Penetration Testing is a legal, structured procedure to evaluate the security posture of an organization. This practice simulates an attack against the security infrastructure of the enterprise, such as its network, applications, and users, to identify the exploitable vulnerabilities. It determines the efficacy of the company’s security policies, controls, and strategies. To strengthen the system, penetration testers proactively analyse for design flaws, technical weaknesses, and other vulnerabilities. The results of the vulnerability assessment are then comprehensively documented for executive management and the company’s technical audience.
Along with that, penetration testing ensures an organization’s adherence to compliance requirements, the ability to respond to security incidents, and its employees’ awareness towards increasing security risks. At the end of the penetration testing process, the findings of identified and exploited flaws are passed on to the organization’s IT and network system managers to make strategic decisions and prioritize remediation efforts.
Penetration Testing Phases
Pre-attack PhasePhase 2:
Attack PhasePhase 3:
Phase 1: Pre-attack Phase
Research (Information Gathering & Reconnaissance)
In the initial phase, the penetration tester gathers general information about the security system and in-scope targets, such as systems to be addressed and methods to be used. It also defines the scope and determines the goals before conducting the test.
Another needful role is to gather intelligence – collect network and domain names, or the mail server. This data shows how the target works and its existing and potential weaknesses.
Analysis – Static and Dynamic
- Static analysis It is the method of examining source code to understand the nature of the application, especially its behavior. With this method, penetration testers can find how a targeted application will respond to different security incidents – the tools can scan the entire code in one go.
- Dynamic analysis – This method examines an application’s source code during its execution, offering a real-time view of an application’s performance. Overall, it is a relatively practical and reliable method of scanning.
Phase 2 – Attack Phase
Targeting/Exploiting (Gaining and Maintaining access)
The gathered data is then used to locate ports and services. After this, the pen tester conducts the vulnerability assessment to gain a better knowledge of its targeted system. The final part of the phase deals with heavy action – exploitation. Professionals use their expertise to attack and exploit resources.
Use of web application attacks – With the help of various web app attacks, such as cross-site scripting, SQL injection, and backdoors, pen testers look for possible vulnerabilities.
Security analysts then try to exploit these weaknesses by privilege escalation, data breach, traffic interception, and various other acts of bug/vulnerability exploitation. Their actions help in estimating the possible damage a vulnerability can cause.
The primary objective of this phase is to check whether a vulnerability can find a persistent presence in the exploited system or stay long enough to gain in-depth access to the system. APTs are known for their ability to remain in the system for months without raising suspicion.
Phase 3 – Post-Attack Phase
Documenting and Reporting (Covering tracks)
During the post-attack phase, the penetration tester submits a detailed report on all the findings and solutions to eliminate the potential threats.
The result of this phase is then analyzed by the security professionals to configure the WAF settings and other application security solutions, patching the vulnerabilities and protecting the firm against future attacks.
7 Basic Attack Vectors
That Pen Testers Use
Cross-site scripting (also known as XSS) is a web-based security vulnerability that compromises the interactions a user has with a vulnerable application. The attacker misuses the same origin policy, which allows the segregation of different websites from each other. Under this vulnerability, the attacker impersonates the victim to carry out malicious activities and access the user’s private data. However, if privileged user falls prey to the XSS attack, the entire application might face security compromise.
Brute-force is a form of trial-and-error method attack that requires an attacker to try various password combinations to break into a password-protected security infrastructure. Earlier, XSS used to be a time-consuming method, but with the introduction of bots, the perpetrators can boost their computing power to run such attacks.
Backdoor is an attack method that allows authorized and unauthorized users to bypass normal authentication procedures. This malware type grants remote access to resources within an application, such as databases and file servers. As a result, the threat actor can remotely issue system commands and update malware. Webserver backdoors can launch different types of attacks, including data theft, website defacement, server hijack, DDoS , watering hole, and APT assaults.
Under MITM, the malicious actors place themselves between the source and the targeted systems (usually between a web browser and its server). This attack gives them the ability to intercept or modify communications between the two devices. They can also collect sensitive data by impersonating as either of the devices. Apart from websites, MITM attacks majorly target email communications, DNS lookups, and public Wi-Fi networks. In general, SaaS providers, e-commerce businesses, and users of financial applications are the primary targets.
