A penetration test, also known as a pen test, is a simulated cyber attack on a computer system, network, or web application to identify vulnerabilities that an attacker could exploit.
The purpose of a pen test is to evaluate the security of a system and provide recommendations for improving it. It is a proactive approach to assess the effectiveness of an organization's existing security measures and identify any weaknesses before they can be exploited by a malicious attacker.
The process of pen test
A penetration test is typically performed in phases, which have consolidated over time as a framework shared by professionals, which, although sequential, are in fact also repeated depending on the development of operations:
Reconnaissance: This is the initial phase where the tester gathers information about the target system, such as its IP addresses, network architecture, and open ports.
Scanning: The tester uses various tools to scan the target system for vulnerabilities and identify potential attack vectors.
Exploitation: The tester attempts to exploit the vulnerabilities identified during the scanning phase to gain unauthorized access to the target system.
Post-Exploitation: The tester assesses the impact of the exploitation and determines the level of access and control they have over the target system.
Reporting: The tester prepares a report documenting the findings of the penetration test and provides recommendations for mitigating the identified vulnerabilities.
Of course the tester should only perform actions that have been authorized by the owner of the target system and that testing should not cause any damage or disruption to the system or its users. Depending on the degree of knowledge of the target, and therefore the amount of information available to the tester, we refer to black-box, gray-box and white-box tests. In the first case (black-box) the tester has no prior knowledge or information about the target system and operates in the same way as an external cybercriminal who has limited information about the target. In the case of a gray-box instead the tester has a limited knowledge of the target system and its infrastructure, useful for simulating an attack by an insider who has access only to some information about the target. Finally in the case of a white box penetration test the tester has full knowledge of the target system, including its architecture, code and internal infrastructure. This type of testing is useful for finding vulnerabilities that may be difficult to detect with limited information.
Different types of penetration tests
There are several different types of penetration tests, including:
External penetration testing: This type of test focuses on the attack surface facing the internet, such as web applications, firewalls, and other publicly accessible systems.
Internal penetration testing: This type of test focuses on the internal network, simulating an attack from an insider or someone who has already gained access to the network.
Blind penetration testing: This type of test is performed with limited information about the target system, simulating a real-world attack scenario where an attacker has little to no information about the target.
Double-blind penetration testing: This type of test is similar to blind penetration testing, but the tester and target organization are completely separated and have no direct communication during the test.
Targeted penetration testing: This type of test focuses on a specific aspect of the target system, such as a specific application or network component.
Web application penetration testing: This type of test focuses specifically on the security of web applications and their associated infrastructure.
Mobile application penetration testing: This type of test focuses specifically on the security of mobile applications and their associated backend systems.
The choice of the type of penetration test depends on the specific security goals of an organization and the scope of the test.
Usefulness of the Penetration Test
Penetration testing for an organization is advantageous not only to allow the adoption or implementation of the necessary security measures as a result of the vulnerabilities that emerged during the test phase, but also, and above all, for compliance with IT security regulations. European standards, for example, in particular the GDPR Regulation, require the data controller to adopt specific procedures aimed at verifying the effectiveness of the security measures adopted. It is not specifically expressed and there is no obligation, but the Penetration Test is certainly an effective tool for proving compliance with the GDPR.