Penetration Testing Types – What, Why & How

The goal of penetration testing is to exploit vulnerabilities or weaknesses in systems, human resources, physical assets, and networks and stress test the effectiveness of the controls that are in place.

You will find there are a few types of penetration tests. These include:

·        Network services

·        Social engineering

·        Physical

·        Wireless

·        Client side

·        Applications

It’s possible to have penetration tests performed internally or externally to simulate various attack vectors. Penetration testers may or may not have previous knowledge of the systems or environments they are trying to breach.  

In this post we will explain more about the different types of penetration testing, how they are used, and why you need to perform them. When you reach the end of the post, you should have a much better understanding of why penetration tests provide effective defenses for any cyber security program.

Penetration Testing Defined

Penetration testing involves a team of security professionals actively trying to break into your company’s network by exploiting vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the systems you have in place. Some of the methods used by penetration tests include:

·        Social engineering techniques for accessing systems and any related databases.

·        Sending phishing emails to gain access to essential accounts.

·        Using unencrypted passwords that are shared in the network to help access sensitive data and databases.

These types of attempts can be much more intrusive than vulnerability scans and could cause increased system utilization or denial of service. This may lead to reduced productivity, which can corrupt your machines.

In some situations, it’s possible to schedule penetration tests and let your staff know about the exercise ahead of time. However, this isn’t applicable if your goal is to test the way your internal security team is responding to “live” threats.

Reasons That Penetration Tests Are Done

Today, penetration testing is a widely adopted security practice for companies and organizations. It is particularly the case for industries like healthcare providers and banks, which store and regularly access private and sensitive information.

The main purpose of this is to expose and exploit weaknesses and vulnerabilities. You should note that penetration testing is usually tied to business objectives that have an overarching strategy.

An example would be with contractors for the Department of Defense. They must have proper processes in place to help protect CUI – Controlled Unclassified Information. This is required by the CMMC – Cyber Security Maturity Certification. Penetration testing is one of the multiple security controls required to pass the stringent auditor requirements, based on the level a contractor is required to attain.

However, there’s another side to consider. The security goals of a software company may vary significantly. An example is that application penetration testing will allow you to find weaknesses and flaws in code that may make your systems or network susceptible to an attack. At this point, developers will work to create fixes and update the codebase to close the weakness and protect the network and system.

Different Approaches to Penetration Testing

Modern penetration testing uses different approaches to determine what weaknesses are present. The information provided to the person conducting a pen test will determine the scope of the project and how it is approached.

The different approaches to penetration testing used today include:

Black Box Pen Testing

When black box penetration testing is done the pen tester has no (or very little) information about the IT structure of your business. The biggest benefit of this testing method is to simulate an actual cyber-attack.

Black box penetration testing can take up to six weeks to do and, as a result, it’s one of the longest pen testing options available. 

White Box Pen Testing

This is also called internal penetration testing, glass box testing, or clear box testing. It occurs when the pen tester has complete knowledge and access to the environment and source code.

The purpose of white box testing is to conduct an in-depth security audit of the systems and provide the pen tester with as much detail as possible. These tests are usually more extensive and thorough because the tester can access parts of the system and network that aren’t available to black box testers.

Gray Box Pen Testing

During this type of penetration testing, the pen tester will have some access or knowledge of a web application or internal network. The pen tester may start with user privileges on a host and then be instructed to escalate the privileges to a domain admin. They may be asked to access software code or system architecture diagrams.

The results of this type of testing provide a more efficient and focused assessment of your business’s network security.

Different Types of Penetration Testing

Each of the penetration testing types (mentioned above) requires specific methodologies, knowledge, and tools to perform. They should also align with certain business goals.

The goals can range from improving the awareness of potential social engineering attacks among employees around the company and implementing secure code development to help identify any flaws in the software code in real-time. It may also be to meet specific compliance obligations for the industry.

Invest in Penetration Testing to Help Find Weaknesses and Vulnerabilities in Your Company

If you haven’t invested in penetration testing for your company, now is the time to consider it. As you can see from the information above, it provides several benefits. Keep this in mind and consider how insight into your company’s vulnerabilities may be beneficial.

author avatar
Ali Allage
CEO @ BluesSteel Cybersecurity | Humanized Cybersecurity Compliance for Healthcare, FinTech, Education, & DoD
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