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What is Pen Test?

Pen Testing or Penetration Testing is a type of security testing used to uncover vulnerabilities, threats, and risks that an attacker could exploit in web or network applications and software applications. In the context of web application security, penetration testing is commonly used to augment a web application (WAF).

The purpose of penetration testing is to identify and test all possible security vulnerabilities present in the software application.

Vulnerability is the risk that an attacker can gain authorized access to the system data. Vulnerabilities are usually introduced by accident during the software development and implementation phase. Common vulnerabilities include configuration errors, design errors, software bugs etc. Penetration Analysis depends upon two mechanisms, such as Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing (VAPT).

Penetration testers use the same tools, techniques, and processes as attackers to determine the business impacts of weaknesses in the systems.

Penetration tests usually simulate a variety of different attacks that could threaten the business. A pen test might examine a system that is robust enough to resist attacks from authenticated and unauthenticated positions, as well as a range of system roles.

Redscan is an award-winning provider of cybersecurity penetration testing services. Our range of CREST penetration testing engagements helps organizations to effectively manage cybersecurity risk by identifying, safely exploiting, and helping to remediate vulnerabilities that could otherwise lead to data and assets being compromised by malicious attackers.

The main objective of penetration testing is to identify security weaknesses. Penetration testing can also be used to test an organization’s security policy, employee’s security awareness and the organization’s ability to identify and respond to security incidents.

The information about security weaknesses identified through pen testing is aggregated and provided to the organization’s IT and network system managers, enabling them to make strategic decisions and prioritize remediation efforts.

Types of Penetration Testing

The type of penetration test selected usually depends on the scope and whether the organization wants to simulate an attack by an employee, Network Admin (Internal Sources) or by External Sources. There are three types of Penetration testing, such as:

What is Pen Test

1. White Box Testing: In a white-box penetration testing, the tester is usually provided with complete information about the network or systems to be tested, including the IP address schema, source code, OS details, etc. This can be considered as a simulation of an attack by any internal sources.

2. Black Box Testing: In black-box penetration testing, a tester does not know the systems tested. The tester is responsible for collecting information about the target network or system.

3. Grey Box Testing: In a grey box penetration testing, a tester is provided with partial knowledge of the system. It can be considered as an attack by an external hacker who had gained illegitimate access to an organization’s network infrastructure documents.

Areas of Penetration Testing

Penetration testing is usually done in the following areas, such as:

  • Network Penetration Testing: In this testing, the physical structure of a system needs to be tested to identify the vulnerability and risk, which ensures the security in a network. In the networking environment, the tester identities security flaws in the design, implementation, or operation of the respective company or organization’s network. The devices tested by a tester can be computers, modems, or even remote access devices, etc.
  • Application Penetration Testing: In this testing, the logical structure of the system needs to be tested. An attack simulation is designed to expose an application’s security controls’ efficiency by identifying vulnerability and risk. The firewall and other monitoring systems are used to protect the security system. Still, sometimes, it needs to be focused on testing, especially when traffic is allowed to pass through the firewall.
  • The system’s response or workflow: Social engineering gathers information on human interaction to obtain information about an organization and its computers. It is beneficial to test the respective organization’s ability to prevent unauthorized access to its information systems. Also, this test is exclusively designed for the workflow of the organization or company.

Phases of Penetration Testing

Pen testers aim to simulate attacks carried out by motivated adversaries. To do so, they typically follow a plan that includes the following steps:

What is Pen Test

1. Planning and Reconnaissance: Gather as much information about the target as possible from public and private sources to inform the attack strategy.

Sources include internet searches, domain registration information retrieval, social engineering, nonintrusive network scanning, and dumpster diving. This information helps the pen tester map out the target’s attack surface and possible vulnerabilities.

Reconnaissance can vary with the pen test’s scope and objectives and might be as simple as making a phone call to walk through a system’s functionality.

2. Scanning: The pen tester uses tools to examine the target website or system for weaknesses, including open services, application security issues, and open source vulnerabilities.

Pen testers use a variety of tools based on what they find during reconnaissance and during the test.

3. Gaining access: Attacker motivations vary from stealing, changing, or deleting data to moving funds to simply damaging the reputation.

To perform each test case, pen testers must decide on the best tools and techniques to gain access to the system, whether through a weakness, such as SQL injection, or malware, social engineering, or something else.

4. Maintaining access: Once pen testers gain access to the target, their simulated attack must stay connected long enough to accomplish their goals. It’s about demonstrating the potential impact.

5. Covering Tracks: The attacker must clear any trace of compromising the victim system, any data gathered, log events to remain anonymous.

Once an attacker has exploited one vulnerability, they may gain access to other machines, so the process repeats, i.e., looking for new vulnerabilities and exploiting them. This process is referred to as pivoting.

Penetration Testing Tools

Pen testers often use automated tools to uncover common application vulnerabilities. Penetration tools scan code to identify malicious code in applications that could result in a security breach.

