What is Penetration Testing?

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Eime is a consultant at Pentest People focusing on infrastructure testing, Eime comes from a university background and has also finished our internal training course, showing great promise in the industry.

What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration Testing, also known as pen testing, is a crucial component of modern security measures. It is a proactive approach that simulates real-world attacks to identify potential security weaknesses in an organisation's network infrastructure, applications, and system. By conducting a series of controlled and authorised simulated attacks, penetration testers or ethical hackers expose vulnerabilities that could be exploited by malicious hackers.

This process helps organisations assess their security posture, identify potential security flaws, and take appropriate measures to mitigate risks. Penetration testing can be performed on various levels, including network, application, and physical access, to identify exploitable vulnerabilities and evaluate the effectiveness of existing security measures. The ultimate goal is to identify and fix security issues before they can be exploited by criminal hackers, ensuring the security and integrity of an organisation's sensitive information.

What are The Benefits of Penetration Testing?

  • Identifying vulnerabilities: By conducting penetration tests, organisations can gain valuable insights into potential security weaknesses within their systems and network infrastructure. This allows them to understand the specific areas that require immediate attention and remediation.
  • Assessing security posture: Penetration testing helps assess the overall security posture of an organization. It provides a comprehensive evaluation of the effectiveness of existing security measures, policies, and procedures. This assessment helps organisations identify areas where their security controls may be lacking or ineffective.
  •  Mitigating risks: By identifying vulnerabilities and weaknesses through penetration testing, organisations can take proactive steps to mitigate potential risks. They can implement security controls, patches, updates, and other measures to strengthen security defenses and prevent potential attacks.
  •  Compliance requirements: Penetration testing is often required for organisations to comply with industry regulations and standards, such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) or the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). By conducting penetration tests, organisations can ensure they meet these compliance requirements and avoid potential penalties or legal consequences.
  •  Building customer trust: By regularly conducting penetration tests and demonstrating a commitment to security, organisations can build trust with their customers. Customers are more likely to trust an organization that invests in regular security testing and takes proactive measures to protect their data.
  •  Cost savings: Identifying and fixing vulnerabilities through penetration testing can save organisations from potential financial losses due to data breaches or system compromises. It is much more cost-effective to proactively identify and address security issues before they can be exploited by malicious hackers.

What Should a Penetration Test Tell You?

A Penetration test, also known as a pen test, is a thorough examination of an organisation's security posture. It aims to identify security vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and potential entry points that could be exploited by malicious hackers. The key information that a penetration test should provide includes the objectives, scope, and methods used during the testing.

Penetration test objectives are usually tailored to the specific needs and goals of the organisation. They may include identifying security flaws, assessing the effectiveness of security measures, testing the security team's response capabilities, or ensuring compliance with industry standards.

The scope of a penetration test defines the systems, networks, or applications that will be tested. It is essential to identify all potential entry points into the network, such as wireless networks, network infrastructure, or physical access points. This helps to evaluate the overall attack surface and provides a comprehensive view of the organisation's security posture.

During the testing, penetration testers attempt to identify sensitive data that could be at risk of unauthorised access. This includes personally identifiable information, financial data, or intellectual property. Additionally, they may seek to escalate privileges, gaining unauthorised access to administrative accounts or resources, to assess the effectiveness of access controls.

Using Penetration Testing Effectively

Using penetration testing effectively is crucial for organisations looking to enhance their security posture and protect their sensitive data from malicious hackers. Penetration testing, or ethical hacking, involves performing simulated attacks on a network, application, or system to identify security weaknesses and vulnerabilities. By conducting these tests, security professionals can gain insights into potential threats and take appropriate measures to address them. There are various types of penetration testing, including network, application, and wireless penetration testing, each focusing on different aspects of an organisation's security.

Through a combination of vulnerability assessments, social engineering attacks, and physical penetration tests, pen testers can simulate real-world attacks and assess the effectiveness of an organisation's security measures. By uncovering exploitable vulnerabilities and providing actionable recommendations, penetration testing helps businesses identify and patch security flaws before they can be exploited by malicious actors. Ultimately, using penetration testing can significantly improve an organisation's security posture and ensure that it is adequately prepared to defend against real attacks.

What Sort of System Should be Tested?

In a penetration test, various types of systems should be tested to ensure comprehensive security assessments. This includes both operational systems consisting of products and services from multiple vendors, as well as systems and applications developed in-house.

Operational systems refer to the infrastructure in place that supports an organisation's day-to-day operations. These systems encompass a range of products and services obtained from different vendors, such as servers, routers, firewalls, and more. Penetration testing these operational systems can help identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses that may be exploited by malicious hackers.

In addition to operational systems, it is crucial to test the security of systems and applications developed in-house. These could include custom-built software applications, databases, web applications, or any other proprietary systems unique to the organisation. By subjecting these in-house systems to penetration tests, organisations can identify and address potential security flaws, reducing the risk of unauthorised access and data breaches.

Types of Testing

Penetration testing, commonly known as pen testing, is a vital process undertaken by ethical hackers to identify and exploit security vulnerabilities in a company's systems, applications, or network infrastructure. It is a proactive approach designed to mimic real-world attacks and assess the security flaws to ultimately help organisations secure their critical data and systems.

There are different types of penetration testing, each focusing on specific areas and security measures. Network testing involves evaluating the security posture of an organisation's network infrastructure, including both internal and external networks. Internal testing examines the security vulnerabilities within the internal network, which may provide an entry point for attackers with insider information or unauthorised access. External testing, on the other hand, simulates attacks from the outside, mimicking the techniques employed by criminal or malicious hackers.

