows, DOS, and OpenVMS versions. The jumbo version of John the Ripper supports hundreds of hash and cipher types, including user passwords of Unix, macOS, Windows, web apps, groupware, database servers, and many more.

Benefits of Penetration Testing

In the cyber world, ignorance can be costly and dangerous. Penetration testing provides critical and actionable information that allows companies to stay ahead of hackers. Here’s how pen testing can help scale up your defenses:

Adherence to Compliance Requirements

Penetration testing helps organizations meet regulatory requirements such as PCI DSS, EU GDPR, and ISO 27001. A recent survey revealed that 61% of security leaders listed meeting compliance needs as a factor in conducting pen tests (Bugcrowd, 2021).

Identify and Remediate Vulnerabilities

Penetration tests help identify vulnerabilities that adversaries can exploit, enabling security personnel to remediate them. Pen testers present detailed insights into the weaknesses in an IT environment and recommend policies that can strengthen the security posture. According to a report, 70% of organizations perform pen tests for vulnerability management program support (Core Security, 2021).

Ensure Business Continuity

An organization’s financial loss during a data breach can be astronomical and disrupt its operations. By conducting penetration tests, companies gain insight into potential risks, which can help minimize damages and ensure business continuity.

Enhance Customer Trust

Data breaches can erode customer trust and potentially damage a company’s reputation. Penetration testing minimizes the risk of attacks and assures clients and stakeholders that their data is secure and protected.

Responsibilities of a Penetration Tester

Now that we’ve covered the benefits, types, tools, and phases of penetration tests, let’s look at some of the responsibilities of penetration testers:

Is Penetration Testing a Lucrative Career?

As threats continue to grow, the demand for penetration testers will continue to rise. The global penetration testing market is expected to grow from USD 1.6 billion in 2021 to USD 3.0 billion by 2026 (Markets and Markets, 2021). Given the high demand for penetration testers, companies are willing to pay attractive salaries to skilled candidates. The average base salary for a penetration tester is $88,492 in the U.S. (PayScale, 2022). If you have the right skill set, a career in penetration testing can be highly rewarding and open doors for multiple opportunities. If you need detailed information, visit: Why Choose a Career in Penetration Testing?

Top Industries That Employ Penetration Testing Professionals [1]

Top Information Security Jobs That Require Penetration Testing Skills [1]

Become an Industry-Ready Penetration Tester With C|PENT

If you want to master advanced penetration testing skills and gain real-world experience, consider EC-Council’s Certified Penetration Testing Professional (C|PENT) program. It offers extensive hands-on training and blends manual and automated penetration testing approaches. The program will teach you to pen test IoT and OT systems, write about your exploits, build your tools, conduct advanced binary exploitation, double pivot to access hidden networks, and customize scripts/exploits to get into the inner segments of networks. A multidisciplinary course, C|PENT is mapped to the NICE framework.

For more details, visit: Certified Penetration Testing Professional (C|PENT)

Insights From Successful C|PENT Students

Look at what some successful alumni who aced the C|PENT exam have to say about the course.
Björn Voitel an accomplished cyber security consultant, shares his learning experience with EC-Council’s C|PENT program in the video linked below. He praises the program’s iLabs and Cyber Practice Range for providing real-world experience. C|PENT strengthened his understanding of operational technology and widened his knowledge base. He also talks about the unique aspects of C|PENT certifications and the challenges he faced during the exam.

Cyber Security Consultant and External Data Protection Officer
To hear his valuable insights, visit: Björn Voitel | Journey of a Successful CPENT Student

Belly Rachdianto an IT security consultant, shares his C|PENT certification journey in the video linked below. He says the program equips candidates with the skills required to perform penetration testing in real-world scenarios. Belly calls his experience of teaching C| PENT “fascinating” because of the detailed content. He also advises candidates to complete all the labs and document their findings.
IT Security Consultant To hear more from Belly, visit:Belly Rachdianto | Journey of a Successful CPENT CEI

Frequently Asked Questions

Vulnerability scanning involves scanning for vulnerabilities in an IT infrastructure, while penetration testing discovers vulnerabilities and attempts to exploit them.
Pen testing is a recommended best practice to identify and fix any underlying issues or unpatched vulnerabilities before malicious hackers can exploit them. Therefore, pen testing should be conducted regularly to scale up your defenses. Enterprises conduct periodic penetration tests to meet compliance requirements and identify gaps in security controls. Generally, more frequent pen tests are planned when new IT infrastructure or web applications are rolled out.
Finding the right web application penetration testing certification that caters to your goals and needs can be challenging. Check out EC-Council’s Web Application Hacking and Security Certification (W|AHS), a fully hands-on course that helps cybersecurity professionals hack, test, and secure web applications from existing and emerging security threats.
These terms all refer to different functions in an organization’s defense department. The red team simulates attacks on an organization’s networks to identify vulnerabilities and exploit them. The blue team analyzes the efficacy of the security controls and protects against real-world attacks. The purple team combines offensive and defensive methodologies to improve the red and blue teams’ operations and strengthen overall security.
Penetration testers focus solely on carrying out penetration tests as defined by the client. Ethical hacking is not restricted to testing a client’s IT environment for vulnerabilities to malicious attacks. Ethical hackers are crucial in testing an organization’s security policies, developing countermeasures, and deploying defensive resolutions to security issues. Learn more about: Difference Between Ethical Hacking and Penetration Testing
The 5 penetration testing steps are: Reconnaissance, Scanning, Vulnerability Assessment, Exploitation and Reporting Which are the Popular Penetration Testing Tools? Here is a list of some of the popular pen testing tools in the market: 1. Nmap 2. Metasploit 3. Burp Suite Professional 4.OWASP-ZAP 5. Hydra 6. Wireshark 7. John the Ripper Why is Pentest useful? The main reason penetration test provides critical and actionable information that allows companies to stay ahead of hackers. What is the Average Salary for Pen Tester in USA The average Pen Tester salary is around $116,478 yearly in the USA.


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