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Everything You Need To Know About Penetration Testing

What is Pen Testing

Full Guide To Penetration Testing

For years, the war between black hats (a nickname for malicious hackers) and white hats (a nickname for ethical hackers) has been at the center of public attention. And as in any war,  adversaries are equipped with advanced weapons.

One of the most significant defense tools cyber security firms have is pen testing- a simulation of a cyberattack, without the malicious intent behind it.

 

What is Penetration Testing

Penetration Testing is a way of assessing the security level of systems, applications, mobile services, and infrastructure. 

This assessment begins with mapping the organization’s digital assets, including integrated third-party tools, user behavior, etc. The purpose of the test is to identify the weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the defense systems and produce a report detailing the findings and recommendations. 

How often should organizations Pen Test?

According to accepted standards, it is recommended to perform a pen test on an annual basis. Some cyber security regulations, such as GDPR require it. 

Who needs a Pen Test?

Companies dealing with sensitive information such as medical, industrial, and economic information are usually more susceptible to cyberattacks, therefore need to take extra precocious. These companies are often required to perform a pen test to meet cyber regulations, the most popular being GDPR, SOC 2, HIPAA.

However, it is important to note that any company that has digital assets and stores information digitally, which is pretty much everyone these days, is advised to perform penetration tests to defend against cyber threats.

If you think about it, an attack is the best defense, and a penetration test gives an accurate picture of how vulnerable the organization is.

Types of Pen Tests

Every pot has a lid, every pencil has a pencil case and every organization has a penetration test that suits its cyber security needs. PTs can be separated into 3 subtests:

  • Web application pen test
  • Network pen test
  • Mobile pen test

Web Application Pen Test

This test locates weaknesses in browser-based applications (such as a website, Gmail, etc.). The applicable PT identifies loopholes in the security system that can lead to the leakage of customers’ personal information and the execution of attacks such as DDoS. 

Web application PTs are usually sorted into three categories, and with each test simulating different scenarios, you ought to know what your goal is when choosing one:

Gray Box

 A test that can be performed from an outsider’s point of view or an insider attacker. In some cases, the tester will receive limited information about the organization’s systems, such as user credentials. The tester will then use this information to scan for potential vulnerabilities that can be exploited for malicious purposes.

The Gray Box is the most common of Pen Tests, and its advantage is the comprehensive coverage of vulnerabilities visible to an outsider and insider attacker.

White Box

Information security breaches caused by attackers from within the organization can lead to a huge loss in the company’s profits and customer credibility. Information security breaches made by attackers from within the organization can lead to a huge loss in company profits and customer credibility. According to a Haystax survey, employees and suppliers are the number one cause of information security breaches, and the majority of cyber professionals (56%) say that insider threats are on the rise.

The white box pen testing simulates a cyber-attack conducted by a malicious actor from within the organization, who has access credentials to the company’s resources, such as a resentful employee.

This test requires the organization to provide the software’s source code, including characterization and detailed information. 

By providing this information, white hat hackers can conduct a comprehensive and thorough penetration test to find as many vulnerabilities as possible, thus enabling maximum use of time and wider coverage of the security systems. 

 

Black Box

Nothing beats real-life experience, and authenticity is exactly what a Black Box penetration test simulates. 

Black box Penetration tests are similar to real cyber hacks. When performing black box, the pen tester does not receive any preliminary information about the organization or the existing systems in it. 

Black Box pen testing begins as an external test, however, if a breach has been made the tester will continue as an inside intruder, in coordination with the boundaries that have been initially set. 

It should be mentioned that black box Penetration tests usually take longer, as a large part of the test focuses on collecting data. In addition, it is likely that this test will not uncover all the vulnerabilities, but instead the ones that are most useable by malicious hackers. 

Network penetration testing

In infrastructure pen testing, we test the resilience of an organization’s devices, focusing on equipment connected to the internal network that does not have access from the outside (such as routers, printers, organization computers, etc.). In the world of infrastructure, the tests can be divided into 2:

  • Internal pen test
  • External pen test

Internal pen test

 An internal pen test is an attempt to penetrate and gain access to enterprise information systems, and it is done from the perspective of an attacker who has access to the internal network or works with limited access to the network.

In computers where there is adequate hardening the actions that an attacker can do are limited. During an internal penetration test, the pen tester tries to raise their permissions (escalation) as much as possible, thereby gaining access to all the devices that are included in the test.

As proof for examination, evidence is usually sent to confirm the findings, such as:

  • Passwords for administrative access and databases
  • E-mails and confidential documents
  • Screenshots

External pen test

This test examines the ability of an organization’s security grid to withstand external attacks. This process involves scanning systems and network accessibility outside the organization, to try to locate existing vulnerabilities that can lead to intrusion or damage to the organization. 