It is an anomaly that occurs when a program, while writing data to a dedicated buffer overruns its capacity, eventually overwriting adjacent memory locations. In simple words, a container is overflowed with too much data, resulting in replacing the adjacent container’s data with the new information. By using buffer overflows, attackers can modify a computer’s memory to gain control of program execution.
Phishing uses social engineering methods to lure victims into revealing their sensitive data, such as login credentials and credit card numbers. Under this attack, the actor impersonates an authorized entity to steal data through emails and text messages. Attackers send a malicious link with their fabricated message that installs malware on the victim’s system. Malware installation can lead to data theft, denial of service, or ransomware attack.
Responsibilities of a Penetration Tester
The common roles and responsibilities of a penetration tester are summarized here
- Conducting a penetration test and risk assessment on the targeted system.
- Performing security audits to evaluate whether the organization fits the defined security policies and standards.
- Ensuring physical security to assess the vulnerability of servers, systems, and various network devices.
- Analysing drafted security policies to make amendments.
- Writing thorough reports on the findings of organized penetration tests.
- Organizing social engineering attacks for employee training and awareness.
- Redefining procedures to combat advanced threats.
- Enhancing current hardware and software for better security.
- Simulating different cybercrimes to identify possible weaknesses in the system.
UNLEASH YOUR FULL POTENTIAL WITH PENETRATION TESTING
Benefits of Penetration Testing
|Determines the probability of a cyber attack|
|Assures whether the organization is functioning under the acceptable limit of security risks|
|Assesses the potential impact and repercussions of a successful attack|
|Plans defensive strategies for prevention against possible cyber-attacks, SQL injection attacks, DDoS attacks and several others.|
|Achieves regulatory compliance as per industry standards (HIPAA, ISO/IEC 27001, PCI DSS, etc.)|
|Evaluates the efficiency of various security solutions|
|Prioritizes security risks as low, medium, and high severity|
|Uncovers poor internal security policies|
|Helps the incident response team perform better|
|Protects sensitive data|
|Improves business continuity|
|Maintains customer trust and brand image|
|Checks on organization’s preparedness to deal with unforeseen events|
What Are The Different Types Of
(Based on methodology)
|Black Box Penetration Testing||White Box Penetration Testing||Gray Box Penetration Testing|
|Required knowledge||A penetration tester has no previous knowledge of the system to be tested. It is like blind testing as the pen testers find their own way into the system.||A penetration tester has complete knowledge of the system to be tested. The known information includes details about IP addresses, network infrastructure schematics, or the protocols in use.||A penetration tester has limited knowledge of the system to be used.|
|Classification||* Blind Testing – It is a time-consuming and expensive process, where the penetration testing team provided with limited or no information.
– This test checks if a threat actor can launch an attack with severely limited information. Mostly, the pen testers receive the name of the organization. It could be costly as it is more time consuming than other forms of penetration testing.
* Double-Blind Testing – A few in the firm know about the pen test to be conducted. It evaluates security monitoring, attack identification, and response.
– It takes blind testing a step further. Under this form, only one or two employees of the organization are aware of the test. Double-blind testing checks the efficacy of the organization’s security monitoring, incident identification, and response processes.
|* Announced Testing – Penetration testing conducted after the full co-operation from the IT team.
* Unannounced Testing – The organization conducts the test without the knowledge of the IT staff.
|No specific types|
|Turnaround Time||It is time-consuming, requiring a considerable amount of time.||It reveals vulnerabilities and bugs more quickly.||It needs lesser time than black-box penetration testing.|
|Appropriate Testing Type (based on demand, goal, time, and available resources)||Test to be conducted for evaluating the security stance of the organization. It uses the methodologies of an attacker.||White and Gray box penetrating testing are used to save time and resources.|
|Required Qualification and Skills||* They need to have a few years of experience to get qualified for the job.
Other types of pen test strategies include
|Targeted testing||The organization’s IT and penetration testing teams work together to execute targeted testing (sometimes termed as “lights on testing” as the testing process is visible to all the parties involved).|
|External testing||This form of testing targets only the visible servers or assets of the organizations, such as domain name servers, email servers, web servers, or firewalls. It examines whether an outside attacker can gain access to external devices and their impact.|
|Internal testing||This testing simulates an internal attack launched by an authorized user with standard access privileges. The result of the test determines how much harm a disgruntled employee can cause.|
Different types of Pen Tests (based on requirements)
Different Ways To Conduct A Penetration Test
Penetration testing can be performed in two ways – Automated Penetration Testing and Manual Penetration Testing.
|Automated Penetration Testing
In automated penetration testing, various open-source and commercial tools come together to perform the test.
| Manual Penetration Testing
In manual penetration testing, an individual or a group of individuals perform the test.