Pen testing tools examine data encryption techniques and can identify hard-coded values, such as usernames and passwords, to verify security vulnerabilities in the system. Penetration testing tools should:

  • Be easy to deploy, configure and use.
  • Scan a system easily.
  • Categorize vulnerabilities based on severity that need to be fixed immediately.
  • Be capable of automating the verification of vulnerabilities.
  • Re-verify previous exploits.
  • Generate detailed vulnerability reports and logs.

Many of the most popular penetration testing tools are free or open-source software; this gives pen-testers the ability to modify or otherwise adapt the code for their own needs. Some of the most widely used free or open-source pen-testing tools include:

  1. The Metasploit Project is an open-source project owned by the security company Rapid7, which licenses full-featured versions of the Metasploit software. It collects popular penetration testing tools that can be used on servers, online-based applications and networks. Metasploit can be used to uncover security issues, to verify vulnerability mitigations and to manage security processes.
  2. Nmap or network mapper is a port scanner that scans systems and networks for vulnerabilities linked to open ports. Nmap is directed to the IP address or addresses on which the system or network to be scanned is located and then tests those systems for open ports; also, Nmap can be used to monitor host or service uptime and map network attack surfaces.
  3. w3af(Web Application Attack and Audit Framework) is an open-source web application security scanner. The project provides a vulnerability scanner and exploitation tool for Web applications. It provides information about security vulnerabilities for use in penetration testing engagements. The scanner offers a graphical user interface and a command-line interface.
  4. Wireshark is a tool for profiling network traffic and for analyzing network packets. Wireshark enables organizations to see the smaller details of the network activities taking place in their networks. This penetration tool is a network analyzer/network sniffer/network protocol analyzer that assesses network traffic vulnerabilities in real-time. Wireshark is often used to scrutinize the details of network traffic at various levels.
  5. John the Ripperincorporates different password crackers into one package, automatically identifies different types of password hashes and determines a customizable cracker. Pen testers typically use the tool to launch attacks to find password weaknesses in systems or databases.

Penetration testers use the same tools that black hat hackers use because they are well-documented and widely available and help the pen testers better understand how they can be wielded against their organizations.

Penetration Testing Methods

One important aspect of any penetration testing program is defining the scope within which the pen testers must operate. The scope defines what systems, locations, techniques and tools can be used in a penetration test. Below are several of the main pen test strategies used by security professionals, such as:

What is Pen Test

  1. Internal testing: It mimics an inside attack behind the firewall by an authorized user with standard access privileges. This testing is useful for estimating how much damage a disgruntled employee could cause.
  2. External testing: It targets a company’s externally visible servers or devices, including domain name servers, email servers, web servers or firewalls. The objective is to determine if an outside attacker can get in and how far they can get in once they’ve gained access.
  3. Targeted testing: It is performed by the organization’s IT team and the penetration testing team. It’s sometimes referred to as a “lights turned on” approach because everyone can see the test being carried out.
  4. Blind testing: Itsimulates a real attacker’s actions and procedures by severely limiting the information given to the person or team performing the test beforehand. The pen testers may only be given the name of the company. Because this test can require a considerable amount of time for reconnaissance, it can be expensive.
  5. Double-blind testing: It takes the blind test and carries it a step further. In this type of pen test, only one or two people within the organization might be aware a test is being conducted. Double-blind tests can be useful for testing an organization’s security monitoring and incident identification and response procedures.

Pen Testing Vs. Automated Testing

Pen testing is mostly a manual effort. Pen testers do use automated scanning and testing tools in the process. But they also go beyond the tools and think their way through security barriers using their knowledge of the latest attack techniques to provide more in-depth testing than a vulnerability assessment, i.e., automated testing can provide. Here are a few comparative advantages of manual pen testing and automated testing:

Manual Pen Testing

Pen testing uncovers vulnerabilities and weaknesses not found in popular lists and tests business logic that automated testing can overlook, e.g., data validation, integrity checks.

Also, a manual pen testing review can help identify false positives reported by automated testing. Manual pen testers are experts who “think” like adversaries and analyze data to target their attacks and test systems and websites in ways automated testing solutions following a scripted routine cannot.

Automated Testing

Automated testing generates results faster and needs fewer specialized professionals than a fully manual pen testing process. Automated testing tools track results automatically and can sometimes export them to a centralized reporting platform.

Also, while the results of manual pen tests might vary from test to test, running automated testing repeatedly on the same system will produce the same results.

Advantage and Disadvantage of Pen Testing

With the frequency and severity of security breaches increasing day by day, organizations have never had a greater need for visibility into how they can withstand attacks.

Regulations such as PCI DSS and HIPAA mandate periodic pen testing to remain current with their requirements. Here are some advantages and disadvantages for this type of defect discovery technique, such as:


  • It finds holes in upstream security assurance practices, such as automated tools, configuration and coding standards, architecture analysis, and other lighter-weight vulnerability assessment activities.
  • It locates both known and unknown software flaws and security vulnerabilities, including small ones that by themselves won’t raise much concern but could cause material harm as part of a complex attack pattern.
  • It can attack any system, mimicking how most malicious hackers would behave, simulating as close as possible a real-world adversary.


  • It is labor-intensive and costly.
  • It does not comprehensively prevent bugs and flaws from making their way into production.

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