A penetration test’s aim is to check the security processes of a tech system. In short, a penetration test is an orchestrated and authorised cyberattack. Its task is to identify weaknesses in the operating system, in the application itself, or in the configuration process of a particular service.
A penetration test allows Quality Assurance engineers to check the reliability of the security system and the effectiveness of the protective mechanisms. In addition, this type of testing allows the organization to put in place countermeasures to protect the company from security attacks.
Let’s take a closer look at penetration testing, or ‘pen test’ for short.
Penetration Testing Objectives
Penetration testing is used to fine tune a security system that has been set up. Penetration testing always has a specific purpose and it’s usually one of the following:
- To identify systems that can be hacked
- To try to hack a system
- To provoke a data leak
By testing such areas, teams can find the weakness in their security systems early on, so that they can put in place countermeasures to protect the company from cyberattacks in the future.
Penetration Testing Consists Of The Following Stages:
- Planning and preparation
- Identifying — the team chooses its aim
- Attempt penetration
- Analysis and reporting
- Clear traces of the operation — the test should not leave traces
Penetration Testing Methods
The aim of an external test is to access and extract valuable data from outside of the system. Testers try to gain access to very sensitive data through weak spots like email and file shares.
Internal testing usually comes after external testing, because this simulates real life. This is the natural next step a hacker would take once they had breached the external security systems, and gained access to the internal system.
In this case, a tester who has access to the application behind the firewall simulates an attack. A QA could play out a scenario whereby the data of employees is stolen by means of phishing, for example.
In this case, the tester only knows the name of the organization, and they then proceed to initiate a cyberattack on it. At the same time the security team can see the attack playing out in real time and they can think of ways to stop the breach.
Employees involved in the testing have no knowledge of the attack. And as it would be in real life, they would not have much time to re-strengthen their security defenses.
In this scenario, a tester and cybersecurity workers collaborate. This allows the team to receive real-time feedback from the hacker's perspective, so that they can find the best solution(s) to prevent breaches.
Penetration testing tools
Here’s a list of tools used during penetration testing:
Kali Linux — well optimized for attacks, you are guaranteed help during penetration testing.
Metasploit — an indispensable assistant for protecting systems from intruders.
Wireshark — a versatile tool that’s used for analyzing the traffic that goes through a network.
Nmap — a kind of a network mapper that allows you to determine which ports are open and how they are used.
Hashcat — the fastest and most advanced password recovery tool, it can be used to crack hashes making it an indispensable tool for penetration testing.
How Often Is Penetration Testing Done?
According to the 2020 Penetration Testing Survey, 97% of cybersecurity professionals believe that penetration testing is of ‘some importance’ to ‘important’ for a company's security. In addition, 47% of cybersecurity professionals reported that their company conducted a penetration test monthly or quarterly.
Why is penetration testing not completed more often? The main difficulties are actually finding qualified and experienced professionals to work with and working within a budget. Specialists who know how to conduct penetration tests are not easy to find.
The very nature of this type of testing means that a specialist has to immerse themselves in the system, application and architecture. So, sometimes penetration testing can take time to complete, and it can take even longer to find a solution to prevent unwanted attacks, plus, this can all be costly.
Penetration Testing — What Next?
So, you’ve performed a penetration test, what’s the next step?
The next step is to integrate the results that you’ve found. This includes reporting all the information that you discovered along the way. This is an essential step in the process. The results noted must be detailed and written down concisely, so that the organization can take them into account.
Afterwards, the information can be used to update systems, or to address weaknesses that were discovered during the testing process. This may prevent and limit potential cybersecurity attacks in the future.