Introduction to Penetration Testing
Penetration Testing, also termed as pen testing, is the process of finding vulnerabilities in a target environment. Further, it involves a testing network, web applications, APIs, endpoints, and other components that an attacker could exploit after finding weaknesses referred to as vulnerabilities. Furthermore, Penetration testing tools help assess the system’s security and find the system’s vulnerabilities before an attacker. Penetration testing is manually or with the help of specific tools. Professional cyber-security expert generally performs penetration testing. It helps to simulate real-world attack scenarios to discover potential security gaps and weak spots in the attack surface.
|Discover more about What is Penetration Testing|
Difference between Vulnerability Assessment (VA) and Penetration Testing (PT)
Vulnerability assessment aims to find the vulnerabilities in an environment and measure their potentiality and severity, whereas penetration testing aims to find and exploit the vulnerabilities in the same way as an attacker does and infiltrate more in-depth into the environment.
Penetration testing is a broad and comprehensive approach used to find all the vulnerabilities present in an attack surface. In contrast, Penetration Testing is an in-depth approach that helps to penetrate deeper into the environment and check the extent of damage caused. Thus, a vulnerability assessment is list-oriented, whereas penetration testing is goal-oriented.
Vulnerability Assessment is performed using automated tools. Still, penetration testing requires an experienced cyber-security professional to get the best desired result as it requires in-depth analysis according to the environment and exposed attack surface.
Vulnerability Assessment comes into the picture when an organization knows that there are security loopholes or weaknesses in their system, and they need to identify and remediate those loopholes or deficiencies. On the other hand, one must perform Penetration Testing, when an organization has all the security postures and controls. They want to test whether an attacker could break into their systems and the risks associated with such intrusion activities. In other words, VA helps to improve the security architecture, where PT allows to validate or verify the security architecture.
Vulnerability Assessment intends to find all the possible flaws in an environment. In contrast, Penetration Testing wants to see some potential drawbacks and exploit those flaws to gain unauthorized access to information and resources and evaluate specific attack scenarios.
Vulnerability Assessment follows a breadth over depth approach, whereas Penetration Testing follows a center overbreadth approach.
|Check out our Complete Guide to Application Security – Vulnerability Checklist|
Phases of Penetration Testing
The entire process of penetration testing can be divided into five phases or stages. They are:
- Planning and Information Gathering (Reconnaissance)
- Gaining Access
- Maintaining Access
- Covering Tracks and Analysis
Planning and Information Gathering (Reconnaissance)
This phase of penetration testing involves defining the test’s scope and goals, gathering information about the target and environment. In addition to this, it is essential to understand the functionality of the target and the underlying processes. Moreover, this step also involves the development of an attack plan and the pattern of engagement.
This phase involves scanning the target environment and gain potential information, i.e., weaknesses or vulnerabilities or security loopholes about the target and its underlying infrastructure. Adding further, in this phase, the attacker tries to understand the working of the target by analyzing its response to various scans and intrusion activities.
In this phase, the attacker tries to gain access to the target system. The attacks attempt to exploit the vulnerabilities and perform various types of attacks. During this phase, the attacks also aim to find the extent of damage caused and the sensitive information that can be compromised.
In this phase, the attacker tries to keep access to the compromised system by making some changes to the target system and its environment. The main idea behind this is to have prolonged access to the target system and simulate Advanced Persistence Threat (APT) scenarios.
Covering Tracks and Analysis
This phase involves covering the tracks and eliminating any traces of the attacker’s existence by deleting or manipulating files, logs, reversing the attacker’s changes, and other such traces. In addition, this phase also includes the generation of the penetration testing analysis report by the attacker or tester. The report can consist of the discovered vulnerabilities, exploited vulnerabilities, disclosed sensitive data, and other information required as per the terms of engagement.
Security Scanning Techniques
The different types of security scanning techniques are:
- Static Application Security Testing (SAST)
- Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)
- Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST)
Static Application Security Testing (SAST)
SAST relies upon static analysis. This approach is known as the inside out process. It is also known as white-box testing and simulates a developer’s testing methodology. The tester is aware of all the underlying technologies and has access to the code, frameworks, libraries, binaries, algorithms, and implementations. In SAST, the source code is analyzed without running the application. Further, when using this approach, security vulnerabilities can be found during the earlier phase in the SDLC and are fixed before the application enters the testing phase. Furthermore, the tester needs to have advanced knowledge of the implementation, programming language, technologies used. SAST can’t detect runtime vulnerabilities.
Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)
DAST relies upon dynamic analysis. This approach is known as the outside-in approach. It is also known as black-box testing and simulates a hacker’s testing methodology. In DAST, the application is executed and analyzed. The tester doesn’t require access to source code and only needs running applications to test. With this approach’s help, security vulnerabilities are found during the later phase in the SDLC and generally got fixed in the next cycle except for the critical vulnerabilities. The tester needs to have essential to intermediate knowledge of the implementation, programming language, technologies used. DAST can detect runtime vulnerabilities.
Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST)
IAST combines SAST and DAST security testing techniques/approaches to address their drawbacks. It is a more focused approach to application testing. This approach uses information present inside the application while running and requires the tester to perform analysis in real-time and during any phase of the development process. IAST integrates well with the CI/CD (continuous integration/continuous delivery). It also covers a broader set of testing rules than either SAST or DAST.
|Give a glance at our Guide to Security Testing in DevOps|
Security Testing Methods
The primary task in penetration testing is security testing. The target of Evaluation (ToE) is the resource, system, or environment being evaluated. Security Testing can be categorized into two major categories, which can further be classified into different types. The two major categories are:
Based on the knowledge about the environment
The organization’s information about the environment and the underlying infrastructure.
- Black-Box Testing (No Knowledge Testing)
- White-Box Testing (Full Knowledge Testing)
- Gray-Box Testing (Partial Knowledge Testing)
Based on the pen tester location
The location from which the testing is being performed.
- Internal Testing
- External Testing
Based on the method of conduction
- Manual Penetration Testing
- Automated Penetration Testing
Based on intimation
- Blind Testing
- Double-Blind Testing
- Targeted Testing
Based on the knowledge about the environment
In black-box testing, the tester is not knowledgeable about the target environment or its components. It simulates an external attack where the attacker doesn’t have any information provided by the organization. The tester does not know the internal working of the system and applications. The attacker’s responsibility is to gather all necessary information about the target, including its security posture and vulnerabilities. It simulates a real-world testing approach that is taken by the external attackers.
In black-box testing, the tester spends more time gathering information about the target. It is not suitable for algorithm testing. It is least exhaustive and least time-consuming, but it can be the most time-consuming in some cases. End-users, testers, and developers can perform it. Testing of data domain and internal boundaries is not possible with black-box testing. It is done by the trial-and-error method. It is opaque, and its granularity level is low. Black-Box Testing is also known as closed-box testing, data-driven testing, or functional testing. This methodology helps to check functionality. Knowledge of programming language is not required to carry out black-box Testing. The tester doesn’t need to have implementation knowledge about the system or application that is being tested. The end results we get from black-box testing are unbiased.
In white-box testing, the tester has complete knowledge about the target environment or its components. The organization provides all necessary information about the target, including documentations, security postures, and algorithms. The tester has full knowledge about the internal working of the systems and applications.
White-box Testing is a more structured approach, and the security tester reviews the information provided by the organization and verifies its accuracy. It simulates a system to which an internal attacker follows. In white-box, testing the tester spends more time searching for vulnerabilities and exploiting them. It is suited for algorithm testing. It is the most exhaustive and most time-consuming. Tester and developers are the ones who perform this testing. Testing of data domain and internal boundaries is possible with white-box testing. It is transparent. Its granularity level is high. It is also known as clear-box Testing, Structural Testing, or code-based Testing. This methodology helps to check system performance. Knowledge of programming language is required to carry out black-box Testing. The tester needs to have implementation knowledge about the system or application that is being tested. The results obtained from white-box testing can be biased.
In gray-box testing, the tester has partial knowledge about the environment and its components, including some documentation and limited information provided by the organization. The tester is knowledgeable enough about the internal working of the system. It is not suited for algorithm testing. It is partly exhaustive and average time-consuming. End-users, testers, and developers can perform it. Testing data and internal boundaries can be possible with gray-box testing if the organization provides the information. It is translucent. Its granularity level is medium. It is also known as translucent testing. This methodology helps to check functionality as well as performance. Basic knowledge of programming language is required to carry out black-box Testing. The tester needs to have basic implementation knowledge about the system or application that is being tested. The results obtained from white-box testing can be biassed or unbiased.
