Penetration Testing Process

Penetration Testing Process

In this blog post, we will dive into Penetration Testing Processes and explain to you each phase of Penetration Testing in detail. However, if you are new to Penetration Testing and want to learn more information about Pentesting in general, you are welcome to read this blog post.

Content:

Penetration Testing Processes define different approaches to how penetration tests are organized and conducted. There are methods for Penetration Testing to identify security vulnerabilities in an organization. Each different method describes the process that a company can take to discover these vulnerabilities. While companies can use their custom processes, many well-established, industry-recognized methods can be a great option for companies. Some organizations use these developed methodologies as an “out of the box” solution, while others use them as a foundation on which to build.

There is no doubt that regular Penetration Testing is an essential part of the vulnerability management process to reduce risk. It is important to ensure that Penetration Testing is efficient and using the correct Penetration Testing Method is an essential component of that. In this context, a methodology defines the logic according to which various test cases are carried out in order to evaluate the security of an asset.

Several Penetration Testing standards and frameworks have been published in the past. Penetration Testing Methods play a comprehensive role in benchmarking practices. For example, the OWASP Top 10 application security risks are the standard for evaluating web applications. The US Department of Commerce’s popular NIST Cyber Framework, the Open-Source Security Testing Methodology Manual, and the Pentesting Execution Standard are other methods and standards followed by organizations worldwide. OWASP, CIS benchmarks, and SANS Top 20 Critical Controls are often the most popular benchmarks for testing vulnerabilities.

Penetration Testing Processes: Types of Penetration Testing

Network Penetration Testing

A network Penetration Test identifies vulnerabilities in applications and systems by deliberately using a variety of malicious techniques to assess the network’s security or lack of response.

Like vulnerability assessments, a network Penetration Test, which may also be known as Pentest, aims to clarify vulnerabilities in a network.

There are some underlying benefits to performing network Pentest on your systems including:

  • Understanding the network baseline
  • Testing your security infrastructure and controls
  • Preventing network and data breaches
  • Ensuring network and system security

Web-Application Penetration Testing

Web application Pentesting refers to the process of preparing a hacking attack on your web application to detect and analyze vulnerabilities that an attacker could exploit. The entire web application Penetration Testing process is focused on helping you to better understand the security status of your web application whether it’s strength and resilience to a variety of cyber-attacks.

The usual process of Pentesting a web application is misconfiguration, unpatched software, SQLi, cross-site scripting, and many more. It includes a vulnerability scanner used to detect vulnerabilities in your system, then manual Pentesters try to confirm these vulnerabilities found by the scanner. Furthermore, take manual scan one step forward such complex vulnerabilities as business logic flaws for scanning and payment gateway flaws.

Social Engineering Penetration Testing

Social engineering Penetration Testing is the practice of performing typical social engineering fraud attempts on an organization’s employees to determine the organization’s vulnerability to this type of exploit.

Those tests are designed to test employees’ compliance with security policies and practices set by management. Tests should tell an organization how easily an intruder could persuade employees to break security rules or reveal or divulge confidential information. The company should also get a much better understanding of how successful its safety training is and how the organization compares to its competitors in terms of safety.

Penetration Testing Process

Pre-engagement, Planning, and Objectives Agreement

The first step in the Penetration Testing Process is to create the testing plan. A properly curated plan provides a path through an organization’s complex IT structure. To begin creating a plan, one must have a complete understanding of the organization and how it operates. Knowledge of their systems and applications is also important. Once we have this information, we can proceed to build the examination scope.

Defining a precise scope of work ensures understanding and clarity of goals, exclusions, and what to do if something happens. We provide a proven project management approach is employed and ensure all parties are aware of approval forms and legalities, in-scope items, any vulnerable components, and out-of-scope components before beginning an engagement.

Penetration Testing Methodology

Intelligence Gathering and Discovery

Once the legal and project-related formalities have been completed, the exploration phase begins with the sole aim of obtaining information. This information (e.g., network layouts, domains, servers, infrastructure details) helps to understand how the network works, including its assets (applications, systems, devices, anything with an IP).

Moreover, it is necessary to conduct proper reconnaissance and gather information about the systems. Using variously automated and manual tools, testers scan the system to find potential vulnerabilities or penetration points. These would be exploited by the testers in further steps. Tools such as Recon-Ng, Nmap, Spiderfoot, Metasploit, and Wireshark are usually used for this.

Scanning

This phase is performed to find vulnerabilities within the defined goals. It includes scanning the target for listening services/open ports, fingerprinting, and analyzing the running services to prepare a rough attack layout of the target systems.

It is worth mentioning that host scanning is the first step of a typical network Penetration Test. There the Pentesters scan the hosts to check whether there are any technical problems (firewalls, connection problems, etc.). Furthermore, the aim of the host scan is to agree on the test scope.

Exploitation

Once potential vulnerabilities are discovered, testers will use them in additional Penetration attempts to the system. This closely resembles how a cybercriminal would exploit these vulnerabilities and helps provide a better overall understanding. All steps, tools that are used, locations, and input methods for a specific issue are adequately documented to capture the entire process for later review. As a step in the Penetration Testing Process, these security issues are ranked based on how easy they are to exploit and the damage they can cause. This would support a huge oversight to the organization to prioritize fixes.

Specific assessments and goal-based scenarios are defined in “white box”, “black box” or “grey box” methodologies. The test cases are defined based on the amount of information available to the consultants before starting the evaluation.

Data Analysis and Reporting

After Penetration Testing is complete, detailed reports are prepared for corrective action. All identified vulnerabilities and recommended remedial methods are listed in these reports. You can customize the format of the vulnerability report (HTML, XML, MS Word or PDF) according to the needs of your organization.

Presentation of the Results

It is crucial that Penetration Testing results should be presented thoroughly, including an explanation of the vulnerabilities, further exploitation results, user rights management overview, and critics and results of the pre-agreed scenarios. Last but not least, recommendations to overcome and fix the vulnerabilities of the Pentesters.

At the end of the day, all questions of the customer should be answered, and a concrete list of measures should be defined for each vulnerability. Only then, a pentest will make sense.

After-Scan

For some projects, it might be wise to re-scan and re-check the findings to control the effectiveness of the implemented measures. Therefore, we always suggest the after-scan depending on the size of the project between 1 to 3 months. Pentester should be scheduling this time already in the final meeting, where the results are presented.

Wrapping-up

In this blog post, we explained what a standard Pentest Procedure looks like. We have gone through Pentest phases from the beginning till the end. Of course, there might be different executions of Pentests as there are various hardware/software available in the market.

Please keep in mind that a Penetration Test’s quality is heavily dependent on the Pentesters’ experience. Having said that, an experienced Pentester might try to exploit different vulnerabilities as per his/her experience.

If you want more general information about Pentesting, you can read our blog post here. If you want to start with your Penetration Tests, you can see how we can help you here.