Penetration Testing – Methodologies and Tools Commonly Used

As cybersecurity threats such as ransomware attacks, insider attacks, and new attack vectors come into the light, security has become a continuously evolving process that requires constant attention and resources for optimal protection. This is where penetration testing comes to prominence as the detecting mechanism for various security vulnerabilities, analyzing them, and resolving them using the best industry practices.

In pen testing procedures, cybersecurity experts form ethical hacking teams and go in-depth into the system being tested by evaluating what can be a security risk in the short and/or long term. They simulate real-life malicious attack methods to check the system’s resilience in preventing hackers from accessing sensitive data that can compromise the firm’s clients and its reputation. To study the safety of an application, iOS penetration testing is done which entails both the server-side and the client-side components.

How does a typical penetration testing methodology function?

In an ideal penetration testing procedure conducted by industry experts, the security issues that are uncovered go through a process of analysis, exploitation, and finally, resolution. This provides the organization being tested an accurate picture of its overall security posture and the business impact of a hacking attempt.

The success of a pentesting process lies in effectively recognizing existing security vulnerabilities such as misconfigurations, coding flaws, and the gaps in the barricades for the protection of business functions and data. By discovering these risks, the testing team is able to suitably evaluate the priority of resolving the issue on a pre-decided scale depending on its criticality vis-a-vis the business’ daily operations.

There are a number of common steps any testing team can follow in a typical pentesting methodology, regardless of the specific context in which the firm operates or the uniqueness of security needs.

  • Identifying and determining the attack probability of a list of security vulnerabilities and attack vectors. This is done by collecting data in the initial stages of the pentesting process from which an initial list is prepared and entry points for the attack vectors are identified.
  • Exploiting a given list of vulnerabilities rated as low-risk to identify potential high-risk attack possibilities by combining multiple vulnerabilities
  • Using manual testing methods over and above automated testing techniques to detect security risks that are hidden in network applications and systems. Experienced pentesters use their skills and previous experience to design tests that bring out hidden vulnerabilities and work at resolving them.
  • Using a set scale of criticality to judge the priority of resolution for each security loophole discovered and the potential business impact in case of a successful hacking attempt
  • Finalizing a set of recommendations based on the findings derived from the entire procedure and the need for increased investment for protection against hackers through the best security practices and technology. This is important as this will become a reference document for all future penetration testing procedures – these reports can be formatted in HTML, PDF, MSWord, or XML formats as per the organization’s requirements.

A combination of all these steps in a typical penetration testing methodology will ensure that the issues detected will be analyzed and resolved accordingly with the goal of decreasing the incident response time and increasing its efficiency. The importance of pentesting methodologies and their role in today’s firm’s security posture is underlined by the efforts of many IT teams in incorporating the procedure in the business operations on a periodic basis.

Different Types of Penetration Testing Tools

There’s no dearth of pentesting tools in the market but each one is designed to fit a specific purpose and should be used accordingly. Firms must look into their testing needs and understand if they require tools that are easier to implement, have simple configuration steps, and cover the basic procedure. Tools should be used to categorize vulnerabilities based on their severity and fixing priority.

Some examples include Acunetix, Cain & Abel, Metasploit, Nessus, Kismet, Wireshark, John the Ripper, etc. Since these tools will be taking control of the automated testing, they should work efficiently in detecting common vulnerabilities and sending notifications to the respective individuals for reducing human errors and saving the time and resources spent on these activities.

Testing teams also use online tools for this purpose as it gains them information about databases, software and hardware versions, and table names used by third-party plugins. For data collection, system information, a list of potential vulnerabilities, and data on other associated applications are crucial for forming the testing approach. You can even use Google Search for collecting public-facing data and testing it for security loopholes. For example, analyzing the source code of web applications is done by sourcing information on the systems, plugins, and software versions in the above manner. 

This is not an exhaustive approach towards penetration testing, its methodologies, and its tools. However, some information is always better than no information and all resources must be analyzed with respect to the firm’s needs and the third-party service provider’s testing services for ensuring maximum protection.