Pentesting is the process of testing a computer system or network for vulnerabilities. It involves attempting to exploit vulnerabilities in a system or network to determine the level of security. Pentesting can be used to assess the security of an organization’s systems and networks and find and fix security vulnerabilities.
The scope of pentesting may include network testing, web application testing, mobile application testing, and more. The process usually involves an in-depth probe of the given system or network, often utilizing some client-side vulnerability to access a server or workstation. You can ascertain whether vulnerabilities are present.
A penetration test is also known as a pentest. The “pentest” label came from breaking up the word “security” into two syllables (“sec”+”u”+”rity”), then using “ret”. However, this is certainly not how most people use the term today. Penetration tests are often confused with vulnerability assessments. However, penetration tests go well beyond just identifying vulnerabilities. In a penetration test, the tester often has access to the same level of knowledge as an attacker, and they use this information to emulate real-world attacks.
The pentesting process can be divided into three phases: scanning and enumeration, vulnerability analysis, and exploitation.
The first phase is about discovering accessible systems in the target range, for example, networks or hosts, testing whether they are alive (functionality testing), and what ports/services they are offering (service fingerprinting). Many tools specializing in network scanning can perform such tests without any human intervention, but only well-known port scanners like Nmap can do such tasks.
The second phase, analyzing the discovered services, is more application-oriented and includes, for example, web applications and databases. The objective is to find security vulnerabilities caused by coding errors or configuration weaknesses. The tester usually employs a vulnerability scanner but must understand the results to evaluate the impact of discovered vulnerabilities.
The third phase, exploitation, focuses on actual attacks on the target system(s).Several tools can be used here, depending on what should be achieved. Essential parts of exploitation are related to post-exploitation actions after gaining access. These consist mainly of privilege escalation, lateral movement; moving from a less-privileged user to a privileged user, and covering up tracks.
Both penetration testing and vulnerability assessment do not require physical access to the targeted environment. Remote network scanning or remote desktop sharing tools can be helpful in a pentest or a vulnerability assessment but are not required for it to succeed.
A pentest report should contain an overview of the discovered system(s), potential attack scenarios, discovered vulnerabilities, and mitigation recommendations. Most importantly, recommendations must be accompanied by technical details such as input and output examples in practice.
While many companies fail at assessing their security properly due to a lack of penetration testing experience amongst the employees responsible for that area, others go overboard with threats and risks found in penetration testing and simply ignore the central finding: the company is vulnerable.
Remember that penetration tests and vulnerability assessments, in general, do not focus on exploiting vulnerabilities in specific products or services like viruses or worms. However, they holistically show exploitability.
How simple it would be to break into your environment using known vulnerabilities against normally available services is unknown. So, if you perform such actions yourself, such as hiring a “pentester,” make sure you understand what kind of results to expect before signing any contract.