Penetration testing is a critical element in a company’s cybersecurity plan. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), penetration testing (also known as pen testing) is a method of testing an application or enterprise’s security system for potential vulnerabilities. Pen testing is typically done by professionals referred to as “white hat” hackers. They are the opposite of “black hat” hackers, which are the malicious users who exploit these vulnerabilities for personal gain. The terminology comes from old Western movies, where the villain always wore a black hat while the hero donned a white one. Pen testing has several distinct approaches, and in this article, we’ll explore the types of penetration testing that exist and are used regularly.
Penetration Testing at a Glance
What exactly is penetration testing? An enterprise needs to secure its network against potential attacks. Not only does it need to keep up with current threats, but it needs to prepare to deal with emerging problems as they occur. A penetration test done by a professional can highlight a company’s cybersecurity system’s issues. The tester usually does this by a combination of automated and manual means. In essence, a penetration test is a simulated cyber attack, but from a known source with a clear objective – determining where the company’s cybersecurity system needs support. The process of penetration testing covers several distinct stages, namely:
- Planning and Reconnaissance: This stage mimics the information gathering phase of a cyber attack. In this stage, the penetration tester will define the goals and systems they will target and collect the relevant data on them. This information includes domain names, network addresses, mail servers, and more. These give a picture of the system’s vulnerabilities to formulate an angle of attack.
- Scanning: The scanning phase determines the potential response in the case of a breach. Static analysis deals with examining application code for behavioral artifacts. Code can scan the application in a single pass. Dynamic analysis is done while the application is still running. It gives a more transparent and precise picture of its potential responses to intrusion.
- Gaining Access: This is the meat of the matter, as the white hat hacker uses various methods such as SQL injection or cross-site scripting to get past the company’s initial defenses. Access allows them to escalate their user privileges and potentially steal data.
- Maintaining a Presence: Once getting into a system, the malicious user may want to maintain a presence to continue to siphon data off the company’s servers. These advanced persistent threats imitate what a real black hat hacker will seek to do once they get into the enterprise system.
- Analysis: the final stage involves examining the intrusion attempt and determining what should be improved to prevent an actual malicious user from gaining access to the company’s servers. Analysis usually results in a report or suggestions to the company as to what they need to improve in their cybersecurity system.
The Types of Penetration Testing
Pen tests aren’t a single overarching test in and of itself. There are several methodologies that a pen tester can use to demonstrate the vulnerabilities in a client’s cybersecurity architecture. Among these types of testing are:
- External Pen Testing: When a pen tester goes up against the company’s external-facing cybersecurity measures, it’s known as external penetration testing. The test can be conducted remotely, but some firms allow the professional to access the building. The external attack deals with the company’s firewall, website, and external network servers.
- Internal Pen Testing: The internal test occurs within the company’s servers and serves to highlight how much damage an employee with bad intentions can cause to the company’s servers from the inside.
- Blind Testing: In a blind test, the professional doesn’t get any information aside from the company’s name. Their goal is to gain access to its system without any other information being provided. The company’s internal staff knows the test is underway and will prepare for the intrusion.
- Double-Blind Testing: A double-blind test has the same stipulations as a blind test, but with the added complication that no one on the staff knows that a test is coming or that it’s even a test. This is used to test the staff’s real-time response to the intrusion and the company’s security measures.
- Targeted Testing: In this test, the penetration tester works closely with the enterprise’s IT staff to keep them appraised of the state of the hack. It helps the company’s staff know the hacker’s thinking process throughout the intrusion.
These tests can each highlight vulnerabilities in a company’s cybersecurity regimen, but they should be seen as an ever-evolving way to update its approach to hackers. It should never be seen as a series of hoops that the company should jump through to meet a standard. Instead, these tests should be done regularly to ensure that the company’s cybersecurity policy is up to date. Cybersecurity is an arms race, and penetration testers also need to be at the cutting edge of the industry. From one month to another, new threats and vulnerabilities show up. To be helpful to these enterprises, a pen tester needs to know what enterprises require to shore up their cybersecurity defenses. Keeping up with the industry is more than just reading papers as they’re released. Legends of Tech can offer professionals a way to sharpen their knowledge with their short courses.
Getting Involved in Penetration Testing
Certified Ethical Hacking (CEH) is a vast field that will likely see a lot of growth in the coming years. With more and more companies stretching their cybersecurity measures to the limit thanks to remote work arrangements, there’s no better time to get involved in CEH. Legends of Tech can provide students with the training and mentorship necessary to reach their goals. Contact us today to learn more about what our CEH courses can offer you. Let’s help you become a qualified, certified ethical hacker and start your career in cybersecurity.