Automated Penetration Testing Vs. Manual Penetration Testing
Automated Penetration Testing
Manual Penetration Testing
|Being an automated testing method, even a beginner can conduct the test.||It requires a pen tester with detailed skills to perform manual penetration testing.|
|Its integrated tools offer various functions to perform penetration testing.||It requires several tools to conduct pen-testing.|
|It gives a fixed result.||The result may vary in each test.|
|It is quick and efficient.||It could be time-consuming and tiring.|
|It is tough to analyze the security posture of an organization using automated pen-testing.||As manual pen-testing requires dedicated expertise, the professionals can think like a cybercriminal and improve the security posture.|
|It is not possible for security analysts to perform multiple tests in a single attempt.||It allows a pen tester to run multiple tests simultaneously.|
|For critical conditions, it is not reliable.||It is relatively more reliable.|
What is the Best Penetration Testing Tool?
Nmap (or the Network Mapper)
As the name suggests, the tool finds loopholes in a network system. It also helps in auditing and is a widely used packet sniffer.
Nmap (or “Network Mapper”) is a free, licensed, open-source tool for network discovery and security auditing. System and network administrators also use to track network inventory, manage service upgrade schedules, and monitor host or service uptime. With the use of IP packets, Nmap determines what hosts are available on the network, what services they offer (application name and its version), which operating systems they are using (with versions), which packet filters/firewalls are in use, and several other aspects. It is useful for both rapid large network scanning and single host scanning. Nmap supports all major operating systems, including Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X. Along with classic command-line Nmap executable, this software integrates an advanced GUI and various utilities, such as Zenmap (results viewer), Ncat (reads, writes, redirects, and encrypts data across a network), Ndiff (compares results), and Nping (a packet generator and response analyzer).
To download this free tool, visit www.nmap.org.
This PERL-powered framework comes with various in-built exploits that help in performing penetrating testing. It is customizable and used internationally.
This powerful tool can probe systematic vulnerabilities on networks and servers. Metasploit framework is used by both cybercriminals as well as penetration testers. Being an open-source framework, it offers the customization feature and can be used with most of the operating systems. The framework allows pen testers to use custom code for finding weak points in a network. After successful threat hunting, this information addresses all the weaknesses and prioritizes solutions.
You can download the package of pen-testing tools from www.metasploit.com.
Nessus Vulnerability Scanner
This is a network scanner that raises an alert on finding flaws in the infrastructure. Nessus is a vulnerability scanning tool that conducts vulnerability assessments and penetration testing engagements, including malicious attacks. The software possesses different scanning capabilities. It can perform scans using plug-ins to perform scans, which then run against each host on the network to spot loopholes. Plug-ins are like individual pieces of code used to conduct individual scan types on specific targets.
Download Nessus from here: www.tenable.com/downloads/nessus.
John the Ripper (or “JTR”)
This simple-seeming tool detects weak passwords and helps to carry out successful dictionary attacks. John the Ripper is a fast and feature-rich tool. It offers several cracking modes and is absolutely configurable to meet one’s needs. It helps in defining the custom cracking modes by using a built-in compiler. JTR enables security professionals to use the same cracker on different platforms.
Get this open-source tool from http://www.openwall.com/john/.
Like Nmap, it works as an actual network protocol and data packet analyzer that monitors network traffic in real-time. Wireshark’s rich feature includes a thorough inspection of hundreds of protocols, which gets updated periodically along with live capture and offline analysis. It is a multi-platform tool that runs on Windows, Linux, OS X, Solaris, FreeBSD, NetBSD, and others. Penetration testers can browse the captured network data either via a GUI or a TTY-mode TShark utility. It can integrate the most powerful display filters available in the industry and offer rich VoIP analysis.
Other interesting features include:
- It comes with a standard three-pane packet browser.
- It can decompress any gzip-compressed files during its capture.
- It can read live data from different types of network -Ethernet, IEEE 802.11, PPP/HDLC, ATM, Bluetooth, USB, Token Ring, Frame Relay, FDDI, and others.
- For systematic and quick analysis, testers can apply coloring rules.
- The final output will be available in multiple formats – XML, PostScript®, CSV, or plain text.
