Penetration Tests are simulated attacks on an organizations assets and systems carried out by a cybersecurity professional. The penetration tester operates as if they were a cyber attacker and attempts to gain unauthorized access, escalate their privileges to access more sensitive data, steal that data, and then get away without a trace. Penetration tests also include a report created by the tester that details their every move, and what they were able to find.
Penetration tests can also be further distinguished from regular cyber attacks in that they are permitted, must follow rules of engagement, and offer the penetration tester varying levels of access to the system at the start. Based on those levels of access, a penetration test can be considered:
White Box – Where the attacker has full knowledge of the environment.
Gray Box – Where the attacker has partial knowledge of the environment.
Black Box – Where the attacker has no knowledge of the environment.
What are the steps to a Penetration Test?
Penetration tests can follow a few different frameworks, but most share the following steps:
Pre-Engagement – Where the tester and organization define the scope and set the rules of engagement.
Information Gathering – Where the tester collects IP Addresses, domain names, email addresses and more.
Scanning and Enumeration – Where the tester identifies weak points in the organization’s infrastructure.
Exploitation – Where those weak points are attacked to gain access to the system.
Post-Exploitation – Where the tester collects sensitive information, escalates their privileges, and explores deeper into the system.
Reporting – Where the tester reveals their findings to the organization.
Remediations – Where the exposed weaknesses are fixed to prevent future attacks.
What is the value of a penetration test?
A penetration test can go beyond a vulnerability scan provided by a scanning tool by putting the human mind and tenacity up against an organization’s systems. Depending on the scope of the engagement, the tester may be able to try tactics that a scanning tool is incapable of. A penetration test can also last days compared to the few hours that it takes to complete a vulnerability scan. This gives a penetration tester a larger window of time to gain access. Seeing what a human attacker is capable of can provide your organization with invaluable information about what defenses need to be put in place.
A penetration test goes above and beyond the high-level view provided by a vulnerability scanning tool. A penetration test can provide a deeper level of understanding about what a potential attacker could do to gain access to valuable systems and data.