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What is Penetration Testing?

What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing, which some may refer to as “ethical hacking” or “white hat hacking”, is the practice of testing a computer system, network, or web application, to find vulnerabilities an attacker could exploit. Penetration testers use much of the same knowledge, tools, and techniques as malicious hackers, but they do so with permission from the owner and with the intention of improving security. 

As such, penetration tests (or “pentests/pentesting” for short) are conducted by a specialized team of qualified security engineers who have the necessary skills and expertise to think like a hacker during testing while collaborating like an internal team member.

While penetration testing focuses on finding and exploiting technical weaknesses during the testing itself, the ultimate goal of a penetration test is to identify and mitigate these weaknesses before malicious hackers can take advantage of them.

Besides being a compliance requirement by many frameworks, penetration testing is a valuable tool for security teams to identify weaknesses in their current security posture as well as test the effectiveness of systems and processes to identify and block incoming threats.

How is Penetration Testing Performed?

Whatever the designated scope, penetration testing is conducted in a way to mimic different types of potential attackers – from hackers with minimal experience who are just targeting easily exploitable, published vulnerabilities, to intermediate and sophisticated attackers targeting your environment specifically.

As such, penetration testing utilizes both automated scanning tools and experienced manual effort during testing.  Automated scanning tools can simulate the “script kiddie” attacker who is looking for easy-to-identify vulnerabilities, as well as increasing the overall speed and efficiency of the testing effort.  Meanwhile, manual testing simulates the intermediate to sophisticated attacker who is willing to spend more time and resources in attempting to breach your environment, whether via long-running password spray or brute force attacks, social engineering, or gaining a foothold into and pivoting throughout the internal environment.

After the testing, the attacks are communicated through reporting and possibly debriefings so the security team can review their monitoring and detection capabilities in the event of an active attacker.

What are the Primary Types of Penetration Tests?

External Network Testing

Penetration testing against an external network focuses on assets, servers, services etc. that can be accessed from the public Internet.  While Internet accessibility makes it easy for your employees and users to use your services, it also presents a potential attack vector for any hacker with Internet access – which is pretty much all of them.

Services and data which are commonly targeted by attackers are corporate websites, login portals, remote access solutions and VPNs, cloud-based resources, leaked data, and other external-facing systems and assets.

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Internal Network Testing

Penetration testing against an internal network comes from the perspective of an assumed breach or workstation compromise, malicious hardware device, rogue employee, or drive-by-type attacks against workstations.  Generally, an internal network environment isn’t accessible to an Internet-based attacker, unless the attacker has already compromised an employee account, a vulnerability in a remotely accessible service, or perhaps gaining a foothold through social engineering, or exploiting a vulnerability in common internal software (Office, Adobe reader, Java, browsers, etc.) with drive-by or watering hole attacks.

Testing focuses on internal services (such as Active Directory), internal files and documents (such as corporate file shares), workstation vulnerabilities (such as web-based attacks), privilege escalation (such as domain admin), and other internal resources (such as printers, network equipment, and security cameras).

Finally, testing verifies whether identified sensitive data can be exfiltrated from the environment without triggering detection.

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Web Application Testing

Because web applications are designed to have more features and more usage than generic network services, they have their own suite of security weaknesses, and thus, their own form of penetration testing which focuses on exploiting those weaknesses.

Web application security testing focuses on finding injection-type vulnerabilities (SQL, OS, Python, etc.) that can target back-end services, user-specific vulnerabilities (cross-site scripting, cross-site request forgery, etc.) which can target other users of the application, or more general access control vulnerabilities that can target data or functionality which an attacker should not be authorized to access.

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Other common types of testing

What are the Benefits of Penetration Testing?

  • Identify security weaknesses before hackers do and mitigate them.
  • Reduce the cost of a potential breach by identifying and closing potential attack vectors.
  • Provide a baseline for your security program from which to measure and track improvement.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of your current security controls/tools in a controlled manner.
  • Comply with compliance and regulatory requirements.
  • Enhance your security reputation and brand by including your focus on security in your marketing and sales pitches.

How do I Choose a Penetration Testing Service?

At PEN Consultants, we understand the importance of ensuring the security of your business systems and data. That’s why we offer comprehensive penetration testing services to ensure your systems are secure and data is protected from any potential threats.

When choosing a penetration testing service, you should consider the scope of the testing, the experience of the testers, the methodologies used, the transparency provided prior to and during testing, communication, deliverables, and the cost of the service.

At PEN Consultants, our testers have years of experience in the field, use robust methodologies for testing, and provide real-time access to every detail of testing. Our service contracts include a detailed statement of work (SOW) and are competitively priced to ensure you get the best value for your money. After testing, we provide detailed reports of the testing results as well as recommendations for further action.

If you are looking for a reliable and experienced offensive security service that provides Rock Solid Security, look no further than PEN Consultants for all your information and cybersecurity testing needs. Contact us: