What Is Network Penetration Testing – Guide

With an alarming rise in safety incidents and data breach cases, the necessity for proper security measures has become a must for almost every organization. And network protection is one of the crucial components of the entire security pyramid, requiring a solid approach and attention. As a result, the cyber security industry constantly gives birth to various companies and professionals focusing on vulnerability assessment and providing up-to-date solutions to businesses. 

A comprehensive penetration testing helps businesses breathe deeply and regain peace of mind knowing that their network infrastructure is safe and sound and daily operations can be carried out without any disruption.

This article will review the most effective ways to perform a successful penetration test. So, grab a cup of coffee, and let’s begin.

How Does Network Penetration Testing Work? 

Penetration testing is a general method businesses use for performing security testing on network systems. Pen tests cover a variety of guides and methodologies designed to assess an entire system and identify potential vulnerabilities, security weaknesses, and bugs that can lead to security exploits. 

In simple words, pentesting involves a set of simulated attacks similar to those a hacker can use while trying to launch an attack on a system’s network, attached devices, or applications. This real-world simulation aims to discover security issues and vulnerable spots before hackers can get the hang of them.

In addition, a pen test process will inform the companies where the weaknesses exist in the security model and prevent data breaches ensuring network security. Due to it, businesses can achieve a balance between continuous functions in terms of potential exploits and the best network security possible.

Benefits of Network Penetration Tests

The primary function of a pentest is not merely limited to identifying and listing vulnerabilities and security issues. A successfully performed network penetration testing will surely grant you more benefits and advantages in different business aspects.

So, let’s go on and explore some of them below.

  • Data Protection: The core concern of every organization is the security and protection of sensitive data, confidential information, and private records that the company holds. And it also should be the number one purpose of any network penetration test. The vulnerability assessment helps the companies guard against possible network and data breaches by determining the possible intrusion level. 
  • Overall Security Posture: Be it the entire structure of your business, newly released applications, or sensitive information, network penetration tests always ensure that no overlooked vulnerability can compromise your integrity. That’s why website vulnerability assessments and network security pen tests should be an indispensable part of any new initiatives, especially when managing essential data. Several examples of such flaws are security misconfigurations, SQL Injection, outdated software, and malware.
  • Compliance Requirements: There are several regulations and protocols in the industry that insist on pentesting services no matter the business sector. One such example can be data security for the payment card industry, which requires proper penetration tests to protect customers’ sensitive information.
  • Constant Maintenance: Consistent network pen tests are best to ensure the network system’s long-term security and business continuity. A pen tester also looks over the business network’s security controls during the process, including layered security, firewall, encryption processes, etc. 

Network Penetration Testing Methodology

Several stages are involved in the network penetration testing process. Let’s go through each of them and see what’s included in the process of every step.

#1 Information Gathering 

The planning and information gathering phase is the most critical phase of a successful network penetration test. At this point, pentesters gather all possible information and data needed for further stages, including business network specifications, different cases of network usage, and other similar documentation.

Later, depending on the collected materials and company goals, the security team determines the methodology of the upcoming penetration test process and drafts an initial plan of further activities.

The network penetration test plan generally outlines the primary components that need to be evaluated, the type of pentesting, appropriate tools and techniques, and short-term and long-term objectives that the business aims to achieve.

#2 Discovery and Reconnaissance

After gathering all required information and data, security experts move on to the next step of the pentesting – reconnaissance. This strategy refers to the analysis of the system through simulated web application attacks to find out potential weaknesses and loopholes available for the average hacker manipulations.

Reconnaissance typically has two aspects:

  1. Technical Aspect: Security professionals lookout for internal vulnerabilities in peripherals, network ports, and other related software that could allow malicious hackers to gain access to a network system. 
  2. Social Aspect: Currently, social engineering vulnerabilities are the common phishing scams for stealing login credentials to gain unauthorized access. And it is precisely where these types of tests can be used to increase company employees’ awareness to avoid future attacks and gain knowledge about the general safety status of the entire system.

The penetration tester uses the results of the reconnaissance strategy to perform live tests and dynamic analysis in the discovery phase with customized or pre-recorded scripts for identifying existing issues.

Generally, one script equals one identified issue. That’s why multiple scripts may be required for completing the whole process. 

#3 Exploitation 

In this phase, it’s time when penetration testers can already begin testing the detected exploits in the network devices and IT systems, leveraging the obtained information from previous stages.

The function of exploitation refers to gaining access to the network environment by avoiding detection and discovering entry points through various cyber security tools.

#4 Reporting and Presentation 

The network professionals sum up the entire penetration testing process with reporting. They provide companies with a detailed and thorough technical report covering all identified vulnerabilities, security flaws, entry points of the exploited system, a strategy plan for solving the issues, and a list of appropriate preventive measures.

Depending on the pentesting firm or professional, the provided services can also include further monitoring and retesting.

Network Penetration Test Types 

Every system and project has unique characteristics and requirements, and hence, different types of penetration tests can be used during the process. However, the below-listed tests can sometimes be mixed and performed in combination. 

Black Box Testing 

A black box eating is performed without prior knowledge of network functions and their technical features. Therefore, the pen test works by fully comprehensively exploring the project’s network to perform a pointed attack.

Generally, this is one of the most realistic types of cyber attacks and is mainly preferred by businesses that handle the most sensitive data and confidential information. Some black box testing tools include Applitools, Selenium, and Microsoft Coded UI.

White Box Testing

White Box testing is a network penetration test performed from the complete opposite position of black-box testing. Here, security experts collect all possible data about the network system and security controls, identify vulnerabilities, and point to the specified security vulnerabilities to evoke a response. 

This kind of network security assessment can be considered a final run-through that businesses can use as an audit to ensure the system’s invulnerability to the most severe hacking attack. Several examples of white testing tools include GoogleTest, Veracode, and any other vulnerability scanner.

Gray Box Testing 

The functions and features of gray box tests are somewhere between black and white testing. For example, it covers simulated attacks to find out the issues a system can face in such situations as stolen login credentials like user privileges or technical documents.

Some well-known tools designed for gray testing are Burp Suite, Postman, and JUnit.

FAQ Section 

What is a penetration testing example?

You can find various examples and forms of pen-testing. Some of the most popular ones include social engineering penetration testing, physical pen testing, web application penetration testing, etc.
Each concentrates on a focused area and uses different approaches and methodologies. 

What are the five stages of penetration testing?

Typically, the network penetration testing process goes through five stages: Planning and Information Gathering, Discovery, Exploitation, Gaining and Maintaining Access, and Reporting. 

What are the two types of penetration testing?

The two types of network penetration testing include external and internal pen test methods.
External penetration tests mainly focus on internet-facing infrastructure, while internal tests target assets inside the corporate networks.