Penetration testing also known as Pen testing intends to detect holes in the system and helps in making sure that the appropriate security measures are in place to secure data and ensure functionality.
Since it is crucial for the Software testers, so we covered everything needed for them to learn. We’ve prepared this tutorial so that they can understand the basics of Penetration Testing and know how to use it at work.
Here, you’ll get to know, “What is Pen Testing?“, “Why is it required?“, “What are its different types?“, as well as its benefits and the limitations. So let’s dive in further to learn the core concepts of Penetration Testing.
Learn Penetration Testing Concept in 10 Minutes
Penetration testing is a type of black box testing approach which proposes to make authorized attempts to violate the security and integrity of a system, application, network or database. It aims to discover and document all the security holes in a system that are likely to compromise it before the hackers.
Although, it has many names but “Pen Testing” is amongst the most popular ones. Its goal is to outsmart the hackers by exposing the weak links or security gaps inside a system. Also, the person who runs a penetration test is called a penetration tester or pentester.
Alternatively, you may classify it as a type of security testing which regresses the insecure areas of the system or application. It aims to identify the security vulnerabilities in the target system.
Phases of a Penetration Test.
The tests which are part of the Pen testing are known as Penetration tests. Each such test includes the following five phases. Please see the below diagram for clarity.
- Reconnaissance – It is the process of collecting information before deploying any real attacks.
- Enumeration – It is the process of identifying the likely entry points into the target system.
- Vulnerability Analysis – It is the process which defines, locates, and classifies the security leaks in a computer, network, or application.
- Exploitation – It is the process of enabling pen testers to compromise a system and expose to further attacks.
- Reporting – It is the process of documenting all the steps that led to a successful attack during the test.
Also, let’s now review a few of the key pen testing parameters that you should know.
What is a vulnerability?
A vulnerability is a security flaw in a piece of software, hardware or operating system that leaves a system vulnerable to attack. The flaw could be as simple as a weak password or as complex as buffer overflows or SQL injection.
What is an exploit?
An exploit is a software program or a service designed to turn a vulnerability into an opportunity to gain unauthorized entry. It enables a hacker access to the target system. Most exploits form a payload to penetrate into the target system and grant access for the intruder.
What is a payload?
A payload is the piece of code that enables unauthorized access to a computer system with the help of an exploit. It travels as a part of the exploit which unpacks it later and initiates the attack.
Metasploit is the most popular tool for penetration testing which makes use of a payload called as Meterpreter. Once the payload breaks into the system, it can launch a variety of attacks. e.g. Upload/download files from the system, capture screenshots and steal password hashes. It can even give you full control over the affected system.
Penetration testing verifies the ability of a system to protect its networks, applications, endpoints and users against both internal or external threats.
In addition, it aims to secure the system controls and shuns any attempt of unauthorized access.
Here are a few points to emphasize the need for Penetration testing.
- With its help, we can identify the environment which an attacker can use to break the security of a system.
- While executing the penetration tests, testers can get to know the application areas which are susceptible to attacks.
- It intends to prevent the black hat attacks and guards the original data.
- Malicious attacks could damage critical data and in turn cause revenue loss. Hence, it is good if you can predict the potential loss of the business which is one of the payoffs you’ll get.
- The outcome of penetration testing helps in driving the investment decisions for improving the existing security standards.
We can bifurcate Penetration testing into three categories: black-box, white-box, and gray-box.
Black Box Testing.
Since it’s impractical for a hacker to know the exact topology of a company infrastructure, so launching an all out, brute force attack is the best odd he or she could try to find out possible vulnerabilities in a system.
Similarly, in this type of penetration test, the tester doesn’t know the internals of a web application and nor does he has any clue about the source code or the system design. Hence, this type of testing may take longer than the expected time to complete.
However, with automation, he can reduce the overhead a bit and focus on uncovering the weaknesses and vulnerabilities. “Trial and Error” is also another popular name for this type of approach.
- It requires little details before commencing.
- Execution behavior is similar to a real attacker. So, there is a high probability of finding real issues.
- A tester won’t have the same time as a real attacker could have for planning the attack.
- It would not cover all aspects.
- Execution would lead to high cost.
- Not a tool for PCI compliance.
White Box Testing.
White box assumes that the tester would have deep knowledge of the application code and its architecture. And since he is aware of the ins and out of the application, so he can execute it quicker than the black box testing. Alternatively, the test would also be much more comprehensive.
However, it would pose a few challenges which you must address as a tester. For example, the detailed system knowledge could be a constraint in deciding upon the area or component to focus for running the tests and analysis. Also, the testing would need the use of advanced tools like static code analyzers, debuggers, and network sniffers.
- It is far more accurate and detailed than the black box approach.
- Planning in this approach is easy. And execution is faster.
- Significant time would be required to understand the system and prepare the data for analysis.
- Advanced tool execution would result in cost escalation.
Gray Box Testing.
It is a mixture of both the black box and white box testing techniques. Also, in this type of testing, the tester need just a high-level knowledge of the internals of the Web applications. It is because even this limited knowledge is sufficient for the tester to gain access to the source code and the system design.
The gray box approach promotes the use of both manual and automated testing. Also, during the execution, the pen tester can first pick on the application areas which he knows about the most. It will make him concentrate on exploiting the existing vulnerabilities. Hence, the gray box testing assures of locating even hard to find security leaks.
- Low cost as compared to other types of testing.
- The pen tester can achieve the same level of coverage as they would have got during the white box testing.
- Dependency on the customer to furnish information for pen testing to begin.
Summary – Penetration Testing Or Pen Testing.
Being a tester, it is your responsibility to produce error free software artifacts. Hence, you must know about all the cornerstone concepts in software testing like Penetration testing.
Hopefully, with this tutorial, you would be able to grow your knowledge of this subject.
However, if you have any question or query for us, then use the comment section.