- It supports many capture file formats – tcpdump (libpcap), Pcap NG, Catapult DCT2000, Cisco Secure IDS iplog, Microsoft Network Monitor, Network * General Sniffer® (compressed and uncompressed), Sniffer® Pro, and NetXray®, Network Instruments Observer, NetScreen snoop, Novell LANalyzer, RADCOM WAN/LAN Analyzer, Shomiti/Finisar Surveyor, Tektronix K12xx, Visual Networks Visual UpTime, WildPackets EtherPeek/TokenPeek/AiroPeek, and various others.
Click here to download Wireshark for free: www.wireshark.org.
Creating a career path in penetration testing
How penetration testing
differs from ethical hacking?
In general expression, people use penetration testing and ethical hacking interchangeably, but there is a fine line between them. Penetration testing is a formal procedure, concentrating on finding vulnerabilities in an organization’s security infrastructure while ethical hacking is an umbrella term. The latter includes an attacker’s tools and TTP (Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures). To put it in simple words, penetration testing is a subset of ethical hacking.
|Ethical hacking includes all attack vectors, hacking methods, and related tools||Pen testers assess the security of a specific aspect of information systems as defined by a scope document|
|Have visibility to an organization’s infrastructure||They are generally provided with limited or no information of the organizational infrastructure|
|Continuous engagement to ensure Défense-in-depth||One-time engagement for a limited duration|
|An ethical hacker has detailed knowledge of TTP and various penetration testing tools to imitate the steps of a cybercriminal.||A penetration tester has sound knowledge of the dedicated domain or specific area for conducting pen-testing.|
|Required to assist blue teams and Incident handling teams in incident containment and validation||No responsibility with regards to security configuration and incident handling|
|No mandatory requirement to be an expert in report writing.||Penetration testing comes with fool-proof report writing.|
To learn more, check out this blog!
The ultimate career path to becoming a penetration tester
EC-Council Certified Security Analyst (ECSA)
The EC-Council Certified Security Analyst (ECSA) is an internationally acclaimed credentialing and training program. It is mapped to the NICE 2.0 framework’s “Analyse (AN)” and “Collect and Operate (CO)” specialty areas. Unlike most other pen-testing programs that only follow a generic kill chain methodology, the ECSA presents a set of distinguishable comprehensive methodologies that can cover different pen-testing requirements across different verticals. The hands-on program deals with multiple methodologies such as web application penetration testing, network penetration testing, and several others, covering different domains of the cybersecurity industry. Under this training, attendees get familiar with hundreds of tools and techniques, making them capable of conducting exploits.
EC-Council Certified Security Analyst (ECSA) Practical
EC-Council Certified Security Analyst (ECSA) Practical is a 12-hour-long, online practical exam. It is remotely proctored and ensures that the attendees demonstrate all their penetration testing and report writing skills. As a security precaution, and by design, all the internal resource zones are configured with different subnet IPs. The militarized zone houses the domain controllers and application servers that provide application frameworks for various departments of the organization. It tests the attendees on the ability to perform threat and exploit research, analyze them, customize payloads, and make critical decisions at different stages of the entire assessment.
Advanced Penetration Tester (APT) training program [Recommended for L|PT (Master)]
The Advanced Penetration Tester (APT) is the recommended training program to prepare for the grueling L|PT (Master) challenge. This course does not just provide you targets that are directly reachable. There are filters in place that you have to first map the attack surface of and identify a weakness to go through the filter, then once you have made it through the filter you next have to determine how you can gain access THROUGH the filter, this requires you to customize payloads and try and get them in and out of the filter.
The APT have multiple machines, and some of these machines are behind layers of protection, so you have to identify this and once you do you have to find a way to gain access, then from the first point of access you have to pivot to another network and then assess that network. This requires manual manipulation and is not part of any of the other classes. Some of these programs claim to have pivoted, but it does not involve gaining access through a filter first. This prepares the tester for an environment where the administrator has placed protections in place such that the machines are not directly reachable ,which are more and more common obstacles a tester faces.
The APT focuses on the mapping of the attack surface and from that what the risk is to the client, we do this in the form of an understanding of how the networks are assessed, not just the machines. This is important because in testing the client wants to know what you discover on the network and not as much about the methods of exploitation, so in the APT you will get experience with the analysis of the data and this is what is required for industry penetration testers, the process of security testing of which penetration testing is a component has not changed, but what has changed is the tools that are available and the targets, so in the APT we try to give you as many different targets as possible because that is what will make you into a much better industry level penetration tester.
