How Does Penetration Testing Work?

Daniel Tobok
E: daniel@cytelligence.com

Posted on: June 25, 2018

There are numerous things a company can do to improve the security of its network and penetration testing is one of the most important. By understanding penetration testing basics, you will discover the importance of truly putting your network security to the test, and fortunately, Cytelligence offers the best and most thorough penetration testing in Canada. What is pen testing in security, and why does your organization need it? Keep reading to learn more about one of the most popular ways to prevent a growing threat.

What Is Penetration Testing?

The penetration testing definition is essentially a planned “attack” on a computer system designed to find exploitable weaknesses that could lead to security issues. It is also referred to as a “pen test” by those who work in the industry. The goals can change from one organization to the next depending on what sorts of vulnerabilities would be most useful to criminals. The results can show clear links between penetration testing and network defense. The testers work with their clients to patch up any security issues and mitigate future attacks based on the results.

Two Different Types of Penetration Testing

There are two very distinct types of penetration testing, and these are known as blackbox and whitebox testing.

  • Blackbox Testing – This form of penetration testing requires testers to attempt to enter the network from an external location from the perspective of an outsider, who has no previous knowledge of the network. It’s typically the most preferred option.
  • Whitebox Testing – Conversely, whitebox penetration testing involves looking at the network with some insider knowledge, such as from the perspective of someone working in IT for an organization or someone else with access to the network. These typically follow blackbox testing.

Most of the time, organizations who hire penetration testers will receive both types of penetration testing for safety.

The Four Phases of Penetration Testing

There are four broad phases associated with thorough penetration testing, and each one of these represents a step in the process. These include:

  • Network Enumeration – During this phase, testers will gather information about the network, including any hosts or connected devices. Essentially, the testing starts out by attempting to gain an overall view of the network and what it consists of.
  • Vulnerability Assessment – The vulnerability assessment involves a variety of tests designed to look at common and uncommon breach points. This is when the tester comes up with one or more parts of the network to attempt to “penetrate” and exploit.
  • Exploitation – After the tester understands the parts of the network and finds potential vulnerabilities, he or she will then attempt to exploit those vulnerabilities. To put this into layman’s terms, the tester will attempt to “hack” the network despite security protocols, passwords, firewalls, and more.
  • Reporting and Repair – This phase of penetration testing wraps up the results of the exploitation and provides a detailed look at vulnerabilities. Penetration testers will provide recommendations for resolving these vulnerabilities and preventing future exploitations.

Penetration Testing Essentials

There are numerous things that a tester can check using the phases above. Of course, different organizations will have different needs. The biggest penetration testing essentials to consider include:

  • Website Penetration – Checks the security of websites and looks for potential vulnerabilities that could lead to various breaches.
  • Web App Penetration – Web applications can also be victimized by cybercriminals and hackers, but this test can help prevent it.
  • External Network Penetration – This evaluates web-facing services and networks that are not part of an organization’s local network.
  • Internal Network Penetration – This type of testing provides an assessment of local network security.
  • Mobile App Penetration – Today’s cybercriminals even look for vulnerabilities in mobile apps. This sort of testing can find and help organizations fill security holes.

Simply put, anything that a hacker or cybercriminal could exploit to gain access to information, coding, and more can be penetration tested and checked for vulnerabilities.

How to Perform Penetration Testing

The actual penetration testing techniques and processes will vary from organization to organization depending on its unique needs. Many companies want to know how to do penetration testing on their own, but ideally, it should be performed by a third party that specializes in cyber security. Though many IT professionals are incredibly well-versed with exploitations and vulnerabilities as they apply to networks, the truth is that a pen tester is someone who has been trained to think very much like a true hacker, but who has his or her clients’ best interests at heart. Well-trained testers follow a precise penetration testing checklist that ensures no stone goes unturned.

What does a penetration tester do? It starts with discovery, a term used to describe the processes behind finding hosts, ports, and network services, then fingerprinting them. Once a penetration tester has this information available, he or she can truly research the vulnerability of a network and determine where the weak areas might be. Through further exploration of potential problem areas, he or she can then select the best possible attack method for exploiting that weakness. Finally, after confirming that the vulnerability does exist and that the right attack method was chosen, the tester executes the attack. This is all done with the clients’ interests in mind and with the ultimate goal of resolving any vulnerabilities.

How Long Does Penetration Testing Take?

The exact amount of time it takes to execute penetration testing will vary from organization to organization depending on many different factors, including network size and complexity. In general, though, it takes roughly one to two weeks to do a thorough exploration. Keep in mind that a network that has multiple vulnerabilities takes far longer to test, analyze, and create a report for than a network that only has one or two. Organizations considering penetration testing should plan for a good deal of time to find and fix potential threats.

Now that you know why penetration testing is important and what it entails, it only makes sense to schedule a pen test for your organization’s network. By discovering vulnerabilities that you may not know exist, it is possible to put a stop to significant security breaches before they even happen.