Penetration Testing Methodologies

Liam Follin

Senior Consultant

Liam is one of the senior consultants at Pentest People, with a wide range of skills and experience from Web Applications to Social Engineering he's able to give great comments and opinions on cybersecurity matters.

What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration Testing, by definition, is “A method for gaining assurance in the security of an IT system by attempting to breach some or all of that system’s security, using the same tools and techniques as an adversary might.”

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The Purpose of Penetration Testing Methodologies

The key purpose of Penetration Testing is to find and exploit vulnerabilities in a system before an attacker does. By doing this, organisations can determine the risks associated with these vulnerabilities and take steps to mitigate them. The three key purposes of penetration testing methodologies are to provide consistency, address vulnerabilities and provide an in-depth aspect to testing.

Choosing a Penetration Testing Methodology

When it comes to choosing a penetration testing methodology, there are several factors to consider. One of the first things to think about is the scope of the test – what systems or networks will be included in the testing? Understanding the goals and objectives of the test will help determine which methodology is most appropriate.

Some common penetration testing methodologies include:

  • Black Box Testing : This is where the tester has no prior knowledge of the system being tested. This simulates an attacker with no inside information about the target.
  • White Box Testing: In contrast to Black Box Testing, White Box Testing involves having full knowledge of the system being tested. This allows for a more thorough analysis of vulnerabilities.
  • Grey Box Testing: Grey Box Testing combines elements of both Black and White Box Testing. Testers have partial knowledge of the system, allowing for a more realistic assessment of vulnerabilities.
  • External Testing: This type of testing focuses on external facing systems, such as websites or servers accessible from the internet.
  • Internal Testing: Internal testing involves testing systems within an organisation's internal network, simulating an insider threat.
  • Targeted Testing: Targeted testing focuses on specific systems or applications that are known to be high-risk or critical to the organization.
  • Social Engineering: This methodology involves testing the human element of security by attempting to manipulate individuals within an organization to divulge sensitive information.
  • Red Team vs. Blue Team: Red Team Testing involves simulating a real-world attack scenario, while Blue Team Testing focuses on defending against these attacks in real-time.

Evolving Penetration Testing Standards and Methods

As technology continues to advance, so too do the methods and standards for conducting penetration testing. The industry is constantly evolving to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of cyber threats. One of the key drivers behind this evolution is the need for more comprehensive and realistic testing methodologies.

Organisations are now looking beyond traditional penetration testing methods and are incorporating more advanced techniques such as threat intelligence, machine learning, and artificial intelligence into their testing processes. These advanced techniques allow for a more holistic approach to security testing, taking into account not only technical vulnerabilities but also the human element of security.

In addition, there is a growing emphasis on compliance with regulatory standards and frameworks when conducting penetration testing. Many industries now have specific requirements for security testing, and organisations must ensure that their penetration testing methodologies align with these standards to remain compliant.

Overall, the key to successful penetration testing is choosing the right methodology for the specific needs of the organisation. By understanding the goals and objectives of the test, as well as considering factors such as scope, level of knowledge, and type of systems being tested, organisations can ensure that their penetration testing efforts are effective in identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities before malicious actors exploit them.

As technology continues to evolve, so too must penetration testing methodologies in order to stay ahead of cyber threats and protect sensitive data and systems. By staying current with industry standards and incorporating advanced techniques into their testing processes, organisations can ensure that they are effectively addressing potential security risks and safeguarding their assets.

Top Three Penetration Testing Methodologies

There are three main types of penetration testing methodologies: OSSTMM, OWASP and NIST.

OSSTMM

The Open Source Security Testing Methodology Manual, also known as OSSTMM is a methodology that covers multiple types of security testing from social engineering to network security. It is developed and maintained by the institute for security and open methodologies. (ISECOM)

The OWASP Web Security Testing Guide (WSTG) is a comprehensive guide for testing web application security which has developed in collaboration with a large range of volunteers within the industry. Whilst primarily known for Web Application Security, OWASP also offers guides on mobile security testing and firmware testing.

In 2008, NIST released the special publication (SP)800-115 a ‘Technical Guide to Information Security Testing and Assessment’. This document focuses primarily on infrastructure testing and provides a guide to the basic aspects of conducting security assessments.

When it comes to choosing a penetration testing methodology, organisations must consider their specific needs and objectives. Each methodology offers unique benefits and focuses on different areas of security testing.

The OSSTMM methodology is comprehensive in its coverage of various security testing types, from social engineering to network security. Developed by the Institute for Security and Open Methodologies (ISECOM), this methodology provides a holistic approach to security testing that can help organisations identify vulnerabilities across different aspects of their systems.

OWASP

On the other hand, the OWASP methodology is particularly well-suited for organisations looking to test the security of their web applications. With a focus on web application security, this methodology provides a detailed guide for testing various aspects of web applications to ensure they are secure from common vulnerabilities.

Lastly, the NIST methodology is ideal for organisations looking to conduct infrastructure testing. This methodology provides a technical guide to information security testing and assessment, focusing on the basic aspects of security assessments for infrastructure components.

Ultimately, the choice of penetration testing methodology will depend on the specific needs and objectives of the organisation. By selecting the right methodology and incorporating advanced techniques into their testing processes, organisations can ensure that they are effectively identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities to protect their sensitive data and systems from potential cyber threats.

Choosing the right penetration testing methodology is crucial for the success of the test and ensuring that vulnerabilities are identified and mitigated effectively. Each methodology offers specific benefits and focuses on different areas of security testing, so organisations must carefully consider their goals and objectives before selecting a methodology.

The OSSTMM methodology, developed by ISECOM, covers a wide range of security testing types, including social engineering and network security. This comprehensive approach can help organisations identify vulnerabilities across different aspects of their systems.

On the other hand, the OWASP methodology is well-suited for organisations focused on web application security. With a detailed guide for testing web applications, this methodology helps ensure that common vulnerabilities are identified and addressed.

For organisations looking to conduct infrastructure testing, the NIST methodology provides a technical guide for information security testing and assessment. This methodology focuses on the basic aspects of security assessments for infrastructure components.

Choosing the right penetration testing methodology is essential for organizations to effectively identify and mitigate vulnerabilities in their systems. By considering their specific needs and objectives, organisations can select a methodology that aligns with their goals and helps ensure the security of their data and systems. 

Our Penetration Testing Methodologies at Pentest People

Here at Pentest People we use a variety of methodologies, with aspects of Web Application testing and using OWASP. Solely for infrastructure testing, we use NIST. As well as following the general methodologies, we as a business put a spin on aspects to provide a more in-depth overview of vulnerabilities of Penetration Testing.

 

Video/Audio Transcript

I'd say the main purpose is to provide consistency in assessments. So basically, so you're at least addressing I mean as a set of vulnerabilities, but there's quite a lot of variation methodologies as a whole to provide a more in depth aspect. So there's a variety of methodologies available, the top three R or S S, T mm OWASP on nest. So at pentest people we use a variety of methodologies we take into consideration methodologies like or Wasp in aspects, so webapp testing, and more so, NIST for infrastructure assessments, but we also have our own little spin on assessments to provide a more in depth overview of vulnerabilities on a penetration test. I hope that provides a good overview of methodologies in penetration Testing.