Penetration testing, also referred to as pen testing or ethical hacking, is an authorized systematic simulation of a cyber attack to conduct a security assessment of an organization’s computer system, web application, or network. Basically, it is a controlled hacking method where a company uses authorized “hackers”, such as Rootshell Security, to try and hack into the company’s system to assess any weaknesses that cyber criminals would exploit.

Stages of Penetration Testing

Pen testing takes place in five stages namely:

  • Reconnaissance. This is the process of collecting vital information regarding the target system. Consequently, this information is used to attack the target more effectively.
  • Scanning. This phase involves using technical equipment to improve the hacker’s knowledge about the system.
  • Gaining system access. This phase involves using the knowledge gained from the reconnaissance and scanning stages and using it to exploit the targeted computer system.
  • Maintaining system access. This stage involves using the necessary measures to persistently be within the environment of the target computer system to obtain as much information as possible.
  • Track covering. The “hacker”, in this phase, disposes all traces of the target system being hacked for example, obtained data and logs, to remain anonymous.

After the hacker has exploited one weakness, they can access other systems with an aim of exploiting their vulnerabilities, and the process repeats itself.

Types of Penetration Testing

There are various types of pen testing which focus on different aspects of a firm’s logical perimeter. They include infrastructure, wireless network, software, and social engineering pen tests.

  • Infrastructure pen testing. This is a test that is carried out to identify vulnerabilities in network architecture and operating systems. They include server and host bugs, poor installation of wireless access points, and insecure network protocols
  • Wireless network pen testing. If your organization uses wireless forms of technology like Wi-Fi, you can consider conducting the wireless network test. It is done to identify information and signal leakage, determine encryption vulnerabilities, and determining people who have access to private networks.
  • Web application pen testing. This type of testing focuses on coding errors or software not responding to requests in the desired manner. They test user verification to ensure accounts cannot be compromised, web browser configuration browser is secure, and protection of the database server.
  • Social engineering pen testing. This type of testing aims at checking for attacks like pharming, phishing, and business email compromise to access the victim systems.

Different Approaches to Penetration Testing

Key to note when implementing a pen testing program is to clearly outline the scope within which attackers must operate within. the scope includes locations, systems, strategies, and tools which can be employed during ethical hacking. Some of the main strategies include:

  • Internal testing. This is a test designed to determine the extent of damage a savvy employee would cause. The test imitates an inside attack by authorized personnel with normal access.
  • External testing. This approach of penetration testing tries to hack an organization’s external devices and servers such as email servers, web servers, firewalls, or domain name servers.
  • Targeted testing. Also called “lights turned on” strategy, targeted testing is conducted by the penetration testers in collaboration with the organization’s IT department.
  • Blind testing. This is an approach that mimics the activities of a real hacker. It does this by limiting the attacker’s information before conducting the test.

By using various penetration testing approaches, an organization can concentrate on the desired security systems, and obtain an in-depth knowledge about the types of attacks that the systems could be most vulnerable to.

How Often Should You Do Penetration Testing

Penetration testing should be conducted at least once a year, and additionally when adding new network applications, establishing new offices, or when making significant modifications or upgrades. Other factors that affect the number of times to conduct pen testing include:

  • Size of the organization.
  • Financial muscle of the company.
  • Compliance with laws and regulations.

Benefits of Penetration Testing

The following are some of the benefits associated with pen testing:

  • Identify vulnerabilities so that you can fix them and adopt preventive measures.
  • Ensure that the current security systems are effective.
  • To check for bugs in new systems and software.
  • Compliance with relevant laws and regulations regarding privacy.
  • To ensure conformance with security standards.
  • To assure customers and stakeholders of the confidentiality of their data.

Types of Penetration Testing Tools

Pen testing tools scan code to discover malicious code in an application resulting a breach of security. They identify highly coded values, like passwords and usernames, and analyse encryption techniques, to examine security weaknesses in the system. Good penetration tools should scan an organization’s easily, provide in-depth vulnerability logs and reports, and review previous areas of exploit. Some of the popular tools include:

  • The Metasploit Project. This is a project owned by Rapid7 and it is packed with pen testing tools that can be used on networks, online applications, and servers. Metasploit is used to identify vulnerabilities and other security issues to manage security systems.
  • Wireshark. This is a traffic profiling tool that examines network packets. It enables your firm to obtain finer details about real-time network activities going on in the organization.
  • Nmap. Network mapper, otherwise known as Nmap, is a pen testing tool that scans networks and systems for weaknesses in their open ports. It can also be used to observe service or host uptime.

Ethical Hacking

Ethical hacking is a key aspect in upholding the security of any company’s computer system. An automated vulnerability test only provides you with valuable insight about your security system but does not give you an in-depth understanding about the security challenges you are facing. Only a pen test conducted by skilled personnel can help you with that.