What Does Penetration Testing Mean

Although technology has advanced widely, computers are still vulnerable to attacks. A penetration test, also known as a pen test, is a simulated attack performed on a computer to assess its security. A pen test is unique because it uses the same techniques, processes, and tools used by hackers and attackers to enter your protected systems.

Through a series of complex and many varieties of penetration testing, businesses can evaluate the strength of their system. They can also assess whether the system can differentiate between an authenticated and unauthenticated position.

But pen testing is not as simple as it seems; there is much more to the story.

Types Of Penetration Testing

There are different aspects to each organization’s logical parameter. Different pen tests are used on each of these aspects. Here are the most common penetration tests out there:

Web Application Penetration Testing

This involves testing web applications to find vulnerabilities within the system. This includes testing user authentication to ensure that the data of the accounts are safe from attack.

Moreover, it involves assessing the flaws like XSS that harm web applications. This pen test also safeguards web server security and database server.

Internal Network Penetration Testing

This pen test assesses the system’s vulnerability both from the perspective of an authenticated and unauthenticated user. It tests what an attacker that is working within a system can achieve.

It is important because it ensures that people working within a company can not exploit vulnerabilities and access sensitive data. On top of that, it ensures that employees don’t leak any important information online.

External Network Penetration Testing

This pen test focuses on people outside the system and the kinds of vulnerabilities that they can exploit. It will test web and file servers and see whether systems checking user authentication are sound and adequate.

Additionally, this type of pen test sees whether transferred data goes through secure channels and prevents data from being leaked online.

Social Engineering Penetration Testing

This is to protect businesses and companies from criminals getting smarter and smarter and exploiting vulnerabilities in the systems. Criminals use social engineering attacks like pharming, phishing, and BEC to enter systems.

Apart from ensuring the system is strong enough, the test checks to see how susceptible the staff is to outside socially engineered attacks.

Wireless Network Penetration Testing

Any company that uses Wi-Fi technology automatically becomes vulnerable to attacks. This type of pen test identifies the vulnerabilities of Wi-Fi networks. It assesses things like information leakage, signal leakage, and wireless fingerprinting.

Other things include wireless sniffing, session hijacking, and encryption cracking.

Red Team Penetration Testing

A type of testing that mimics how a real attacker would approach the company. This includes using a variety of methods to access system information and networks. This pen test may also involve physical access to the area.

This increases the adequacy of the testing system as they can access the full area and all the systems in place.

How Is Pen Testing Done?

There is some variation in how a pen test is carried out. However, most testers follow a few basic steps. Here is a generalized plan they use:

Finding Information About The Target

  • Reconnaissance is finding all potential information about a target through all means necessary.
  • Testers access the internet, talk to employees and do dumpster diving.
  • Use sources like domain registration information, social engineering, and nonintrusive network scanning. The level of reconnaissance can differ depending on the type of pen test.

Scan The Target Websites And Assess Weaknesses

  • Testers assess all the areas where a target website lacks security.
  • It checks for open-source drawbacks, application security issues, and open server vulnerabilities.
  • Use a variety of sources.

Gain Access By Exploiting A Weakness

  • Identify all the attacker motivations, including deleting data, moving funds, stealing, and changing codes.
  • Testers evaluate the system and find the best tool to access the system.
  • They exploit weaknesses like SQL injection, social engineering flaws, or potential malware.

Maintain Long Enough Access To Succeed

  • Testers remain within the system until they can attack a protected attribute of the company.
  • Try to modify data, exfiltrate data or delete a file.
  • Try to demonstrate the level and extent of a potential attack.

What Areas Do Pen Tests Target?

Often used interchangeably with types of penetration testing, this is quite different. The list encompasses all the areas where a pen test may be performed in your environment. Incorporating all aspects of a system can help ensure optimal risk management.

Web Applications

This includes the websites of a company. There is often sensitive information available on the backside of your web pages. Testers will assess how effective your security controls are against any potential attack. They also try to highlight any security gaps that can compromise your websites.

Mobile Applications

Mobile apps are functional, efficient, easy to access, and thus more vulnerable to attack. A penetration tester will look for potential security issues in the app’s application binaries. They use extended manual and automated testing to assess cryptographic issues, authorization issues, and session management fluctuations while performing on mobile apps.


Most pen testers will have a checklist. This includes encrypted information and protocols like SSL certificate scoping issues, administrative services, and transport protocols. The test will assess security controls that protect the external networks of your systems.


The cloud is frequently used- but most people don’t check for vulnerabilities in the cloud. Since cloud environments exist virtually, physical testing is not required. Testing will assess encryption between the system and the cloud service provider. Cloud pen testers are extremely skillful because they have to tackle things like encryption, APIs, configurations, and various security controls.

Embedded Devices

This checks for issues in medical devices, automobiles, and oil rig equipment that use unique software testing mechanisms. Moreover, these devices have a longer lifespan and are extremely vulnerable to hackers. Hackers can exploit sensitive and protected data from medical datasheets and threaten somebody’s life. Using client/server analysis, testers will perform communication analysis to detect system issues.

