What is pen testing?

Pen testing is a phrase that is frequently used but rarely understood. It’s a potent instrument for safeguarding our systems, networks, and data against risks, but it is commonly believed to be a kind of cybercrime or malicious hacking. Today’s world requires that you understand pen testing if you would like to stay safe and protect your data.

Pen testing, or penetration testing, entails cyber security experts trying to find and exploit vulnerabilities in computer systems using tricks and methods that illegal hackers apply. It enables businesses to find software and network weaknesses before criminals exploit them. Pen testing may include some “hacking,” but this is done voluntarily to enhance security.

Keep reading to learn more.

What is pen testing?

Pen testing is a term that is frequently used when discussing information security, but what exactly is it? A pen test is a cybersecurity approach to safeguard against malicious attacks on systems and networks. It entails ethical hackers identifying possible risks and flaws in the system through automated and manual simulations.

The “white hat” hackers employ a variety of instruments and methods to compromise a system’s security and obtain unauthorized access to systems or confidential information. Following this, they notify the system administrator of any vulnerabilities or defects so that they may make the necessary move to resolve them. As a result, this increases the system’s reliability and ability to defend against subsequent threats.

Cybersecurity strategies must include pen testing to assess a company’s security posture before an attack and then offer a risk-reduction approach. Penetration testing should, therefore, be a primary goal for your IT staff if you want to keep your company secure against pricey system compromises.

How does penetration testing work?

A penetration test simulates an attack on the IT systems in a way that evaluates the applications and system security. This test aims to find any attackable flaws using manual and automated methods. It is designed to test the company’s digital security integrity and is similar to looking for the weakest link in a chain.

Penetration testing identifies potential entry points before trying to enter through those vulnerabilities. It might employ various strategies including password guessing, social engineering, and network sniffing. Pen testers can offer suggestions for enhancing IT infrastructure security and preventing future breaches once the flaws have been identified.

Pen testing is crucial for identifying risks before they disrupt a network or system in general. Companies can feel safe and secure in their designs and can reduce the possibility of information theft or leakage by conducting frequent pen tests following industry standards.

Levels of penetration test access

Pen testing is an effective technique, but do you know there are various penetration tests? Any pen testing serves a particular function, such as enhancing data security or revealing weaknesses in computer systems. Common levels of pen testing include:

Black box pen testing

In black box pen testing, the tester receives absolutely no information. In this case, the pen tester mimics an unprivileged attacker’s strategy from the start and implementation until the attack.

This is the most realistic scenario since it shows how an opponent without inside information would target and attack an organization. Yet, because of this, it is frequently the most expensive choice.

White box pen testing

White box pen testing, also known as oblique or crystal box pen testing, entails providing the pen tester with complete system and network details, including network credentials and maps. The method contributes to time savings and lowers the overall engagement cost. White box pen testing helps replicate a planned attack using as many attack paths as feasible on a particular system.

Gray box pen testing

Gray box testing is the last option, a hybrid strategy combining black box and white box testing. The testing team will have some familiarity with the system under investigation, yet not to the extent as in a white-box setting. As a result,  it is more challenging to identify holes, but it may also reveal covert threats such as malevolent users or code.

A persistent enemy will typically research the target environment before an attack, giving them access to similar information as an insider. Customers frequently choose gray box testing to eliminate the possibly time-consuming investigation phase while maintaining authenticity and providing the optimum efficiency-authenticity ratio.

Types of pen testing

Pen testing must be done thoroughly for risk management to be as effective as possible. To do this, you must test every aspect of your environment, as discussed below:

  • Web applications testing: Testers evaluate the efficacy of security measures and search for attack patterns, undiscovered flaws, and any other possible security holes that might allow a web app to be compromised.
  • Mobile applications testing: Testers search for flaws in application binaries and server-side functionality operating on mobile devices using extended manual and automated testing. Server-side vulnerabilities include authorization and authentication, cryptographic, session management, and other typical web service vulnerabilities.
  • Networks: The testing finds severe widespread security flaws in external systems and networks. Experts use a checklist comprising administrative services, SSL certificate scoping concerns, and test scenarios for secure transport protocols.
  • Cloud pen testing: Customized cloud security evaluations can assist your organization in overcoming collective responsibility difficulties. They identify and fix hybrid systems and vulnerabilities across the cloud that potentially expose vital assets.
  • Wireless pen testing: The tests primarily target a company’s wireless protocols, including Z-Wave, ZigBee, Bluetooth, and WLAN (wireless local area networks). It aids in locating WPA vulnerabilities, flaws in encryption, and malicious access points. Testers should know the unique SSIDs, locations, guest networks, and wireless numbers to be evaluated to define an engagement.
  • External and internal infrastructure pen testing: Testers review the cloud and on-premises network infrastructure, including system hosts, firewalls, switches, and routers. It can be presented as external pen testing – aiming at infrastructure that are accessible over the internet –or internal pen testing, concentrating on resources inside the business network. You must know the external and internal IP addresses, network subnet size, and the number of sites that will be examined to scope a test correctly.
  • Embedded devices testing:  Embedded or Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as watches, oil rig equipment, home appliances, automobiles, and medical devices have unique software test requirements. This is due to regulatory requirements, power constraints, remote locations, and longer life cycles. Experts conduct a complete communication analysis with a client/server study to find the flaws most important to the appropriate use case.
  • Social engineering: Review your staff’s and systems’ capacity to recognize and stop email phishing assaults. You can understand the potential threats using spear phishing, customized phishing, and business email compromise (BEC) attacks.

