An introduction to penetration testing
Written by Joseph Poppy on 26/09/2019
Application penetration tests can be quite involved. They are designed to uncover any vulnerabilities or weaknesses present in a web app or mobile application that could compromise the security or induce functionality not intended by the designers. The difficulty of these tests will depend on what scripts are being employed or how the application is built. Generally, testers will be looking for outdated software, cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities and weak cryptography, or they will try and tamper with cookies and functionality.
What’s the difference between penetration testing and vulnerability assessments?
The terms penetration test and vulnerability assessment are often wrongly used interchangeably. A vulnerability assessment, or VA scan, is the use of an automated tool to scan a network or application for known vulnerabilities, which can then be patched. A penetration test is a lot more involved and encompasses many aspects, providing you with a more comprehensive overview of your overall security.
What are the stages of a penetration test?
All penetration test projects will start with an accurate scoping. Once the boundaries have been agreed and a goal decided upon, testers will begin some reconnaissance. This is the starting point for any hacker and the beginning of the cyber kill chain. This may include looking for any related URLs or domains that could be considered in scope and increase the attack area or conducting some vulnerability scans on their target. If social engineering is included in the test, recon activity may include searching publicly available sources for staff contact details, staff pass designs or email address formats.
The testers will then attempt to exploit any weakness found to gain unauthorised access. This can often have a trial and error-based approach. If successful, the tester will find out the extent of a hacker’s potential reach, compile some evidence and then provide a detailed report along with remediation advice.
Tests will often follow these steps:
- Scanning with automated tools
- Probing for weaknesses/misconfigurations
- Testing for flaws such as XSS, man-in-the-middle attacks etc.
What is red team testing?
Some businesses choose to go a step further when it comes to testing their security. Red team testing is a mix of penetration testing, social engineering and physical intrusion. Testers will follow the same process as a standard penetration test in order to compromise data, but will also see if they can exploit flaws (even in physical tech) to gain access to buildings and data centres.
Red team testing can involve a lot of face to face interaction, testing processes and procedures that form part of information security. It may involve phone calls, simple tailgating or even pretending to deliver milk.
What are the penetration testing costs?
The cost of a penetration test can vary considerably with many factors to consider. The size of the network/application, its complexity and the overall scope will be the main variables.
Of course, these prices and features depend entirely on your requirements and serve as just a rough guide as to what you might expect to pay.
Do I need a penetration test?
What can I expect in my penetration test report?
The content of a report will depend on the who has written it. Bulletproof’s reports always contain a high-level business summary before moving on to an in-depth breakdown of any weakness, vulnerability or misconfiguration found during the test along with mitigation advice. These will then be presented in order of priority, giving our clients a checklist to improve their security.
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And knowing is half the battle... regular penetration tests are vital for maintaining security and protecting business critical data. If a penetration tester can find flaws in your environment, then a hacker can too, and you don’t want them to find them first.
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