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Cyber attackers use various techniques to hack into their victims' computer systems. While software and filters can help in preventing this from happening, it is often difficult to totally stop this from transpiring unless professionals begin to look through the same lens that hackers use.

This is particularly necessary because cyber attackers keep changing their tactics to catch up with the ever-evolving IT industry. One promising approach that is used in this regard is the penetration test approach, which, unfortunately, is not well known in some quarters yet.

Basic Information About Penetration Tests

A penetration test, often called a pen test, is an authorised simulated attack carried out on a computer system. This is done in a bid to evaluate the computer system's security. Penetration testers use the same techniques, tools, and processes as cyber attackers. This way, they can find and demonstrate areas of the business that are weak through security testing.

Penetration tests simulate different attacks that can pose threats to a business. They can identify whether a system's security is strong enough and can fight off attacks from both the authenticated and unauthenticated positions. Given the proper scope, a penetration test can delve into any aspect of a computer system.

The Benefits Of Penetration Testing

The original plan was for software and systems to help eliminate dangerous security flaws. A pen test can be used to provide feedback on how successful this plan has been with some computer systems. Organisations can use pen testing to do the following:

  • Identify weaknesses in systems
  • Estimate the robustness of controls
  • Give support to security regulations and compliance with data privacy (e.g., DSS, GDPR, PCI, HIPAA)
  • Give quantitative and qualitative examples of the present security posture and budget priorities for management

How Much Access Should Be Given To Pen Testers?

The goals set aside for pen tests will determine how much access and information about the target system would be given to pen testers. Sometimes, the one approach the pen testing team takes will be sufficient to take them through the entire process.

At other times, changes will have to be made to the strategy used as the testing team gains more awareness about the system as the pen test progresses. There are three primary levels of pen test access that you need to know about if you would like to engage pen testers on your computer system.

Opaque box/black box

In this case, the team does not have any facts concerning how the target system's internal structure was built. It would act the same way hackers would by searching for exploitable weaknesses in the external structure.

Semi-opaque box/grey box

Here, the team is given some knowledge of one or more known credentials. The team is also aware of the target system's internal data structures, algorithms, and code. Pen testers may develop test cases with detailed design documents like schematic representations of the target system.

Transparent box/white box

At this level, pen testers can access systems and system artefacts, including binaries, containers, and source code. Even there are times when they are given access to the servers that run the system. This approach provides the highest level of assurance within the least amount of time.

The Different Phases Of Pen Testing

Pen testers create simulations of attacks using motivated adversaries. For them to achieve this, they usually make use of a plan that has the following steps:


Here pen testers gather whatever information about the target they can lay their hands on from public and private sources to create the attack strategy. Such sources include social engineering, internet searches, nonintrusive network scanning, and domain registration information, and they sometimes use dumpster diving.

With this information, pen testers can identify the target's attack surface and areas vulnerable to attack within the system. Reconnaissance can be different based on the aims and scope of the pen test. The process may be a simple phone call or a walk-through of the system's functionality.


Some tools help pen testers with their task, especially examining the target website or identifying weaknesses. Such tools include application security issues, open services, and open-source vulnerabilities. The different tools that pen testers use have much to do with what they discover during the test and reconnaissance.

Gaining access

Attackers have different motivations for their nefarious activities, including changing, stealing, or deleting data, damaging a company's hard-earned reputation, or moving funds.

To perform each of these tests, pen testers must find the most suitable techniques and tools to gain access to the system. This may be done through weaknesses such as social engineering, malware, or SQL injection.

Maintaining access

As soon as pen testers have access to the target, enough time must be given to the planned simulated attack to stay connected so that the goals of data exfiltration, modification, or abusing functionality may be accomplished.

The Different Types Of Pen Testing

It is required to give a comprehensive approach to pen testing as this is how there can be optimal risk management. This calls for the testing of all areas within your environment.

Web Apps

This is when pen tests are used to examine security controls' effectiveness. These tests also help find attack patterns, hidden vulnerabilities, and any other shortcomings within the computer security that may cause a breach in a web app.

Mobile Apps

When testers use automated and extended manual testing, they are always on the lookout for vulnerabilities that may be present in application binaries that run on the mobile device as well as corresponding server-side functionality. Some known server-side vulnerabilities are cryptographic issues, session management, authentication and authorisation issues, and other known web service vulnerabilities.


With this testing, pen testers can identify common and critical security vulnerabilities that may be present in external networks and systems. Experts use a checklist with test cases for SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate scoping issues, encrypted transport protocols, use of administrative services, etc.


There are significant differences between a cloud environment and a traditional on-premises environment. Usually, you will find that security responsibilities are managed by the cloud services provider and the organisation using the domain.

As a result, a set of skills and experience is required for cloud pen testing to check all the different aspects of the cloud. These include various databases, APIs (Application Programming Interface), encryption, security controls, and storage.

Pen Testing Vs. Automated Testing

For the most part, pen testing is manual, but pen testers can still use automated testing and scanning tools. Apart from their tools, these experts can use their knowledge of the latest attack techniques in a bid to broader testing than a vulnerability assessment, also called automatic testing.

The pros and cons of Pen Testing

There is an increase in the severity and frequency of security breaches every year. There is now a greater need for organisations to understand how they can ward off cyber-attacks.

Regulations like HIPAA and PCI DSS have mandated periodic pen testing so that they may remain relevant to their requirements. The pressure here makes this type of defect technique have some pros and cons worthy of mentioning here.

Pros of Pen Testing

  • It can be used to attack any computer security system, imitate the strategies of most malicious hackers, and give simulations close to real-world adversaries.
  • They can identify holes in upstream security assurance practices like architecture analysis, automated tools, coding and configuration standards, and other lighter-weight risk assessment activities.
  • They can find known and unknown security vulnerabilities and software flaws, including those considered small and inconsequential, which can lead to material damage when a complex attack pattern is used.

Cons of Pen Testing

  • The approach can be costly and labour-intensive.
  • The testing cannot give comprehensive prevention against bugs and flaws from getting into production.

Consult A Computer Security Expert

While the attendant cost of conducting a pen test may be discouraging, the benefits make it a worthwhile investment. The cost of compromising your data security is certainly something you do not want to have on your hands as such can easily cripple any organisation.

The good thing is that IT security experts can easily take it off your hands and provide you with the necessary security layers to keep your organisation safe.

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