Who should use penetration testing?

Pen testing is a crucial security procedure that needs to be carried out frequently. Nevertheless, who should use pen testing? Everyone, including large global enterprises, medium-sized companies, small businesses, and sole proprietors.

Additionally, any organization subject to the PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) must legally perform pen testing at least yearly and after any significant apps or network modifications. Organizations can also conduct penetration tests as a security measure before introducing new goods or services.

As a response to a security breach or incident, pen testers can also utilize penetration testing as a part of a continuous audit process. Alternatively, you might use it only to routinely monitor your network to ensure no security holes require filling.

The critical thing to remember is that penetration testing is intended to find strengths, flaws, and possible problems in your present setup. As a result, it is a crucial tool for maintaining security regardless of your company’s budget, sector, or size. You should notice this critical step to keep your data and information secure.

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How is pen testing different from automated testing?

Pen testers employ testing tools and automated scanning even though pen testing is primarily human. Nevertheless, they also go above and beyond the means, utilizing their expertise in the most recent attack methodologies to offer more comprehensive tests than a vulnerability assessment, as discussed below:

Automated testing

Automated testing produces results more quickly and requires fewer skilled individuals than a fully-manual pen testing approach. Results from automated testing are automatically tracked and occasionally exportable to a centralized reporting platform. Moreover, the outcomes of manual pen tests can differ from one test to the next, whereas repeating automated testing on the same system will yield consistent results.

Manual pen testing

Using manual pen testing, you can find flaws and vulnerabilities that aren’t on popular lists (such as the OWASP Top 10) and evaluate business logic that automated testing could miss. Another way to find false positives from automated testing is to do a manual pen test.

Pen testers are professionals who approach problems from the perspective of the adversary. Therefore they can evaluate data to focus their attacks and test websites and systems in ways that automated testing tools, which follow a predefined routines, cannot.

Advantages and disadvantages associated with penetration tests

Businesses have never needed insight into their defenses against assaults more as the severity and frequency of security vulnerabilities rise year after year. Periodic pen testing is required to comply with HIPAA and PCI DSS regulations. Given these pressures, this kind of vulnerability-detecting technique has advantages and disadvantages.


Pen testing’s most obvious advantage is that it might reveal security flaws you may not have been aware of. You can identify your system’s vulnerabilities by mimicking a hack assault and then take action to strengthen security precautions. The test findings can also be used to check whether your response strategy will be effective in the event of a genuine cyberattack.


The fact that pen tests are conducted by people, who are vulnerable to mistakes, poses the most risk. As a result, false negatives or positives may result from tests performed by the incorrect individual or that must be carried out correctly.

Additionally, it’s crucial to remember that pen tests can be time-consuming and disruptive. Therefore you should be well-prepared before beginning one.

Factors to consider when choosing a penetration test provider

Now that you know what a penetration test is and why it is crucial, let’s look at the factors when selecting a penetration test provider. There are various factors to consider, including:

  • Knowledge of your industry: Choosing a service provider with expertise in your sector is crucial. A provider who comprehends your firm’s unique requirements and difficulties will better match your expectations with outcomes.
  • Cost: The pen test’s price is a significant consideration. It must consider the particulars specified in the proposal request (RFP), complexity, and the target system’s size. Obtaining quotes from many companies and comparing their costs is the most effective technique to calculate the cost.
  • References: Before making a choice, request references from past customers so that you may assess their services objectively. This will let you confirm that your selected service has a solid reputation and a history of successful penetration tests.
  • Security level: The test provider must have a robust security program with processes, procedures, and policies. They should also have a complete set of tools and professionals who can conduct the testing quickly and accurately.

Pen testing is crucial for keeping an eye on your systems and networks. It helps to find and solve security issues before they may be used against you. Combining manual and automated pen testing is best for the complete results.

The penetration test is a fantastic technique for maintaining up-to-date systems following industry standards. It can significantly lower the likelihood of a malicious attack or data breach when carried out correctly.

Each firm that has to keep a secure system in place must use pen testing as a vital tool. It can save cost, time, and reputation in the long term. Ensuring that a certified security expert carries out the penetration test regularly is essential.

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