Why Is Penetration Testing Important?

Reliable and efficient penetration testing is one of the best ways to find out the security weaknesses of your target system. Most security testing uses the same tools and techniques. However, pen testing allows skilled professionals to go beyond the standard approach to gain access and discover security risks. Here is why pen testing is important:

  • Identifies a variety of flaws and presents mechanisms to improve security vulnerabilities.
  • Identifies new bugs in the target system by various penetration testing tools.
  • Uses different types of pen tests for different purposes.
  • Mimics a simulated attack to identify security flaws.
  • Complies with the organization’s systems, like the General Data protection regulation and Data protection act.
  • Identifies security weaknesses using both manual and automated testing tools.
  • Performs both external tests and internal tests on your computer system.

What Is The Difference Between Pen Testing And Automated Testing?

Pen testing does not limit itself to automated testing. They go far and beyond and use a variety of tools to give a thorough evaluation of your system. During automated scanning sticks to automated testing, pen testing incorporates both manual and automated testing tools. But that’s not all; these two also differ in other aspects.

Manual Penetration Testing

Pen tests are much more thorough and explore weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the system that can easily escape an automated test. Since the former is performed by experts who mimic hackers, they go to all lengths to check for flaws within the system.

Weaknesses that others can overlook, such as integrity checks and data validation, don’t escape pen tests. Moreover, pen tests are extremely diverse and can be used on various target areas.

Automated Testing

As the name suggests, automated testing involves fewer skilled professionals because most of the functions are being performed by a computer. Most automated testing mechanisms work in virtually the same way. They test tools automatically and send results through a report to the centralized reporting platform.

Since there is not a lot of diversity and uniqueness in this type of testing, hackers can easily escape these mechanisms and exploit complex vulnerabilities of your system.

What Are Some Common Pen Testing Strategies That Companies Use?

Depending on the company’s objectives and budget, different strategies are deployed by the testers. Here is an overview of some of them:

  • External Testing: the testers perform tests using tools outside the company’s systems. This can include the internet and extranet and usually mimics the behavior of real-world hackers.
  • Internal Testing: testers perform these tests using tools within the organization’s systems to check for vulnerabilities that target clients and employees. Testers are trying to see how the system responds if an authorized person tries to exploit it.
  • Blind Testing: the tester again tries to mimic the actions of real hackers and assess how the system will respond in the event of an attack. The tester is provided with almost no information about the target computer and has to use tools elsewhere to hack into the system.
  • Double Blind Testing: this is a very thorough approach and assesses a company’s ability to identify any compromises. Very few people from the hierarchy are informed of the testing, which means it will be up to the employees to figure out the problem when the attack happens. This form of testing also assesses response procedures that are in place in a company.

FAQs On Penetration Tests

Do Pen Testers Get Unlimited Access To Your System?

Access is provided depending on the type of penetration test used. However, pen testers must declare one approach and the level of access and then stick to it throughout the testing phase. In most cases, three levels of access are provided. These are some pen testing tools that determine access:

  • Opaque Box: testers act as potential hackers and have no access to the internal target system.
  • Semi-Opaque Box: a team is aware of the internal system and data structures. It also has some credentials and access to important information.
  • Transparent Box: testers know about important artifacts like containers, binaries, and codes. Through this access, testers can provide the highest level of security.

Are There Any Cons To Pen Tests?

Before you jump on the bandwagon of penetration tests, you need to get the full picture of pen tests. Although these are quite popular and effective, they also have some cons. The biggest con of pen tests is that it is expensive and requires a lot of skilled labor.

Since security professionals have to mimic hackers sometimes, they require a lot of time and effort. Moreover, penetration testers cannot always prevent flaws and bugs from making their way into the target system.

What Is Ethical Hacking?

Pen tests fall under the umbrella of ethical hacking. Ethical hacking is when an authorized company gets access to your computer system and performs some tests. They are bound by law to adhere to the penetration testing execution standard in place.

Penetration Testing In A Nutshell-Is It Worth Its Price?

Penetration testing is done by a professional testing team that highlights security flaws in your system. It is one of the most secure and comprehensive ways to test security measures. Since there are many different pen tests, you can opt for the one most suitable for your computer systems.

Penetration testing makes use of internal testing and targeted testing to conclude. The team tries to mimic actual hackers; they can provide better security in the face of real-world attacks on your computer systems.

Derik Belair

As President and CEO, Derik leads the vision, strategy and growth of Augmentt. Prior to founding Augmentt, Derik was the Vice President at SolarWinds, leading the digital marketing strategy for SolarWinds’ Cloud division. Derik has been working in the channel for over 20 years, starting his career as a channel sales rep at Corel Corp. and eventually becoming the first employee at N-able Technologies in April of 2000.
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