What Is Penetration Testing? How Does it Protect Against Hackers?

This article aims to answer a commonly asked question: What is Penetration Testing, and how does it protect against hackers?

Penetration Testers or Ethical Hackers are those who test for vulnerabilities. Penetration testers are employed by network system owners and web application providers to search for vulnerabilities that hackers might exploit to gain secure data.

Ethical hackers carry out vulnerability assessments, as well as other tasks. They use various tools and methods to simulate cyberattacks, some of which they have created, to uncover cracks in security protocols that protect networks, systems, and web-based applications.

A penetration test (or pen test) is a way to test all possible methods to hack into a computer system. This allows you to discover security holes before the hackers do. Pen testers are often required to work under extreme pressure and on confidential projects.

The topics covered in this article are:

What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing, also known as pen testing, is a way to probe your IT environment and discover how hackers can exploit those vulnerabilities. This is commonly known as ethical hacking. It involves your pen testers imitating the hacker’s actions, but with permissions.

You can discover potential vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit to compromise your cybersecurity framework by conducting penetration testing.

It helps you improve your security posture and allows you to prioritize vulnerabilities based upon the potential risks involved with them. It also ensures that your testing framework meets the requirements of different compliances.

Why do you need Penetration Testing?

Pen testing is the process of examining all possible attack points before you are actually attacked. Continuous pen testing is essential to protect your security system from becoming costly liabilities. You may have heard the saying, “The best defense is a good offense.” Pen-testing compliments this in the cybersecurity landscape.

1) Allows you to expose critical security flaws

Protecting your IT environment against hackers is best done by identifying your vulnerabilities before they are discovered. Penetration testing identifies vulnerabilities and then looks for ways to exploit them, just like a hacker. This allows you to protect your IT assets against possible attacks.

It involves scanning your network, operating systems (Mac OS, Microsoft Windows, or Linux). It identifies critical security vulnerabilities that could compromise your security and exposes them to you. It helps you detect security flaws better and uncovers hidden vulnerabilities like those found in people using social engineering techniques.

It is possible to predict how many vulnerabilities within your organization could be exploited and take the necessary steps to mitigate them.

2) This allows you to prioritize the remediation of serious vulnerabilities

Penetration testing helps you determine the severity of an attack and allows you to make short-term and long-term plans. A well-conducted penetration testing will show you the potential impact and ease of exploiting security vulnerabilities in your organization. This will enable you to strategically identify and fix the most severe vulnerabilities and guide your team to make your organization a more effective leader.

3) Assists in the development of solid security measures

Security researchers find many weaknesses in your security protocols and measures while testing your network, systems, and applications. These points can be used to help you identify and fix gaps in your security protocols and assist with building cyber resilience.

Experts in penetration testing will provide actionable insights and recommendations to eliminate security weaknesses. This will allow you to improve your security procedures and processes.

4) Enable you to comply with security regulations

Data security is a significant concern. You must follow security standards like PCI, HIPAA, and GDPR while providing end-user services within their range. You are required to carry out audits regularly to ensure compliance. If you fail to do so, you could face severe penalties.

Penetration testing is a way to comply with these regulations. It evaluates your IT assets and protects the integrity of data within. It would prevent hackers from accessing the data stored and establish a solid security system that complies with compliance standards.

Types of Penetration Tests.

Six types of penetration testing are available that will provide complete security for your IT infrastructure. Let’s take a deeper dive into each of them.

1) Network services penetration test

Network services penetration tests are used to examine your network devices, such as switches, routers, and LAN. This is the most popular penetration test in the sector. Experts recommend conducting both internal and exterior network tests at least once a year.

2) Web application penetration test

The web application penetration test examines web-based apps for vulnerabilities that could compromise your cybersecurity. The web application penetration test tests applications and checks browsers and databases for vulnerabilities. These tests are specific and detailed. They involve identifying all touchpoints of the application and checking for flaws.

3) Client-side penetration test

These tests can be used to detect possible attacks on client-side programs or web browsers. These tests can detect attack vectors like HTML injection, cross-site scripting, and open redirections.

4) Test for social engineering penetration

A social engineering penetration test can be conducted by following the steps of a hacker to retrieve sensitive information from internal users via tailgating, phishing, and other methods. These tests can be used to help you train your team and keep an eye on fraud and malware.

5) Wireless penetration

These tests examine your IT assets connected to one another and the internet. These tests cover your PCs, laptops, and other IoT-enabled devices within your IT infrastructure. These tests should be done in your office, so you can access the WiFi network.

6) Physical penetration test

Security professionals conduct these tests to test whether physical barriers can be overcome to allow access to your IT assets and employees. These tests reveal flaws in physical barriers such as locks and sensors. These tests reveal weaknesses in physical obstacles (such as locks, sensors, etc.) and recommend appropriate measures to improve your business’s security.

How to perform a Penetration Test?

A six-step process is required to conduct a penetration test within an organization. These steps can be used to create a repeatable and scalable penetration testing program in your company.