Usually, these attacks occur without prior information on the inside of the organization, and this situation comes in the form of an intentional attack attempt by an external attacker or a “random” attack attempt that attacks the organization according to the following methodology:

  • Gathering external information about the organization and testing its relevance.
  • Perform a vulnerability scan to identify existing vulnerabilities.
  • Conducting a risk survey based on the results of the scan to prioritize and relevance of the findings.
  • Performing a “safe hacking” process based on previous findings.
  • Testing network devices that are accessible outside the organization, such as FW, routers, mail servers, etc.

Mobile pen test

Penetration testing for mobile apps, or a specific mobile device, has become essential as work and home life blend with each other. Many employees use their smartphones for the day-to-day management of work, and it’s like the holiday season for hackers, as mobile has become an easy and popular target. App creators might request a penetration test to reduce the risk of a successful attack from an infected mobile and to ensure the user’s device’s safety in case of an infected code.

Mobile pen testing is also relevant to any professional who has sensitive information concerning their clients and is defined as a target for hackers – lawyers, financial advisors, etc. 

Penetration Testing Statistics 2022

The world of penetration testing has undergone an upheaval in recent years. From an unknown niche to a well-known technique, pen testing has become one of the most popular methods for strengthening organizations’ cyber security defenses around the world. A survey conducted by Statista reveals that in the third quarter of 2022, 15 million “Data Records” were leaked, a 37% increase over last year. The graph below shows the increase in global companies that reported experiencing a successful cyber attack between 2014-2016, a picture that should concern any business owner, large or small.

One of the main reasons for this phenomenon is remote work, which entered our lives after the corona epidemic spread around the world and caused global lockdowns. Even now, after the decline of the coronavirus, many workplaces have adopted the hybrid work method. This leads to constant concern among IT teams, due to the difficulty in managing employees’ home networks and the multiple devices connecting to the corporate network.

Another reason is the alarming increase in ransomware attacks. In a study published this year by SOPHOS, a leading company providing EDR solutions, it was found that 66% of the organizations in the study were affected by ransomware in 2021, an increase from 37% in 2020.

This reflects the growing success of the Ransomware-as-a-Service model which significantly extends the reach of ransomware by reducing the skill required to deploy an attack. This model essentially allows users who have purchased a subscription to use ransomware tools for their own use, and the investors in the development of the software receive a percentage of each ransom paid. Like the SaaS users, the RaaS users do not need any knowledge or experience to take advantage of the capabilities of this tool.

Phishing is still the leading reason for the success of ransomware attacks, with a 28% percent increase from Q1 2021 to Q4 2021, according to PhishLabs research.

According to information security professionals who participated in Coresecurity’s 2022 survey, 75% answered that they perform penetration testing to comply with international cyber regulations, such as GDPR and ISO 27001, an increase of 5 percent from last year. International regulations require proof that an organization has strengthened its cyber security system on sensitive data such as credit cards, IDs, personal health records, and the like. That’s why penetration tests are an excellent way not only to map cyber security weaknesses and fix them but can also be used as proof of compliance.

In addition, 75% of the participants attributed the use of penetration tests as part of a risk survey process and examination of their information security system to find weaknesses.

Environments Tested in Pen Tests

A study published by coresecurity found that the Windows environment is the environment on which the most penetration tests are performed in 2022. Although there are few vulnerabilities in Windows, as Microsoft closely guards its flagship software, the main concern stems from its massive presence in almost every organization, which makes it a target.

Browser-based applications, such as a website and API, are in second place, with 67% of survey respondents having penetration tested the application environment. Browser-based applications inherently have many security vulnerabilities due to their access to the Internet, including vulnerabilities that allow SQL and XSS injections, as well as MITM and DDOS.

Common PT findings

VAADATA, a penetration testing company located in Europe, analyzed its customers in 2021 and noticed that 29% of penetration tests found a critical weakness, and 44% of tests found more than one important weakness.

In each penetration test, VAADATA found on average:

  • 0.7 Critical findings
  • 1.3 Important findings
  • 1.5 Findings of medium severity level
  • 2.9 Findings of low severity
  • 0.7 Findings at the level of information gathering

Division of all the findings found in the penetration tests performed by VAADATA about 11% of all findings was critical and required immediate correction.

The most frequent findings were:

  • XSS weaknesses – An XSS attack is the injection of code into form fields of websites and applications – for example, a registration form, login, leaving details, or search.
  • Misconfiguration allows privilege escalation to gain privileges and access to restricted areas.
  • Lack of mechanisms to limit requests – this weakness can be exploited by hackers to carry out a Brute Force and DDOS attack.

To access CoreSecurity’s full research click here

It is crucial that S&M businesses consult with a cyber security firm, that will implement holistic cyber solutions and conduct pen tests, to prevent the next cyber attack

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