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The Complete ABC of Penetration Testing-Discover Security Gaps before Attackers Do

The Complete ABC of Penetration Testing-Discover Security Gaps before Attackers Do

According to a Juniper Research 2018 study, cybercriminals will steal an estimated 33 billion records in 2023. Further, a Clark School study at the University of Maryland states that there is a cyber-attack every 39 seconds, affecting one in three Americans every year. Since COVID-19, the US FBI reports a 300% increase in the reported cybercrimes (Entrepreneur.com)

It seems like every day dawns with a new headline regarding the latest cybersecurity attack. As popular businesses increase their dependency on Information Technology including loT, Cloud, mobile devices, and social media, their cyber risk also continues to escalate at an alarming rate. As the time progresses, hackers are coming up with new advanced methods to steal billions of dollars and millions of records at an alarming frequency. There remains only one way to combat these attacks throughout the year- Penetration Testing. 

This blog is for all the newbies out there who want to conduct penetration tests to evaluate the security of their company’s IT infrastructure but are baffled with all the essential steps and the tech jargon that goes along with the process. 

Stick around to understand how penetration test works and the essential steps to perform it successfully. 

Penetration Test: A Brief Overview

eSecurity Planet’s 2019 State of IT Security survey asserts- “64% of organizations conduct penetration tests at least annually. While 36% of organizations are taking unnecessary risks by ignoring this significant security best practice.”

Penetration Testing which is also popularly known as the ‘pen-test’ is a significant part of ethical hacking. It is the art of finding vulnerabilities and digging deep to find out how much a target can be compromised, in circumstances of a legitimate attack. These vulnerabilities exist in the operating systems, risky-end behavior,services and application flaws, or improper configurations. 

The primary purpose of this test is to secure crucial data from hackers who can have unauthorized access to the company’s system. Once the vulnerability gets identified, it is then used to exploit the system to gain vital access to sensitive information. 

How To Conduct Penetration Tests? A Step-By-Step Guide 

In the year 2014, Telegram launched the bug bounty contest where hackers were invited to test the impenetrable security system of Telegram. The prize to be awarded ranged from $500 to $200,000 for those who could expose vulnerabilities or bugs. 

Penetration testing has become a hot trend in the 2010s, with the digitization of top companies opening new and simpler avenues for hacking. Although no one is 100% safe from cyberattacks, reputed companies actively perform the ‘pen tests’ to comprehend the gaps in information security compliance and actionable remediation guidance. 

Seven steps are critical to the successful planning and execution of a penetration test. Learn more about each of the steps of penetration testing in the points enlisted below- 

Pre-Engagement Interactions 

The first phase of penetration testing is, of course, the preparations. To put in simple words, this defines the test’s scope. A close glance at the ‘do my information technology assignment for me’ forums would reveal that lots of newbies tend to overlook this crucial step. 

During this phase, the penetration testers should work with your company to gain a comprehensive idea of any risks, your organizational culture, and the best strategy to conduct the pen test for your organization. You may want to perform a white box, gray box, or a black box penetration test. 

After outlining the scope and objectives in a contract, you are required to review the contract with legal counsel. This would ensure that the deal is clean. Once you are legally covered, you can get straight to the business. 

Reconnaissance or Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) Gathering 

In the next phase, the tester would make use of countless sources to gather as much information about the target as possible. This information can be on the organization, generated threat intelligence, IP addresses, domain details, network topology, mail servers, and the likes. 

The common intelligence gathering techniques to collect vital information includes- 

  • Search engine queries
  • Social Engineering
  • Domain name searches/ WHOIS lookups
  • Tax records
  • Dumpster Diving 
  • Internet Footprinting (email ids, usernames, social networks)
  • Internal Footprinting (ping sweeps, port scanning, packet sniffing, reverse DNS)
  • Tailgating

A hacker uses this exhaustive checklist for finding open entry points and vulnerabilities within the organization. An experienced penetration tester would spend most of the time in this phase, as it helps hugely in further phases of the attack. 

Vulnerability Assessment 

This phase of the pen testing digs deep to identify the vulnerabilities on the target network. The penetration tester would send probes to the target network, gather preliminary information, and then use the feedback to probe for more input and to unearth additional details. 

The outcome from this remarkable phase can incorporate the following- 

  • Directory structure on a specific server
  • Cross- scripting vulnerabilities
  • Open authentication access to certain FTP web servers
  • Remote-code execution possibilities 
  • Internal code-signing certificates that may be used to sign new scripts and inject them into the network. 

Penetration Testing 

Once the hacker is done developing the threat model and the attack plan based on the discovered vulnerabilities, the next vital phase is to penetrate the systems of the targeted network. But, there lies no guarantee that every vulnerability discovered would be exploited. A well-experienced hacker would always focus on the vulnerabilities that can be exploited to gain access to the target system. In the course of this phase, the tester is also focused on gathering more in-depth data across the target network. 

Lateral Movement or Maintaining Access 

Now, when the tester gains access to the system, they would inject agents that maintain access to the network. Maintaining successful access implies that these agents live in the system and maintain that access over a period, even if the system gets rebooted, modified, or reset by network administrators. 

The primary goal of this stage is to imitate the persistent threats. These threats could be hazardous as the attackers who remain in your network for a prolonged period can steal your company’s most sensitive data. 

Exploitation 

This is the vital phase where the pentester gets to exploit the system and deal the damage finally. The hacker will try to get the data, compromise the system, launch dos and attacks, and the likes. Usually, this vital phase is controlled in penetration testing to make sure that the mayhem on the network is limited. 

This phase is usually modified in this way- a dummy flag is placed in a critical zone. Revealing the contents of the flag would be adequate to make sure of the practical exploitation of the network or data theft. 

  • Debriefing/ Reporting 

Now, this is the final and the most important step. In this step, evidence of the exploited vulnerabilities is compiled and reported to the executive management of the company for review and action.These results are often calculated by statisticians or aspiring students for which they seek statistics assignment help.

The report usually incorporates the details mentioned below- 

  • Unearthed vulnerabilities and the risk the levels they possess
  • Overall summary of the test 
  • Recommendations made in the previous phase
  • Suggestions for future security 

Now, it is the management’s decision on how the risk needs to be addressed. Whether they want to accept, transfer, or ignore. 

To Conclude, 

Now that you are well-versed with all the essential steps of a successful penetration test, your next text can be an eye-opening exercise to enhance your overall security infrastructure. Imagine accomplishing that peace of mind state when you know exactly where your vulnerabilities are and how to remediate them over the next few months. Across each stage, your final report would glean innumerable final results for your business. Here’s wishing luck for only unlimited success ahead! 

Author Bio 

John Mark is an eminent tech-consultant and a part-time blogger. He believes in spreading him in-depth knowledge of technology and new tech trends. He is also associated with MyAssignmenthelp.com, catering to thousands of requests of ‘do my assignments for me for 10+ years now. 

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