An Introduction to Penetration Testing

A Pen Test or penetration testing is one of the most effective ways for enterprises to proactively identify cybersecurity gaps and fix them before they are exploited by malicious actors. But what exactly is penetration testing and what does it involve? Here's a look.

What is a Pen Test? 

A pen test or penetration test is an authorised attempt to hack and gain access to an organization's data assets. Its purpose is to identify vulnerabilities so that they are identified, and rectified before any potential cyber attack. 

This is similar to stress tests conducted by doctors with patients. A stress test can estimate your risk of having heart disease. A doctor or trained technician performs the test with the objective of learning how much your heart can manage before an abnormal rhythm starts or blood flow to your heart muscle drops.

Similarly an ethical hacker, via a penetration test, is testing for any weaknesses in your organization’s cyber security, he or she is attempting to break into your organization's network to test for vulnerabilities.  If the ethical hacker succeeds, your organization gains valuable information on how best to  solve these weaknesses before the event of an actual cyber attack by a malicious actor. 

Types of Penetration Testing

White Box Penetration Testing - During a white-box penetration test the tester is provided with full network and system information, this is usually done to save on cost and time taken with the overall test. 

Black Box Penetration Testing - On the other hand, during black-box penetration tests the tester is provided with no network and system information similar to an unprivileged user. This is done to simulate an authentic attack where the malicious attacker has no information on the network or system. 

Grey Box Penetration Testing - In a grey-box penetration test, only limited information is shared with the tester. Usually this takes the form of login credentials. Grey box testing is useful to help understand the level of access a privileged user could gain and the potential damage they could cause.

What are the stages of a Penetration Test? 

A typical penetration test is carried out in the following four stages: 

Reconnaissance - In this stage, the ethical hacker collects information  and data via public and private sources on the target to inform their attack strategy for example, discovering possible vulnerabilities that can be exploited during the actual hack. The complexity of this stage may differ from company to company as well as the scope and objective of the penetration test. 

Scanning - This is where the ethical hacker utilises tools like open services, application security issues and open source vulnerabilities etc, to scan the company's website or system for weaknesses. 

Gaining access - Hackers may access your companies networks to steal, change or delete data for financial gain or to simply damage the reputation of your company. During this stage the hacker conducting the Penetration Test will test each of these cases  and must decide on the best tools and techniques to gain access to your organization’s system, whether through a weakness, such as SQL injection, or through malware, social engineering, or something else.

Maintaining access - Once penetration testers gain access to your company’s network, their simulated attack must stay connected long enough to accomplish their goals: exfiltrating data, modifying it, or abusing functionality. The goal of a penetration test is to simulate the actual impact of a cyber attack if it is to happen. 

Looking to identify the vulnerabilities in your cybersecurity setup? StickmanCyber's penetration testing services brings in CREST ANZ registered testers to comb through your systems, identify possible gaps, and prepare a comprehensive list of action items to mitigate risks. 

Ready to proactively take charge of your cybersecurity. Book a penetration test today!

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