Everything you need to know about Penetration Testing

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Penetration testing is known by many names such as ‘pen testing’ or ‘ethical hacking’. It is a crucial technique employed to acquire additional security for organisations by simulating attempted ICT system breaches. Pen testing can unearth any weaknesses that can leave your business susceptible to a cyberattack.

Cybercrime is rising at an alarming rate around the globe. With cyber-criminals becoming smarter in their methodologies, identifying and fixing weaknesses is essential for organisational security. Only penetration testing carried out by a trained professional gives you a true understanding of the security issues a business may face, so businesses should employ them regularly, like a financial audit. So, this is a proactive attempt to ensure your security processes are sufficient.

Read on for a breakdown of the types of penetration testing, the methods used, and the steps involved to understand its necessity in today’s digital world.

What is penetration testing?

The NCSC define penetration testing as a systematic process designed to identify and explore vulnerabilities in your ICT networks, applications, and people. In short, it is essentially a controlled form of hacking that can allow you to improve your security policies and patch detected vulnerabilities.

Primary Purposes of Penetration Testing

The primary purpose of a penetration test is to expose vulnerabilities and exploit weaknesses. Organisations can use regular penetration testing to test new software and systems, and discover bugs in existing software. It can also support organisational GDPR compliance, enable conformance to industry standards (such as the PCI DSS) and assure all business stakeholders that data is being comprehensively protected.

Penetration Testing Approaches

Penetration tests differ in their approach and the vulnerabilities they attempt to exploit.

Different approaches to penetration testing include:

  • Black Box – where a tester has little to no information about IT infrastructure in order to simulate a real-world cyberattack.
  • White Box – where a tester has full knowledge of and access to the source code or environment. The tests are very thorough as the tester has access to areas that a black box tester does not.
  • Grey Box – where a tester has partial knowledge or access to a network or application, whereby the tester may begin with user privileges and then to escalate them to admin level.

Types of Penetration Testing

  • External Network Pen Test – a test of the external infrastructure of a company such as file servers and web servers. This will identify security vulnerabilities that might allow access to gain access to systems from outside the network.
  • Internal Network Pen Test – undertaken after an external penetration test so that the tester can identify what an attacher who has internal access to your network could accomplish.
  • Web Application Pen Test – identifying security vulnerabilities from insecure web development practices. Carried out using different penetration techniques and attacks with the aim of breaking into the application itself.

Penetration Testing Standards

The results of pen tests can vary and deliver vastly different results depending on which standards they adhere to. Therefore, up to date standards and methodologies provide a viable option for companies needing to secure their systems and address vulnerabilities.

· OSSTMM Framework

The Open-Source Security Testing Methodology, a peer reviewed methodology maintained by ISECOM, is one of the most recognised standards in the industry.

The framework contains a comprehensive guide for testers, which enables them to identify security weaknesses from various angles of attack. The creators regularly update this to ensure it remains current and relevant to security testing. The Open-Source Security Testing Methodology Manual allows testers to customise their assessments to fit specific client requirements. They can then ensure they implement the appropriate fixes to secure networks.


In terms of technical security testing execution, we highly recommend the OWASP testing guides. The framework is powered by an extremely knowledgeable and experienced community that have helped countless organisations.

The structure provides a methodology for pen testing that not only identifies vulnerabilities commonly found within web and mobile applications, but also complex logic flaws that stem from unsafe user practices.

These methodologies equip organisations to better secure their networks. Organisations should then incorporate learnings into the planning phase of pen testing to ensure testes do not overlook any vulnerabilities and produce realistic recommendations in the final report.

The 7 Steps of Penetration Testing

1.    Pre-Engagement

Pre-engagement is THE most important part of a pen test. This stage defines the scope and goals of the test. As a result, the organisation can identify systems that require addressing and define testing methods.

2.    Reconnaissance

After the scope has been defined, the tester then gathers as much information as they can about their target. The reconnaissance stage is crucial because penetration testers identify additional information to obtain a clear understanding of a client’s systems and operations.

Common reconnaissance methods include search engine queries, domain name searches, social engineering, or internet foot printing designed to uncover email addresses, social accounts, names, and positions.

3.    Threat Modelling and Vulnerability Identification

This phase discovers how the target system is going to respond to various attempts at intrusion. Firstly, the tester starts modelling the threats the client may face. They also identify the weaknesses in their systems that may allow these attacks to happen.

4.    Exploitation

In the exploitation phase, testers will actively try to exploit security weaknesses in a simulated and controlled environment. By mimicking an actual cyberattack, the tester aims to enter an IT environment and see how far they can get or how long they can attack without detection.

5.    Post-Exploitation

The post-exploitation phase of the pen test determines the value of the compromised assets by assessing the sensitivity of data exploited and the potential financial losses that may occur because of the attack.

6.    Reporting

The tester then compiles the results of the penetration test into a report that details the specific vulnerabilities that they could exploit, the sensitive data that was accessed, and the amount of time the tester was able to remain in the system undetected.

7.    Re-Testing

After the client has had time to resolve the issues outlined in the report, the tester then re-tests their system to verify that the vulnerability no longer exists.

SupPortal’s accredited penetration testing services are designed to align with your specific business requirements, budgets, and the value of the assets you intend to test. Our methodologies align closely with the OSSTMM and OWASP frameworks. So, if you think your organisation may benefit from penetration testing, please contact us today to discuss your requirements.

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