In this age of the internet where almost every business is being operated through web apps and mobile apps. Cyber threats are an imminent risk to all kinds of businesses. Whether you are a social media website that stores users profile data, an insurance company that stores users’ credentials, a bank that stores online transactions or an e-commerce website that stores product, and customer information there is always a chance that someone is interested in your data and they might try to steal it one way or the other. And data, as we all know, is the new gold. So to protect yourself from these malicious attacks and hackers your company needs a regular cybersecurity audit.

Penetration testing is a crucial part of this audit. By definition, Penetration testing means an authorized attack on your system to identify all kinds of vulnerabilities and suggest a good fix for them. The cybersecurity world is an ever-changing one where new types of attacks and vulnerabilities in systems are introduced almost every day. Cybercriminals are always on the lookout for new ways to gain control of systems and exploit them to extract crucial data or harm the system itself. The recent Ransomware attack is the new kind of attack where the attacker encrypts all your data and demands ransom within a set period of time or the data gets erased permanently. To protest against all these attack vectors your system must be foolproof and penetration testing is the means to find weaknesses in systems to make it foolproof.

What does penetration testing entail and what are its different phases? It’s kind of a simulated cybersecurity attack on your system that is conducted by a third party that’s been authorized by you. Its goal is to attack your system as though a hacker would and find out any vulnerabilities and propose a fix for them. There are fundamentally two kinds of penetration tests: one is the external penetration test and the other is the internal penetration test. Both of these tests are used to test different aspects of your system.

The external penetration test entails attacking your system from off-site and trying to gain access to the servers and databases of your website. It includes:

  • Testing of Client or host authentication.
  • Testing of cryptographic encryptions of your site e.g. SSL encryption.
  • Testing of Domain logic.
  • Testing of Identity Management.
  • Testing of Client-side credentials and user profile logins.
  • Testing of Session management.
  • Testing of Input validation.
  • Social engineering
  • Employee credentials gathering
  • Error handling testing

All these tests target the sides of your system that are exposed to the internet itself. Your web application, company’s website, domain name server and denial of service issues, etc. The next step is to check how much further is it possible to go in your system and this is where the internal penetration test comes in.

The internal penetration test entails attacking your system after gaining initial access from external penetration testing. It often includes testing your system from inside. That is physically gaining access to your system and then trying to get as deep as possible. This test determines the security of your internal network, local servers, and your wireless network. This test includes the following stress tests on the internal architecture of your system:
  • Testing of firewall and ACL (access control lists).
  • Testing your database system for vulnerabilities.
  • Testing your networking equipment’s weak points.
  • Testing and scanning the system for Trojans and other malware.
  • Password strength testing
  • Scanning all the ports to see which can be easily accessed through an external test.
  • Testing the configuration settings of the network host.
  • Testing the app and the API code of your system. Application Programming Interface or API is the biggest asset of your system that needs protection because it enables developers to gain access and integrate your services in their own applications. And if the API code is flawed in some way, it may allow a malicious attacker to gain unintended privileges in your system.
There are different strategies that are in common use in all kinds of penetration testing. These include:
  • Black box penetration test: In this test, no prior information about the system is given to the auditor and he has to work on his own to figure out the best way to attack your system. It best simulates the real-world situation where a hacker might not know much about your system.
  • White box penetration test: In this strategy, the auditor knows all about your system architecture and tries to figure out ways to reverse engineer it in order to gain access.
  • Gray box penetration test: This lies in the conjunction of both black and white box penetration tests.
The process of a penetration test includes different stages that simulate the cases of an attacker trying to get his way in your system. These include:
  • Reconnaissance: This involves gathering information about your system. For instance, gathering data for a social engineering scenario, etc.
  • Scanning: This involves scanning the websites and servers for open ports or services and vulnerabilities that can be exploited.
  • Gain access: This step is the actual attack phase where the prior gathered information is used to exploit the systems’ vulnerabilities and gain access to the servers and databases.
  • Maintaining access: This is the process of sustaining the gained access for as long as the person attacking the system requires.

Why is penetration testing important for your business? Simply, it is the only way to secure yourself against any kind of future attacks and identifying zero-day exploits before they can be used for malicious intents. Besides the security of your system penetration testing is important for achieving various international standards e.g. GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), ISO 27001, and PCI DSS standards.

The penetration test should be done on a regular basis. But it’s most important to do it when deploying new features and services to your business. All kinds of businesses that involve a constant change in their system architecture need to be tested alongside every change. This ensures that the changes in the system don’t make your whole system vulnerable.

The best way to get your system is to hire third-party professionals to do the job for you. Our company has the best professionals for this job. We hire offensive security certified professionals (OSCP) to audit your systems and help you identify future threats and propose a definite solution for them.

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