Based on the pen tester location
In internal penetration testing, the tester or attacker performs the attack from within the organization’s internal network. The attacker may be provided access to resources behind the firewall. This type of penetration testing simulates internal attacks that can be carried out by a disgruntled employee or stolen credentials.
In external penetration testing, the tester or attacker performs the attack on the organization’s external or internet-facing resources. The attacker may or may not be allowed to physically enter the organization’s premises during the entire process and perform the pen test from any remote location. This type of penetration testing simulates external attacks or cyber-attacks.
Based on the method of conduction
Manual Penetration Testing
Humans and required human interactions carry it out at every point in time. Experts or professionals performs it as different tools must be run manually based on the interaction and results at different points. It requires multiple tools, and results can vary every time based on the type of tool used and the attack vector targeted. It is time-taking and exhaustive both for the attacker and the resources but can be relied upon for critical resources. If the attacker uses manual penetration testing, he can explore the entire attack surface. There is a strong possibility of finding vulnerabilities that automated penetration Testing tools can’t detect. It involves an analysis of obtained results at various levels and combining the insights to create the payload. The attacker creates the report after carrying out the pen-testing. Manual Penetration Testing is generally used in the case of external testing.
Automated Penetration Testing
It is carried out with the help of automated tools that requires very little human interaction. Any learner can perform it as everything is automated, and the tester just needs to know how to configure the scan. It has all the required tools integrated, and the results are fixed as only a fixed set of predefined tests are run and attack vectors tested. It is fast and more efficient but cannot be completely relied upon. If the tester uses automated penetration testing, the tester gets the report at the end of the scan or test, and only the tests present in the tool’s database are carried out. The report has to be manually analyzed by the tester. Automated Penetration Testing is generally used in the case of internal testing using various penetration testing tools.
Based on intimation
In Blind testing, the tester has only the name of the target organization. This is done to get an analysis done from a black-hat hacker perspective. Along with this, it replicates a real-attack scenario and helps the organization’s security personnel get insights to improve their security posture.
It is also known as covert penetration testing. In double-blind testing, the attacker or tester is only provided with the name of the target organization. The organization’s security personnel are not informed that a stimulated attack (penetration testing) is planned and going to happen. It helps to check the organization’s readiness and test their defense strategies as the attack is carried out in real-time, and the security team has no time to prepare for the attack.
In targeted testing, the tester or attacker and the organization’s security personnel work together and keep updating each other about their progress. It provides the security team with real-time feedback and insights from a hacker’s perspective. Targeted testing is a security training program.
Different Penetration Testing Tools
Many security professionals use Penetration testing tools to automate the tasks as well as in intention to improve testing efficiency. As per XenonStack Research, we come up with a list of various Penetration testing tools.
The top 30 Penetration testing tools are as follows:
- Sublist3r – a tool to enumerate subdomains of websites
- Enumall – a tool to enumerate subdomains
- MassDNS – tool to resolve multiple subdomains quickly
- Parameth – a tool to brute discover GET and POST parameters
- DirBuster – a tool to brute force directories
- SQLMap – a tool to detect and exploit database vulnerabilities
- XSStrike – a tool to test websites for XSS vulnerabilities
- DOMxsscanner – tool for finding potential DOM-based XSS
- XSS hunter – a tool to find all kinds of cross-site scripting vulnerabilities
- Ettercap – tool for man-in-the-middle attacks on LAN
- OWASP ZAP – open-source web application security scanner
- Nikto – web server scanner
- Maltego – open-source intelligence and forensics tool
- Wpsploit – a tool to pentest wordpress plugins
- Fiddler – a web debugging proxy
To sum up, Penetration testing is a wonderful approach to protect critical information from an outsider or third-party who tries to gain unauthorized access to confidential data
Penetration Testing using penetration testing tools is important process for assessing and testing the effectiveness of security controls.
Source: Gartner, Inc