Penetration Testing: An Important Security Checkpoint

Every organization conducts various types of security assessments to validate the security posture of their applications and network resources. However, organizations need to opt for the assessment methodology that suits the requirements of its state of affairs most appropriately.

In this Article, We will have a glance at different security assessment categories and gather brief knowledge on Penetration testing types and techniques, at first let's start with assessment categories

Security Assessment Categories

The security assessment is generally divided into three categories:

  1. Security Audits: A security audit may be a systematic, measurable technical assessment of how the security policy is used within the organization. The security audit includes assessment of a system's software and hardware configuration, physical security measures, data handling processes, and user practices against a checklist of standard policies and procedures. it's typically used to achieve and demonstrate compliance with legal and regulatory needs like HIPPA, SOX, PCI-DSS, etc.
     
  2. Vulnerability Assessments: A vulnerability assessment could be a basic type of security check. This assessment helps to find the known security weaknesses by scanning a system. By using vulnerability scanners, you'll be able to identify common security mistakes like accounts that have weak passwords, files and folders with weak permissions, default services and applications that might need to be uninstalled, mistakes in the security configuration and it additionally search for computers exposed to known or reported vulnerabilities.
     
  3. Penetration Testing: Penetration testing is an act of testing an organization's security by simulating the actions of an attacker. It helps in determining various levels of vulnerabilities that exist in the system and to which extent an attacker can damage it before it actually occurs.

Comparing Security Audit, Vulnerability Assessment, and Penetration Testing:

Although lots of individuals use the terms security audit, vulnerability assessment, and penetration testing interchangeably to mean security assessment, there are substantial differences between them.

Security Audit

Vulnerability Assessment

Penetration Testing

A security audit just checks whether the organization is following a set of standard security policies and procedures

A vulnerability assessment focuses on discovering the vulnerabilities in the information system but provides no indication if the vulnerabilities can be exploited or the amount of damage that may result from the successful exploitation of the vulnerability

Penetration testing is a methodological approach to conduct a security assessment where it encompasses the vulnerability assessment and thereby demonstrates how the security loopholes in system could be successfully exploited by attackers

Limitations of Vulnerability Assessment

Vulnerability scanning software detects limited vulnerabilities at a given point in time. like any anti-virus software which needs the signature file to be updated, vulnerability scanning software should be updated once new vulnerabilities are discovered or enhancements created by the software are being employed regularly. The vulnerability software is merely as effective as the maintenance performed thereon by the software vendor and by the administrator who uses it. Vulnerability scanning software itself isn't resistant to software engineering flaws that might result in non-detection of serious vulnerabilities.

Another facet to be noted is that the methodology used might have an effect on the results of the scan. as an example, vulnerability scanning software that runs beneath the security context of the domain administrator can yield completely different results than if it were run beneath the security context of an authenticated user or a non-authenticated user. Similarly, various vulnerability scanning software packages assess security differently and have distinctive options, which could influence the results of the assessment.

Introduction to Penetration Testing

In the context of penetration testing, Penetration testing goes a step beyond vulnerability scanning within the class of security assessments. With vulnerability scanning, you'll solely examine the security of the individual computers, network devices, or applications. however, penetration testing allows you to assess the security model of the application or network as a whole. It will assist you to reveal potential consequences of a real attacker breaking into the application or network. in addition, Penetration testing also reveals the security weaknesses that a typical vulnerability scanning may not discover.

A penetration test will not only illustrate vulnerabilities, it'll also document how the weaknesses are often exploited and how several minor vulnerabilities can be escalated by an attacker to compromise a computer or network. Penetration testing should be considered as an activity that shows the loopholes in the security model of an organization.

A pen test will simulate the ways that attackers use to achieve unauthorized access to an organization's networked systems and then compromise them. It involves the usage of both commercial and open source tools to check for security loopholes in networked systems. Apart from automated techniques, penetration testing involves manual techniques for conducting targeted attacks on specific systems to ensure that there aren't any security flaws that may have gone undiscovered earlier.

Types of Penetration testing

Penetration testing is generally divided into three varieties. They are:

  1. Black-box testing: In black-box penetration testing, a pen-tester carries out the check while not having any prior information of the target. so as to simulate real-world attacks and minimize false positives, pen-testers will prefer to undertake black-hat testing (or a zero-knowledge attack, with no info or help from the client) and exploit the system by enumerating services, shared files, and operating systems discreetly.
  2. Gray-box testing: In gray-box penetration testing, the test is conducted with limited information regarding infrastructure, defense mechanism, and communication channels of the target on which test is being conducted. it's a simulation of those attacks that are performed by the insider or outsider with restricted access privileges.
  3. White-box testing: In white-box penetration testing, the test is conducted with full information of infrastructure, defense mechanism, and communication channels of the target on which test is being conducted. This test simulates the insider attack who has full privileges and unlimited access to the target system.

Phases of Penetration Testing

There are three phases of penetration testing, They are:

  1. Pre-attack Phase: This phase is concentrated on gathering as much data as possible about the target system to be attacked. this can be non-invasive or invasive.
  2. Attack Phase: In this phase, the attacker formulates the attack strategy or methodology using the information gathered during the pre-attack phase Or the tester may prefer to perform an invasive information gathering process through scanners before deciding the attack strategy.
  3. Post-attack Phase: This is an important part of the testing process where the tester would restore the network to its original state. This involves clean up of testing processes and removal of scripts injected, exploits crafted, etc.

Benefits of Penetration testing

Penetration testing plays a significant role in evaluating and maintaining the security of a system or network. It helps to find out the loopholes by deploying attacks. It includes both script-based testings as well as human-based testing on applications/ networks. A penetration test not only reveals security loopholes but also provides an overall risk assessment of a system.

Let's see what are the benefits of penetration testing:

  • It will identify the threats and security loopholes within an organization's information assets.
  • It can be used to reduce an organization's IT security costs and provide a better Return On Investment(ROI) by identifying and resolving vulnerabilities and weaknesses.
  • Can be used to test and validate the efficiency of security mechanisms and controls implemented within the organization.
  • It focuses on detection of high-severity vulnerabilities and emphasizes application-level security concerns to both development and management teams.
  • It provides a comprehensive approach to preparation steps that can be taken to prevent future exploitation.
  • It can be used to evaluate the efficiency of network security devices like firewalls, routers, and web servers.

Conclusion

Penetration testing is usually conducted to enhance the security perimeter of an organization where it helps in determining/resolving the flaws related to hardware and software. During penetration testing, a pen tester analyzes all the security measures employed by the organization for design weaknesses, technical flaws, and vulnerabilities. Once all the tests are conducted, the pen tester prepares a report and includes all the tests conducted along with the vulnerabilities found and the respective countermeasures that can be applied. Finally, the pen tester delivers the report to the executive, management, and technical audiences.

The organization might choose to get its system or network audited by an external agency to acquire an intruder's point of view. when companies outsource penetration testing who are exclusively trained, it always yields sensible results. a lot of qualitative work can be done and desired goals may be achieved.

Thinking about penetration testing of your applications and network assets, reach out TCS Cybersecurity team

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