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Penetration Testing: What is It And How Does It Work?

Penetration Testing: What is It And How Does It Work?

Cyber attacks are becoming more and more frequent. In 2020, The Federal Bureau of Investigation received 791,760 internet crime complaints. Attackers are becoming more sophisticated and adapting to defenses faster than ever. A study shows that as many as four in ten businesses have reported a cyber security breach.

A successful attack can result in severe financial losses and create a negative impression of your business. Investing in penetration testing methods is vital to safeguard digital infrastructure and strengthen cyber security for organizations of all sizes across industries.

What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing is a simulated cyber-attack against an organization’s networks and computer systems to check for vulnerabilities and security gaps. The organization authorizes the attack in order to test its cyber defenses.

Penetration testing is also known as “pentesting” or “pen test.”

Pentesting uses the same methodology, tools, and techniques attackers use. A pentest is also used to test the web application firewall (WAF) in the context of web application security.

Organizations often hire ethical hackers to penetrate their cyber security. They target application protocol interfaces (APIs) as well as backend / frontend servers. The attack simulation consists of various attacks, and the results are crucial to improving the cybersecurity framework and practices.

What Are the the Most Common Types of Penetration Tests?

A comprehensive pentesting approach is necessary for an organization for optimal risk management. It includes testing in all the areas of your digital infrastructure.

Following are the types of Pen Testing that are beneficial for businesses:

1. Network Penetration Tests

The pentesting attack on networks identifies security vulnerabilities in the external network system of a company. Ethical hackers create a checklist of tests which includes encrypted transport protocol, SSL certificate issues, and others.

2. Web Application Testing

Applications are a common gateway for cyber attacks. Cybersecurity pentesters look for vulnerabilities and potential security gaps that may lead to data breaches or compromise the network.

3. Mobile Application Testing

Penetration testers identify vulnerabilities in mobile devices by running various cyber attack tests on the binaries of the applications corresponding to the server-side vulnerabilities. Possible issues include session management, authentication, authorization, and cryptographic problems.

4. Cloud Penetration Testing

A cloud-computing framework is different from the on-site equipment and environment. Cloud pentesting requires a different skill set to scrutinize various elements of cloud computing. The elements include APIs, databases, encryption, storage, configurations, and security and control options.

How is Penetration Testing Done?

There are five main penetration testing stages. Each stage is crucial for cyber security development and risk management.

Stage 1: Reconnaissance And Planning

The first stage of pentesting involves defining the goals and scope of the test. You should know the required outcomes, testing methods, and system. Furthermore, gather as much intelligence as possible (networks, servers, domains). It will help you better understand the attacker’s targeting system and potential vulnerabilities.

Stage 2: Scanning

This stage aims to understand how the target will react to various intrusion attempts. Typically, the scanning procedure is of two types:

  • Strategic Analysis
  • Dynamic Analysis

The strategic analysis process inspects the application code to observe its behavior as it executes or runs. In contrast, dynamic analysis examines the application code as it runs. The results give a real-time view of the application’s performance.

Stage 3: Gaining Access

In this stage, ethical hackers or pentesters carry out web application attacks such as cross-site scripting, backdoors, and SQL injection. They try to reveal the vulnerabilities and exploit them by abusing privileges, intercepting traffic, stealing data, etc.

Stage 4: Maintaining Access

This stage determines how long the attacker can stay in access and if they can use the vulnerability to achieve their nefarious purpose in the exploited system. Moreover, you can find out if the attacker can have in-depth access to the system or not.

Stealing data from an organization’s system can take time. To get the maximum advantage, attackers use advanced persistent threats to remain in the victim’s system for a long time.

Stage 5: Analysis

The penetration test results are in a report that offers an in-depth look at the findings. Typically the information consists of three parts:

  • Exploited vulnerabilities
  • Sensitive data
  • Total time a pentester stayed in the system

The report is then presented to the board members and security teams to show them the level of commitment needed to ensure the continued security of their digital infrastructure. With it, they can configure Web Application Firewall (WAF) settings and other security concerns to analyze vulnerabilities and build a robust cyber defense system.

Why is Penetration Testing Important?

The increasing number of cyber attacks has made data security a major concern for businesses. Penetration testing can help you with the following:

  1. It allows you to prepare for possible attacks. Organizations can help train personnel on dealing with malicious attacks, authentication, authorization, and others. Moreover, early detection of threats will enable you to kick the intruder before they do any damage.
  2. Pentests give insights into possible threats and attacks. It also helps you prioritize actions based on the risk factor. You can know which application or IoT is vulnerable to attacks.
  3. Developers can learn which areas are causing data breaches and allowing attackers to enter the system. With the insights gleaned from the data, they can make fewer mistakes while programming and developing.
  4. Using the pentest, you are safeguarding your company’s reputation and digital assets and saving the company from significant financial losses.

What Tools are Used for Penetration Testing?

Cybercriminals use various tools for data breaches and malicious activities. The same goes for pentesters. Penetration testing software is designed for human augmentation and allows them to find different ways to penetrate the system and save as much time as possible.

The following are the popular pentesting tools used by ethical hackers and testers:

  • NMAP
  • Astra Pentest
  • Nikto
  • Metasploit
  • Intruder
  • WireShark

Benefits of Penetration Testing for Small Businesses

Many small businesses assume they do not need pentesting because of their small-scale operations. In reality, they are at equal risk of cyber attacks. Moreover, many of them can’t overcome the consequences of a severe attack because of the rising cost of hacks and attacks. 

Vulnerabilities can exist anywhere in a business’s digital framework. They might be in the software or in the devices they use. Either way, there is no denying the fact that small businesses need penetration testing to strengthen their cybersecurity strategy and ensure compliance with security regulations. 


Penetration testing is an effective method for securing your data and staying ahead of cyber threats. Businesses of all sizes can rely on pentesting tactics to ensure their security and longterm growth.

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