A regular penetration test might help you detect severe weaknesses in your IT system. A skilled ethical hacker conducts the penetration test in a methodical and thorough manner. These six steps are essential for the successful design and execution of a penetration test. Learn more about each of the penetration testing steps in the sections below.

Six Phases of a Penetration Test

Pre-engagement contacts, also known as scoping, are an often overlooked phase in penetration testing. A penetration testing organization will define the logistics of the test, expectations, legal consequences, objectives, and goals the customer would want to achieve during this pre-phase.

Penetration testers should collaborate with your company during the Pre-Engagement phase to fully understand any risks, your corporate culture, and the appropriate pentesting strategy for your firm. You may do a white box, black box, or gray-box penetration test. It is at this stage that planning takes place, as well as connecting your goals with particular pentesting outcomes.

Gathering reconnaissance or Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is a critical initial step in penetration testing. A pentester’s job is to obtain as much information as possible about your business and prospective targets for exploitation.

Depending on the sort of pentest you choose, your penetration tester may have varying degrees of knowledge about your business or may need to find essential information on their own in order to expose vulnerabilities and entry points in your environment.

The following are examples of common intelligence collecting techniques:

  • Search engine queries
  • Domain name searches/WHOIS lookups
  • Social Engineering
  • Tax Records
  • Internet Footprinting – email addresses, usernames, social networks,
  • Internal Footprinting –Ping sweeps, port scanning, reverse DNS, packet sniffing
  • Dumpster Diving
  • Tailgating

A pentester employs a comprehensive checklist to identify open entry points and vulnerabilities within an organization. The OSINT Framework has a wealth of information on open information sources.

The tester discovers targets and maps attack paths during the threat modeling and vulnerability identification phase. During the penetration test, all information acquired during the reconnaissance phase is utilized to guide the manner of attack.

The most common areas a pentester will map and identify include:

  • Business assets – identify and categorize high-value assets
    • Employee data
    • Customer data
    • Technical data
  • Threats – identify and categorize internal and external threats
    • Internal threats – Management, employees, vendors, etc.
    • External threats – Ports, Network Protocols, Web Applications, Network Traffic, etc.

A vulnerability scanner is frequently used by a pentester to accomplish discovery and inventory of the security threats provided by detected vulnerabilities. The pentester will then determine whether or not the vulnerability is exploitable. During the reporting phase, the list of vulnerabilities is given at the end of the pentest operation.

The pentester begins testing the exploits discovered within your network, apps, and data after creating a map of all probable vulnerabilities and access points. The ethical hacker’s purpose is to see how far they can sneak into your environment, discover high-value targets, and evade detection.

If you defined scope at the outset, the pentester will only go as far as the guidelines you agreed on at the original scoping. For example, you may specify in your scope that you do not want to pentest cloud services or simulate a zero-day attack.

Among the most common exploit strategies are:

  • Web Application Attacks
  • Network Attacks
  • Memory-based attacks
  • Wi-Fi attacks
  • Zero-Day Angle
  • Physical Attacks
  • Social engineering

In addition, the ethical hacker will examine and record how vulnerabilities are exploited, as well as describe the approaches and tactics utilized to get access to high-value targets. Finally, during the exploitation phase, the ethical hacker should clearly describe the outcomes of the exploit on high-value targets.

Following the completion of the exploitation phase, the purpose is to document the tactics utilized to get access to your organization’s important information. The penetration tester should be able to estimate the worth of the compromised systems as well as the worth of any sensitive data collected.

Some penetration testers are unable to assess the effect of data access or make advice on how to remedy vulnerabilities in the environment. Request a sanitized penetration testing report with clear suggestions for closing security gaps and vulnerabilities.

After completing the penetration testing recommendations, the tester should clean up the environment, reconfigure whatever access he/she got to breach the environment, and prevent future unwanted entry into the system by all means required.

Typical cleaning tasks include:

  • Delete any executables, scripts, and temporary files from infected computers
  • Restoring settings to their original state before to the pentest
  • Removing any rootkits that may have been put in the environment
  • Delete any user accounts that were established to connect to the hacked system

Reporting is sometimes viewed as the most important element of a pentest. It is where you will receive written suggestions from the penetration testing business and have the opportunity to discuss the report’s findings with the ethical hacker (s).

The report’s findings and extensive explanations will provide you with insights and possibilities to drastically improve your security posture. The report should include how entry points were discovered during the OSINT and Threat Modeling phases, as well as how to address security concerns uncovered during the Exploitation phase.

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