The penetration testing or security testing process may be unfamiliar to you if you haven’t performed one before. You may wonder what penetration testing methodology and stages are if you’ve never done it before. It may be easier to know the benefits of the process once you know what to expect. Penetration testing consists of seven stages. Here are some tips for preparing your organization for this type of security testing.

How can you improve your penetration testing phases or methodology to make clients happier? Would you like to learn the steps to penetration testing? This article will help you to identify the seven penetration testing phases.

What is Penetration Testing?

A penetration test is also called a pentest. Simulating a controlled cyber attack identifies security loopholes in websites, applications, or networks. Penetration testing generally consists of seven phases. An ethical hack is carried out on your application by a team of security engineers to identify your application’s vulnerabilities and potential risks. 

Penetration Testing Types   

Pentests are usually classified into three according to the information available to the testers.        

  • White Box Pentests
  • Black Box Pentests
  • Grey Box Pentests

White-Box Penetration Testing

Pentesters are fully aware of the internal structure of their target software system. 

Black-Box Penetration Testing

A pentester does not know anything about the target system. 

Grey Box Penetration Testing

It combines white box and black box testing based on limited target information. 

7 Phases of Penetration Testing

  1. Pre-Engagement

A penetration tester running a wild test over the network is a bad idea. A pre-engagement phase involves discussing and establishing scope, logistics, engagement rules, and timeline. 

Before discussing your testing needs with vendors, you must know what you want to be tested. Penetration tests can take many different forms. Penetration tests consist of 5 types.

  1. Internal and External Network
  2. Application
  3. Wireless
  4. Physical
  5. Social Engineering

Testers may need to travel to an office location depending on the type of testing. You can conduct web applications and network testing remotely. You can prioritize assets to be tested and determine pricing directly by defining your scope. A test scope is determined by what you are testing. Network penetration tests require knowledge of which IPs or subnets to test. In contrast, you should know how many different user roles you want to test when conducting an application penetration test. 

Define the timelines for penetration tests. Usually, these tests do not have a defined end-state. With this in mind, it is essential to determine the duration of the test ahead of time. It is necessary to define the testing scope before establishing a timeline. Scope influences the time required to test assets, dramatically affecting the cost properly. A test contract is a document that binds the tester and the organization receiving the test. Penetration testers take many actions that are illegal without explicit authorization. The tester is only allowed to access your network according to the rules of engagement. Your contract should clearly outline actions you do not want to be executed. A critical asset list in this contract is also helpful to remind testers to pay close attention to it. 

2. Reconnaissance

Reconnaissance is the second phase of pentesting steps. A pentester needs information about a target to simulate a cyber attack. The reconnaissance stage involves gathering this information. Hackers need to know as much as possible before targeting a network or single web application. Pentesters narrow the scope of their recon to increase efficiency using the scoping they did in the previous phase. Reconnaissance takes two forms.

Active Reconnaissance

As part of the pentesting process, the pentesters interact directly with the target system. As the intruder interacts directly with the system, it makes more noise but is more accurate.

Passive Reconnaissance

An intruder in this mode gathers information passively instead of interfacing with the target system. An attacker can spy on network traffic, examine OS footprints, or trace internet footprints.

A mapping operation is crucial to assessing the security of a web application. The attacker can now view all application parts at once to understand its function. The success of subsequent penetration testing phases depends on understanding the application’s implemented functionalities.

3. Discovery

As part of the discovery phase, you will scan assets and analyze them. A network scanner such as nmap is commonly used for identifying assets and gathering information about their operating systems, open ports, and running services. 

 White box testing involves the tester providing targets and asset/network information. By contrast, black box tests are conducted without information about targets such as domain names or networks. 

4. Analyzing Vulnerabilities

Testers may analyze the results from the previous discovery phase in manual testing. Having scanned and analyzed assets, they will identify vulnerabilities and look for potential exploits. Usually, vulnerabilities are scanned automatically by a vulnerability scanning tool. 

An organization’s continuous vulnerability management program often involves vulnerability scanning tools. During the discovery phase, tests can even use Nmap to scan for vulnerabilities. Popular security tools include Tenable, Rapid7, and Qualys. 

5. Exploitation

Exploitation is one of the most important steps to penetration testing. An attacker is responsible for doing the actual damage. After identifying the vulnerabilities, pentesters attempt to exploit the system and access the data. The penetration tester will exploit those vulnerabilities to gain access to the target systems. When working with important information, most pentesters use the dummy flag technique.

6. Collection Of Evidence And Preparation Of Reports

Once you have completed the above penetration testing steps, gather evidence of exploited vulnerabilities and submit a report to the organization head for review. It is up to management to decide how to address these vulnerabilities or risks. An attacker will target the system because it is vulnerable and not secure. Management must take action if the risks are not addressed or ignored. The report includes the following information.

  • An overview of the penetration testing process and a detailed description of each step.
  • Collect the information.
  • During the test, exploit all vulnerabilities.
  • The test involved access to sensitive data.

7. Make Use Of The Testing Results.

This is the most important stage of the 7 phases of penetration testing. Organizations must make use of the findings from the security testing to rank vulnerabilities. Determine remediation strategies and the potential impact of vulnerabilities.

In a nutshell

The purpose of penetration tests is to identify exploitable vulnerabilities and address them in a prioritized manner. It’s not always easy to choose a vendor to conduct your test. Penetration tests have seven phases that are crucial to helping an organization engage and understand services.