Licensed Penetration Tester (L|PT) Master
The Licensed Penetration Tester (L|PT) Master is an 18-hour, rigorous practical exam that constitutes the hardest challenges, simulating the real-world environment. The exam mimics an organization’s network with multiple network segments, firewalls, Demilitarized Zones (DMZ), access control policies, and different layers of security. The candidate needs to ace this exam within the specified time limit. As L|PT (Master) is designed by the best in the industry, it is well-known for validating the skills of a penetration tester.
Become a Penetration Tester Now!
Get certified in the most desired cybersecurity certification!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Penetration testing looks for vulnerabilities in a security system before attackers can exploit them. Organizations need to conduct pen testing regularly because:
- It identifies weaknesses at the software and hardware level.
- It evaluates the efficiency of in-use security controls.
- It determines the scope of a potential attack.
If you have previous experience with Blockchain and believe you can finish it in less than 3 months, you can choose the one-time payment option which allows you to get access to a fully customized plan.
This means that you will be able to work at your own pace from the moment you sign up for the course.
The overall time required to conduct a pen test is dependent on the size and complexity of the network. Based on this, the process may take one to four weeks.
A pen test reveals how vulnerable an organization could be, making it a vital process. It’s important that organizations understand why and when to conduct penetration testing.
Learn more with this blog: Why, When, and How Often Should You Conduct a Penetration Test
Organizations need dedicated security analysts, i.e., penetration testers, to maintain downtime of the system and keep them safe from various cybercrimes.
Learn more with this blog: 5 Reasons Why Penetration Testing is Imperative for Your Organization
While the best certification to learn web application penetartion testing would have a very subjective answer, it is important to note that a good certification must be mapped to reputed frameworks such as NICE 2.0, should be recognized by top military agencies like the British Government Communications Headquarter (GCHQ), must be comprehensive in course coverage, provide hands-on training and also make the candidate job ready. One such program that stands apart from the crowd with these parameters is the EC-Council Certified Security Analyst.
To know more about the ECSA program, visit https://www.eccouncil.org/programs/certified-security-analyst-ecsa/
The results of the penetration tests differ according to the standards and methodologies they leverage. While Pen Testing methodologies keep changing depending on the endpoint in question, but most of the popular pen testing platforms provide the necessary foundation for a Pen Tester to build their own methodologies from. The popular methodologies and standards in Pen Testing include OSSTMM, OWASP, NIST, PTES and ISSAF.
To know more about these Pen Testing methodologies and standards, visit – https://blog.eccouncil.org/5-penetration-testing-methodologies-and-standards-for-better-roi/
Penetration testers imitate the steps of a threat actor by penetrating the security infrastructure of an organization.
Penetration testing tools can be defined as the programs used to look for security threats in an organization.
Physical penetration testing assesses the efficiency of the existing security controls. The tester looks for vulnerabilities among the physical barriers and controls of the organization.
A penetration test or a pen test is a systematic evaluation of security measures in an IT infrastructure. The pen tester achieves this by safely evaluating the vulnerabilities that may exist in operating systems, services, and applications.
The end goal of penetration testing is to determine the robustness of the network and its ability to withstand any outsider threats. Penetration testing experts go on to work on solutions for any weaknesses that are found during this process.
After successful completion of penetration testing, security analysts document all their findings for technical audiences or involved stakeholders.
Learn more with this blog: The Art of Report Writing by Penetration Testers
The increased use of cloud and web-based applications in organizations has made small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) primary targets for cybercriminals. To secure such systems it is very important to know how to pen test an AWS application. However that involves a different methodology than traditional pen testing, primarily due to system ownership.
To know more about Pen testing an AWS cloud, visit – https://blog.eccouncil.org/all-you-need-to-know-about-pentesting-in-the-aws-cloud/
The EC-Council Licensed Penetration Tester (Master) exam challenge can prove to be the most difficult pen testing course in the world. To pass the 18-hour long rigorous exam, a candidate will need to maneuver web application, network, and host penetration testing tools and tricks in an internal and external context to ultimately own the hosts and exfiltrate data required for the completion of the challenges.
To know more about the best web application pen testing course, visit – https://www.eccouncil.org/programs/licensed-penetration-tester-lpt-master/