Penetration testing has been an old, but still widely used technique used to test network security over the years. However, its importance has diminished somewhat with the advent of more cost-efficient alternatives such as vulnerability assessment and visual testing. By no means is penetration testing an easy task. There are several complex steps involved before a test can be successful. Below are three common methods used in penetration testing.
Black-box Penetration Testing: The classic form of penetration testing involves “black-boxing” – i.e., attempting to determine the security vulnerability without understanding the inner workings of the targeted system or program. Typically, penetration testers utilize a specialized tool to perform this task – a virtual machine, for example. In order to carry out a “penetration test,” penetration testers must first create a custom, isolated development environment in which to perform the test. They then install the targeted program and allow it to run under certain restrictions such as not installing any executable files or using any ports by themselves. Executable files and ports are used because they allow the programmer or hacker to determine what kind of functionality the vulnerable system or program may offer.
The purpose of a black-box penetration testing procedure is to find the smallest and greatest degree of security hole. A good pen tester will be able to find this without necessarily knowing anything about the system or program he’s testing. Pen testers often use several different techniques such as stack-over-scan, boundary verification, oracle recovery, and/or protocol verification to isolate potential problems. Another popular technique that penetration testers often use is to determine if a program is vulnerable based on what it contains and on how it was written. This method is called code analysis testing and is extremely effective in finding security issues.
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In order to do this, testers have to understand what the vulnerability is, why it’s there and how to reproduce it. While ethical hackers may be willing to pay for this information, the cost to a business or company is usually prohibitive. For this reason, testers commonly create mock or fake data to try to simulate a vulnerability. Sometimes the data will be completely legitimate and other times it will be fraudulent. Regardless of whether the data is real or fake, the tester must determine what method works best to exploit the vulnerability.
Once the tester has performed his or her penetration testing and understands what methods work best, he or she must determine which issues he or she should report to a company or network security company. Often pen testing techniques will generate enough concern that the software vendor will contact the developer and request that he or she remove the vulnerability. However, there is no guarantee that the company will actually remove the vulnerability. If a web application security testing method causes a web application to stop accepting network connections, the vendor may contact the developer and request that he remove the application until a fix can be made.
There are a number of different reasons that a web application security testing technique may cause an external penetration testing provider to request code or source code from the attacked system in order to reproduce the vulnerability. The purpose of phishing attacks is to expose the user to harmful adware, spyware, and viruses. The attack is typically executed by executing a spoofed web browser on a victim’s machine, where the attacker can install a working copy of the software or carry out other harmful activities. This is commonly referred to as “phishing”. The goal of an external penetration testing provider is to not only find vulnerabilities in a web application, but also to understand how a business owner may attempt to defend against these attacks.