What’s Penetration Testing?
Penetration Testing involves using the same tools, techniques, and processes as hackers to find weaknesses in your system. The goal of a ‘Pen Test’ for short, is to find and fix those weaknesses before someone else attacks.
Pen tests are like local war games for your computer systems and coworkers. The good guys behave like bad guys to figure out if they can break in using one of three starting test assignments called “boxes”.
Black, Gray and White box Testing
Different Pen Tests start with varying amounts of information. Like protecting your home from various types of thieves, stalkers, or conmen, you want to protect your company from different types of hackers. These include the sneaky attackers who know nothing about your computers (Black Box) those who know a little about how your system is built (Grey Box), and those who know all about your company because maybe they’ve worked there before (White Box).
Black Box Tests
Black Box tests play the role of the average hacker, with no information about the target system. Testers are not provided with any details regarding the makeup of the system, software being used, or source code. A black box penetration test looks for vulnerabilities in a system that are outside the network.
This involves an analysis of the systems and programs running within the target network. The tester may use automated scanning tools and methods for a manual pen test. A black box penetration tester would then create a map of the target network based on their scans and examination.
Most black box tests are quick to run since information and access is limited to what is available outside of the organization. A quick black box test usually means good news, whereas a long one, well, not as good. Of course, the downside of a black box test is that any critical vulnerabilities of internal services remain to be discovered.
Grey Box Tests
Grey Box tests provide a bit more starting information to the tester. This test will usually include some user access, maybe even some with elevated permissions on a system. Gray box pen testers will likely start with some information about the network’s makeup. This can include some design and architecture, and the testers may design their own test cases based on what they know about the system in advance.
This elevated pen test provides a more focused and detailed review of a network’s security in comparison to the black box test. Using his knowledge of the network, the tester can focus on the systems that present the greatest risk and value, rather than wasting time on low-reward hacks. In addition, grey box tests also allow for simulating attacks from intruders that have had access to the system for a longer time. These types of simulations can provide valuable information to protect against ransomware attacks that often try to hide malicious back-door code for repeat attacks.
White Box Tests
White box testing, or auxiliary and logic-driven testing, is the most open and thorough test. The tester has full access to source code, system documentation and credentials, and often the servers running the system. This is the most time-consuming type of testing because of the massive amount of data and potential weaknesses to evaluate.
White box pen testers will use many industry-specific tools to test user behaviors, network vulnerabilities, and to deploy known exploit codes. They also use tools to catch and report vulnerabilities introduced by misconfiguration of systems.
White box pen testing is the most comprehensive way to access both internal and external vulnerabilities, making it the best overall evaluation. But running a variety of tests using these 3 methods can provide the most complete security tuning.
The Penetration Testing journey usually happens in several stages:
1) Reconnaissance: Like a scouting mission, the good guys look for clues and gather as much information about your building and computer system as possible.
2) Scanning: Next, they use special tools (software and methodologies) to look for weak points that could help them break into your system.
3) Gaining Access: Then comes the adventure – testers try to break as deeply into your systems as possible.
4) Maintaining Access: Once they’ve successfully invaded, they stay long enough to confirm what sort of mischief they could do if they were real hackers.
Pen Testing isn’t limited to just computer systems and servers. It extends to various types of pretend attacks on different things such as websites, mobile apps, large network systems, and even the rapidly growing Internet of Things (like smart fridges and TVs).
In order to carry out these pretend attacks, special tools are needed for different jobs. There’s no one magic tool that does it all, so testers pick and choose their tools based on their mission.
Just as sometimes you need a good old pair of sharp eyes instead of just using a magnifying glass, Pen Testing also has manual and automated forms. The automated form lets robots do all the searching and scanning. It’s quicker, but it might not find everything. The manual form, on the other hand, involves the good guys doing the exploration themselves. It’s slower, but they often find hidden stuff that robots might miss.
Even though pen testing is like a game, it is a serious one for a company’s security. It helps find any weakness in your defenses before any real hacker finds them. But, it requires a lot of time and effort. In addition, even if penetration tests find and fix all the weak spots, there’s always new weaknesses being discovered by hackers.
For this reason, it’s good company policy to run pen tests on a regular basis to protect against new forms of attacks. Obviously, we’re a cybersecurity company, so you could consider us if you’re in need of Pen Testing or other cybersecurity assessments.
In the meantime, we hope that this helps your understanding of penetration testing and its important role in protecting your systems from cyber attacks.
More information on NIST.gov