Penetration Testing is a legal, structured procedure to evaluate the security posture of an organization. The 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 analyze 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.

Penetration Testing Phases

Phase 1:
Pre-attack Phase
Phase 2:
Attack Phase
Phase 3:
Post-Attack Phase

Phase 1: Pre-attack Phase

Research (Information Gathering)
In the initial phase, the penetration tester gathers general information about the security system and in-scope targets.

Phase 2 – Attack Phase

The gathered data then used to locate ports and services. After this, the pen tester conducts the vulnerability assessment to gain more knowledge on its targeted system. The last part of the phase deals with heavy action – exploitation. Professionals use their expertise to attack and exploit resources.

Phase 3 – Post-Attack Phase

Documenting and Reporting
During the post-attack phase, the penetration tester submits a detailed report on all the findings and solutions to eliminate the potential threats.

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.
  • Analyzing drafted security policies to make amendments.
  • Writing thorough reports on the findings of organized penetration tests.


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
Achieves regulatory compliance as per industry standards (HIPAA, ISO/IEC 27001, PCI DSS, etc.)
Evaluates the efficiency of various security solutions

Return on Investment (ROI) for

Penetration Testing

ROI = (Expected Returns – Cost of Investment) / Cost of Investment

The data below shows the frequency of cyberattacks and the associated monetary losses. It also compiles the salary of a penetration tester in the US region. Thus, representing a high return on investment for penetration testing.
Return on Investment (ROI) for Penetration Testing

66% of responding SMBs experienced a cyberattack in the past 12 months.

– Ponemon’s 2019 Global State of Cybersecurity in Small and Medium-Sized Businesses

Organizations spent $13m as an average cost of cybercrime in 2018.

– Ninth Annual Cost of Cybercrime Study (2019)

Types of

Penetration Testing

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. A penetration tester has complete knowledge of the system to be tested. A penetration tester has limited knowledge of the system to be used.
Classification * Blind Testing – It’s a time-consuming and expensive process, where the penetration testing team provided with limited or no information.
* Double-Blind Testing – A few in the firm know about the pen test to be conducted. It evaluates security monitoring, attack identification, and response.
* 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.
* Skills: 

  • Networking (TCP/IP, cabling techniques)
  • Ethical hacking techniques
  • Open-source technologies – MySQL, Apache, etc.
  • Wireless protocols and devices
  • Web application architecture

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 are used to conduct the test.
Manual Penetration Testing
In manual penetration testing, an individual or a group of individuals perform the test.

Popular Penetration Testing Tools

NMap (or the Network Mapper)
As the name suggests, the tool is used to find the loopholes in a network system. It also helps while auditing.

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.

You can download this package of pen-testing tools from www.metasploit.com.

Nessus Vulnerability Scanner
A network scanner that raises an alert on finding flaws in the infrastructure.

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.

Get this open-source tool from http://www.openwall.com/john/.

It is similar to NMap and works as an actual network protocol and data packet analyzer. It analyzes the traffic in real-time.

Click here to download Wireshark for free: www.wireshark.org.


FREE Guide

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’s 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 Hacker

Penetration Tester

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 organization’s infrastructure 


They’re generally provided with limited or no information of organization’s infrastructure
Continuous engagement to ensure defense-in-depth One-time engagement for a limited duration
An ethical hacker should have detailed knowledge of TTP and various penetration testing tools to imitate the steps of a cybercriminal. A penetration tester needs to have 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.

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 “Analyze (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 are able to cover different pentesting 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.

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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.

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Advanced Penetration Tester (APT) training program [Recommended for L|PT (Master)]

The Advanced Penetration Tester (APT) is the recommend training program, to prepare for the gruelling 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 ranges 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 pivoting, 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.
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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.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why do you need penetration testing?

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.

How much does a pen tester make?

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.

How long does a pen test take?

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.

How is penetration testing done?

Penetration testers imitate the steps of a threat actor by penetrating the security infrastructure of an organization.

What do you mean by penetration testing tools?

Penetration testing tools can be defined as the programs used to look for security threats in an organization.

What is physical penetration testing?

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.

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