1) Plan for the penetration

It takes a lot of preparation to conduct a penetration test. To determine the project’s scope, objectives, and stakeholders, it is a good idea to hold a kickoff meeting with security professionals. You can also set a time frame for these tests to avoid disrupting the company’s daily operations during the testing.

Inflated network traffic can cause some systems to crash during testing. To prevent such accidents, you can remove those systems from the scope. It is crucial to determine whether staff need to be informed during the planning phase.

Complete penetration testing is the act of illegally breaking into a network/system. Before you conduct the test, it is vital to obtain legal authorization from the company. This protects the company and helps prevent the tester from being sued.

2) Collect information

The next step after planning the penetration test is gathering information. Network surveys can be used to identify reachable systems and conduct network surveys. The survey will provide domain names, host IP addresses, ISPs, database server names, ISPs, and network maps.

After you’ve completed the network survey, you can start port scanning. You now need to identify the open and close ports within the network. You can also exclude ports that the organization does not want to test.

3) Check for vulnerabilities

Once you have enough information about the system, it is time to identify any vulnerabilities in the system. You can use vulnerability scanner tools and create a list to target to automate the process.

Vulnerability scanners automatically prepare the vulnerability list and rank them according to their risk score. This allows you to identify those with a more significant impact on cybersecurity and those that are more difficult to exploit.

4) Try the penetration

After identifying vulnerabilities, it is time to conduct a penetration test. Before proceeding, estimate the time it will take to complete a pen test and determine what targets will be used.

It doesn’t mean that vulnerabilities are impossible to exploit. The attacker might need to put in a lot of work and effort before reaping the benefits. You can plan for them, but easily exploited vulnerabilities that present a significant risk should be addressed first.

Password cracking is now a common practice in penetration tests. There are services such as telnet or FTP that run on your systems. This makes it an ideal place to use a password hacker. Dictionary attack (using a wordlist of dictionary files), hybrid crack (using variation words in a dictionary file), or brute force (testing passwords that are made up of characters by going through all possible combinations).

This is not the end. There are two additional areas you can use to penetrate the company’s security. It can be done by social engineering, bypassing security, or through physical penetration. These must be checked in order to perform a thorough penetration test.

5) Report and analyze

Reporting is the next step after you have completed the previous steps. The report will begin with a summary of penetration testing. Next, you will highlight the most severe vulnerabilities that could significantly impact your company. Next, you will list the less important ones.

Separating vulnerabilities into critical and less critical is only done to assist organizations in making decisions. Your report should summarize the process and provide a detailed list of information gathered. It should also include a description of vulnerabilities and suggestions. Finally, it should offer recommendations for remediation.

6) Clean up

Cleaning up is the final step in penetration testing. Clear up any mess caused by the pen test. You should then securely clean up the compromised hosts so as not to disrupt the organization’s regular operation. It is the responsibility of the penetration tester to inform the organization about any changes made during the test and to revise them to their normal state.

Steps to becoming a Penetration Tester

1) Self-analysis: Penetration testing may not be for everyone. You will need to have exceptional problem-solving skills, perseverance, attention to detail, and an eagerness to learn about the latest trends in the field. To be successful penetration testers, you must have a high level in each of these attributes. Before you decide whether pen testing is a career for you, be honest with yourself.

2) Education: Several employers hired hackers from the real world and then turned them into good people. However, penetration testers have been required to hold a college degree in recent years. There are many options for entry into cybersecurity, including undergraduate degrees in all the relevant disciplines.

3) Career path: There are many ways that a potential pen tester can get into cybersecurity. A good starting point for pen testing is in security administration, network admin, network engineer, system administrator or web-based programming. Always keep your eyes on the security aspect of each discipline.

4) Professional certificates: Most employers want to see a variety of professional certifications on the resumes and letters of assurance validators. This is especially true for more senior positions. Many organizations offer widely recognized certifications for penetration testing jobs.

5) Mastering the craft. Being an expert in your chosen field is a great idea for any career. However, penetration testers have many options to stand out from the crowd. Peers will recognize pen testers if they are active in cybersecurity disciplines such as bug bounty programs and collecting open-source intelligence (OSINT).

6) Stay current: It is essential to keep up-to-date with the latest developments in cybersecurity. Keep your skills and knowledge current with the most recent trends in programming, network security, hacking techniques, security protocols, commonly exploited vulnerabilities, as well as any other happenings in cybersecurity.

Outlook for Penetration Testers

For the foreseeable future, information security professionals will be in great demand and growing rapidly. There is a shortage of infosec professionals across all fields, and this shortage will likely continue for the foreseeable future. These systems are more likely to be targeted and vulnerable as networks, applications, and information requirements become increasingly complex and crucial for business and state operations.

The pen testers play the most important role in technical expertise and are the best at identifying potential attackers. Infosec operators are highly regarded pen testers, and there is no sign that this perception will change.

Conclusion

Hackers have used their creativity to devise new strategies for cyberattacks in response to the evolving cybersecurity landscape. Cyberattacks are now more common and technologically advanced than a decade earlier. The increasing popularity of hacking tools fuels these incidents. You need to respond to attackers using cutting-edge technology to prevent damage to your company’s reputation and take action accordingly.

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