What is Penetration Testing?

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Penetration testing is a type of security testing that evaluates an organization’s ability to protect its application, network, system, and users from external and internal threats.

Penetration Testing is answering a simple question: “What would a cybercriminal do to harm my organization’ computer systems, applications, and network?”. It is the practice of testing a computer system, network or web application to find vulnerabilities that an attacker could exploit, simulating an attack against an organization’s IT assets. Penetration testing can involve the attempted breaching of any number of application systems to uncover vulnerabilities. Penetration Testing is designed to check your security before an attacker does. Vulnerabilities can happen due to multiple reasons.

In penetration testing, a pen tester simulates attack like a hacker does thus evaluating the security of an organization’s infrastructure i.e. application, network, system, and user. They also analyze design weaknesses, technical flaws, and vulnerabilities.

Important Stages are involved during a Penetration Testing:


  1. Planning and reconnaissance: This stage involves understanding the scope and the goal of the test. The attacker gathers as much information about the target as possible. The data can be IP addresses, domain details, mail servers, etc. An expert will spend most of the time in this phase. This phase will help more in the further stages of the testing.
  2. Scanning: The attacker will interact with the target with an aim to identify the vulnerabilities. Scanning can be either static or dynamic. In Static it is inspecting an application’s code to understand the way it behaves while running. In Dynamic it is inspecting an application’s code in a running state. This is a more practical way of scanning, as it provides a real-time view into an application’s performance.
  3. Gaining Access: This is the step where the actual damage is done. In this stage different types of attacks are used to uncover a target’s vulnerabilities.Testers then go and exploit these vulnerabilities to understand the damage they can cause.
  4. Risk Analysis & Recommendations: In this stage the goal is to collect the evidence of the exploited vulnerabilities. This mostly considers an evaluation of the vulnerabilities present in the form of potential risks. Sometimes, the tester also provides some useful recommendations to implement in order to improve security levels if asked.
  5. Report Generation: Now, this is the final and the most important step. In this step, the results of the penetration test are assembled into a detailed report.

Types Of Penetration Testing:

Black Box: The attacker has zero knowledge of the target.

White Box: The attacker has given complete knowledge of the target.

Grey Box: The attacker has partial knowledge of the target.

Common Areas of Penetration Testing

  • Web Application Penetration Testing: It helps in detecting security issues in web applications like: Injection flaws, Cross-Site Scripting attacks, Broken Authentication and Authorization, Broken Session Management, Improper Error Handling. Those issues exist due to insecure design and practices.
  • Mobile Application Penetration Testing: Common Mobile Application Security issues are: Reverse Engineering, Insecure Data Storage, Insecure Cryptography, Code Tampering, Insecure Authentication, and Authorization.
  • Network Penetration Testing: Common Network Security issues are: use of insecure protocols, unused open ports, and services, unpatched OS and software, misconfigurations in firewalls, IDS, servers, network services.
  • Social Engineering Penetration Testing: It helps in identifying employees who do not properly authenticate, follow, validate, handle, process and technology.Common behavioral issues with employees which can be a serious risk to an organization: becoming a victim of phishing mail and phone call, clicking on a malicious link, revealing sensitive information to strangers, connecting USB to workstations, allowing unauthorized entry to strangers.
  • Cloud Penetration Testing: Common cloud-specific security issues: insufficient protection of data at rest, poor access management system, insecure interfaces and APIs, no privacy for user actions on cloud, security threat from insider.
  • Wireless Network Penetration Testing: Common issues in wireless networks are Insecure wireless encryption standards, weak encryption passphrase, presence of unauthorized/open access points and unsupported wireless technology.
  • IOT Penetration Testing: It helps in detecting hardware and software level flaws in Internet Of Things (IoT) devices. Common issues in IoT devices: insecure network services, insecure data transfer, and storage, weak/hardcoded passwords, insecure ecosystem interfaces, etc.
  • PCI Penetration Testing: Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard helps detect security flaws related to the handling of customer card information.

Penetration Testing Phases:

  • Pre-engagement Interactions: Defining the scope of work expectations, legal implications, objectives, and goals with both the parties
  • Information Gathering: Gathering information from various search engines, social engineering, dumpster diving, etc.
  • Threat Modeling: identifying the threats
  • Vulnerability Analysis: conducted to identify any potential security weaknesses using automated tools
  • Exploitation: After interpreting the results of vulnerability assessment simulating the attacks manually and documenting the vulnerabilities.
  • Post Exploitation: After exploitation determining the level of compromise and risk which can be done
  • Reporting: Reporting consist of a listing of vulnerabilities found, categorizing the risk and recommending mitigation to the vulnerabilities.

Benefits of Conducting Penetration Testing

Prevention is better than cure. This is the best motivation to conduct penetration testing. The cost of fixing the vulnerability is enormous after the system has been hacked than conducting penetration testing beforehand. Also, once the system is hacked it leads to loss of money as well as the client’s trust.

  • Identifying the threats and determining the probability of attack which can be done by a malicious user.
  • It gives assurance that the organization is operating within an acceptable limit of information security risks.
  • It helps in determining the potential business impact of a successful attack.
  • Ensures effective implementation of security controls .



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