A penetration test (pen test) is a legally sanctioned simulated attack on a computer system to assess its security. Penetration testers employ the same equipment, methods, and practices as attackers to identify and illustrate the business implications of system flaws. Penetration tests typically simulate a series of threats that could endanger a company. They can determine whether a system is strong enough to withstand attacks from both authenticated and unauthenticated positions, as well as from a variety of system roles. A pen test can delve into any aspect of a system with the right scope.
Pen testers act as motivated adversaries to simulate attacks. They usually follow a strategy that involves the following steps:
- Reconnaissance: To inform the attack strategy, gather as much information about the target as possible from public and private sources.
- Scanning: Pen testers use tools to look for flaws in the target website or system, such as open services, application security issues, and open source vulnerabilities.
- Obtaining access: The motivations of attackers can range from stealing, changing, or removing files to moving funds or simply damaging a company’s reputation.
- Keeping access open: Once pen testers have gained access to the target, their simulated attack must remain connected long enough to achieve their goals of data exfiltration, modification, or abuse of functionality. It is necessary to demonstrate the potential impact.
Pen testers use automated scanning and testing tools, despite the fact that pen testing is mostly a manual effort. However, they go above and beyond the tools, employing their knowledge of the most recent attack techniques to provide more in-depth testing than a vulnerability assessment.
Manual Pen Testing:
Manual pen testing identifies vulnerabilities and weaknesses that are not included in popular lists and tests business rules that automated testing may overlook (e.g., data validation, integrity checks). A manual pen test can also assist in the identification of false positives reported by automated testing.
Compared to a fully manual pen testing process, automated testing produces results faster and requires fewer specialized professionals. Automated testing tools automatically track results and can sometimes export them to a centralized reporting platform.
Ideally, software and systems are designed from the beginning with the goal of eliminating potentially dangerous security flaws. A pen test provides information on how well that goal was met. Pen testing can be beneficial to an organization. Identify system flaws, determine the control’s robustness, help with data security and privacy regulations compliance (e.g., PCI DSS, HIPAA, GDPR), and give managers qualitative and quantitative examples of their current security posture and funding priorities.