What is Penetration Testing? | Importance & Process

What is Penetration Testing? | Importance & Process

With the evolution of humankind and science, we have in a way become a much superior race in terms of access to technology and all that we can do today just by a click of a button or with a touch.

It makes us feel supremely powerful to be able to do amazing things like – flying an airplane, connecting with our loved ones on video calls, sharing pictures on Instagram, sending money quickly from one country to another without even having to set a foot in the bank (thankyou Net banking), learning anything by watching videos on Youtube from the comfort of our homes etc.

Easy does it. But with power comes vulnerabilities which could lead to potential threats that are continuously evolving in this technology based world. Today we are akin to menaces like – hacking, cyber-attacks, phishing, money-laundering etc. So staying protected against these malicious elements is the need of the hour.

This gave the concerned section of society a reason to dig deeper and think about what could be done in order to get this threatening issue out of the way. This paved the way for, what is known to us today as – Penetration Testing, Pen Test or Ethical Hacking, which is used to test a system’s robustness, to expose and uncover the security vulnerabilities of a system, and highly skilled specialists are appointed to analyze the system, discover its weaknesses and try to access critical information.

PENETRATION TESTING INTRODUCTION

Penetration Testing as a concept was introduced in 1960’s, one of the early pioneers being James P. Anderson and was used by US government and military and by US Air force initially for security-testing of time-shared computer systems. But it was only in the 1990’s when the tech-giants like IBM, Sun Microsystems took a leap of faith and joined this bandwagon of – ‘Ethical Hacking’. 

HOW DOES PENETRATION TESTING WORK?

Penetration Testing / Pen Test is required in order to evaluate how secure an IT Infrastructure system is and to uncover its vulnerabilities. Data in today’s world is of prime importance and value and with the anti-social elements with their highly sophisticated methods to hijack super-secure systems on the continuous rise, it makes sense to invest in processes and methods that can overcome or even better counter-attack the issue.

COVID-19 alone has increased the rate of these malicious cyber-attacks and crimes by a whopping 600% thus making Penetration Testing the need of the hour and implementing the required measures that effectively secure the IT-Infrastructure systems and cannot be compromised.

The target of a Penetration Tester is to try to break the system, get into it, uncover and expose its vulnerabilities, breach the system security, identify all the weak areas which are easily penetrable and can be soft-targets to outside attacks and other malicious activities. This involves checking for physical as well as non-physical aspects of networks and infrastructure ranging from firewalls and DNS to testing for online web-applications and browsers.

APPROACH TO PENETRATION TESTING

As the goal of Penetration Testing is to stress test the effectiveness of security controls and uncover vulnerabilities of an IT-Infrastructure system, it is obviously required that none of its parameters from Network Services to Applications to Servers to Wireless systems are left uncovered and tests should be performed on them internally or externally to simulate different responses when the system is under attack. 

Now, we have scenarios where the Ethical Testers know about the system and environment that they have to breach and then also the scenarios where it is just a case of deep diving into the system without any prior knowledge or information. On the basis of this, the Penetration Testing approaches can be categorized into –

  1. Black Box Testing – Also known as External Penetration Testing. In this testing approach, the penetration tester has very little or almost no information regarding the system.
    The target to achieve here is to simulate a real-world cyber-attack on the IT Infrastructure system. We can uncover many potential threats with the use of this testing approach, with one of the most popular ways as to deploy the series of exploits known to work such as – Kerberoasting.
    A high degree of skill is required for this “trial and error” approach and it does boast of a high success rate but the downside is that black box testing requires a lot of planning, time and effort and the time could be a restricting factor for some organizations and it could be costly as well.
     
  2. White Box Testing – Also known as Internal Penetration Testing, this testing approach is more like conducting an in-depth security audit as the tester has all the information and knowledge of the system. With so much information and the access to Source code, it can sometimes get difficult to prioritize and focus on the important parts. Also, White Box penetration testing requires expensive tools like – Code Analyzers and Debuggers. 
  3. Grey Box Testing – Grey Box Penetration Testing sort of draws the line in between its Black and White counterparts, with the tester having the access to some information regarding the system. It optimizes the effectiveness of testing with the utilization of best of both worlds like implementing “trial and error” approach as well as reviewing the network diagrams, inspecting web application firewalls etc. to uncover the risk areas.
TYPES OF PENETRATION TESTING 

There are several parameters that need to be taken into account while performing penetration testing, and then only we can typecast the scenarios we want to perform and how we want to approach them, as each type of penetration testing requires a certain set of methodologies, tools and information that is required to make the scenario a success. On the basis of all these factors, we can narrow down the types of Penetration Testing that are performed –

  1. Infrastructure Testing – It is also known as Network Service testing. This is one of the most common type of penetration testing type and is done to identify the vulnerabilities or uncover risks associated with Network Infrastructure like – firewalls, routers, switches, printers etc. Thoroughly verifying the Infrastructure provides adequate coverage against potential threats and attacks targeted upon Network devices like – Routers, DNS, Proxy Servers, Database, FTP etc. This type of testing is super important as Network provides mission-critical services to the business and can also be an easy target to hacking. 
  2. Web Application Testing – Web Application Penetration Testing, as the name suggests targets the web application to find out the weaknesses of the web applications and to test how secure they are and if they can be easily broken into. The application is tested end to end including the browsers, its components like Plugins, Applets and the other endpoints that the application interacts with. 
  3. Client Side Penetration Testing – It is done in order to identify the potential threat areas or weaknesses in the Client Side applications like different web browsers, programs like Microsoft suite etc. in order to identify specific cyber-attacks like – HTML Injection, Malwares, Cross-Site scripting attacks etc. 
  4. Wireless Penetration Testing – This type of penetration testing is performed in order to test for the wireless connection among devices including the IoT devices and to uncover the security issues and identify weak links like – Unauthorized access, data leakage and to verify how strong are the encryption methods that have been implemented, how the access points work and how the data flow works etc. 
  5. Social Engineering Penetration Testing – Now, this can be a little tricky as it involves the targeted social engineering attacks like – Phishing, Tailgating, Dumpster Diving etc. This is the most critical area of Penetration Testing as these are the biggest threats to networks security. Also, these can be a little difficult to implement as the users need to be educated and informed against these cyber-crimes. 
  6. Physical Penetration Testing – It involves penetrating the physical barriers in order to access the infrastructure and compromise its security through access to building, system or employees. Physical controls are put into place in order to avoid such situations like – unauthorized personnel getting access to the server rooms, Secure Off-Shore development centers. Proper security measures need to be in place in order to avoid such situations.
TOOLS USED FOR PENETRATION TESTING 
  1. The NMap (Network Mapper)
  2. Nessus
  3. Wireshark
  4. Burp Suite
  5. John the Ripper.
CONCLUSION 

In the end, it can be concluded that Penetration Testing not only focuses on the vulnerabilities of the system, helping the organizations to put more stricter security measures in place, but also saving them from frauds and threats like hacking, compromised data which could otherwise lead to revenue losses, bad reputation and so much more. It helps with attaining the knowledge of potential threats beforehand and be better prepared in advance to overcome them.

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