Identifying and exploiting security vulnerabilities through penetration testing is crucial. It allows security professionals to understand the potential risks that an organisation's systems face and provides valuable insights into how these vulnerabilities can be mitigated. By conducting penetration tests, organisations can deter potential cyberattacks, strengthen their security measures, and safeguard their sensitive data from unauthorised access or breaches.


Targeted penetration testing is a valuable and proactive approach to ensuring the security of an organisation's systems and network infrastructure. By simulating real-world attacks, penetration testing allows security professionals to identify potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses in their security measures.

The purpose of a targeted penetration test is to provide additional assurance by thoroughly testing a specific area or aspect of an organisation's security posture. This type of testing goes beyond traditional vulnerability scanning, as it is designed to identify exploitable vulnerabilities that could be targeted by malicious hackers.

To ensure the effectiveness of a targeted penetration test, it is important to engage a qualified penetration testing team. These experts have the knowledge and experience to guide organisations through the selection and scoping process, ensuring that the test focuses on the most critical areas of concern. Their expertise enables them to mimic the tactics and techniques employed by real attackers, including social engineering attacks and attempts to gain physical access to target systems.

Penetration Testing Stages

Penetration testing, also known as ethical hacking, is a process of assessing the security of a system or network by simulating real-world attacks. This testing methodology is conducted by security professionals, known as penetration testers, who identify security vulnerabilities and weaknesses that could be exploited by unauthorised individuals.

The penetration testing process typically consists of five stages: planning, reconnaissance, scanning, gaining access, and maintaining access.

1. Planning: In this initial stage, the penetration testing team defines the objectives, scope, and limitations of the test. They collaborate with the organisation to determine the target systems and the methodology to be used.

2. Reconnaissance: During this phase, the pen testers gather information about the target organisation's infrastructure, employees, and security measures. This intelligence helps them identify potential entry points and vulnerabilities.

3. Scanning: In this stage, the penetration testers use specialised tools and techniques to scan the target systems for known vulnerabilities. They analyse network traffic, examine application behavior, and identify security flaws that could be exploited.

4. Gaining Access: In this critical phase, the pen testers attempt to exploit the identified vulnerabilities and gain unauthorised access to the target systems. They may employ various techniques, such as exploiting software vulnerabilities, social engineering attacks, or brute-forcing weak passwords.

5. Maintaining Access: Once access is gained, the penetration testers try to maintain their foothold within the system and explore further security weaknesses. This stage helps measure the resilience of the network infrastructure against persistent threats.

Penetration Testing Methods

Penetration testing, also known as pen testing or ethical hacking, is a method used by security professionals and experts to evaluate and assess the security posture of systems, applications, and network infrastructure. It involves simulated attacks and techniques to identify potential vulnerabilities and security weaknesses that could be exploited by malicious actors.

There are different methods used in penetration testing, including external testing, which focuses on assessing the security measures from outside the organisation's network. This includes scanning for open ports, vulnerability assessments, and testing wireless networks for potential weaknesses.

Another method is testing binary components, which involves examining the security features and source code of applications to identify any flaws or exploitable vulnerabilities. This method is particularly useful in identifying potential security issues in software applications.

Penetration testers also use real-world attack scenarios and social engineering techniques to test the organisation's security posture. This could involve attempting to gain unauthorised physical access to the premises, conducting phishing attacks to deceive employees, or targeting specific employees to exploit security measures.

What are The Types of Penetration Testing Tools

  • Metasploit: A penetration testing tool used for developing, testing, and executing exploit code against a remote target machine. It includes a wide range of fully customizable exploits, as well as an extensive database of known vulnerabilities. Metasploit is crucial in identifying potential entryways and vulnerabilities in a target system, allowing penetration testers to simulate real-world attacks and assess the system's security posture.
  •  Kali Linux: This specialised operating system is designed for penetration testing and is equipped with a wide range of tools for network and web application penetration testing, forensics, and reverse engineering. Kali Linux is essential for penetration testers as it provides a robust platform for conducting comprehensive security assessments and identifying vulnerabilities in target systems.
  • John the Ripper: A widely used credential-cracking tool that is capable of uncovering weak passwords through a variety of methods, including dictionary attacks and brute force techniques. This tool is important for penetration testers as it helps in identifying and exploiting weak or default credentials that could be used as entryways into a target system.
  •  Nmap: A powerful port scanner that is used to discover hosts and services on a computer network, thus creating a map of the network. Nmap is essential in the penetration testing process as it enables testers to identify open ports, services running on those ports, and potential entry points into the target system.
  •  Nessus: A widely-used vulnerability scanner that identifies potential security risks in a network. Nessus is important for penetration testers as it helps in identifying and prioritizing vulnerabilities, allowing them to understand the potential attack surface of the target system and take necessary actions to mitigate these risks.

How Does Pentesting Differ From Automated Testing?

While penetration testing and automated testing are methods used to identify system vulnerabilities, there are critical differences between the two approaches.

  • Scope: Penetration testing typically involves a more comprehensive assessment of the system's security posture. It includes the use of manual techniques, real-world attack scenarios, and social engineering to simulate how an actual attacker would exploit vulnerabilities.
  • One key difference between penetration and automated testing is the scope of assessment. Penetration testing involves a more comprehensive evaluation of an organization's security measures. It utilises manual techniques, real-world attack scenarios, and social engineering to simulate how an actual attacker would exploit vulnerabilities. In contrast, automated testing relies on predefined scripts or tools to scan for known vulnerabilities and assess system weaknesses.
  • Another distinction lies in the level of human involvement. Penetration testing requires skilled professionals who deeply understand security vulnerabilities and can think creatively to find new ways to exploit them. These professionals conduct the tests manually, making real-time decisions based on their findings.

On the other hand, automated testing relies solely on predefined scripts or tools that scan for known vulnerabilities. While this approach is efficient and can cover many vulnerabilities in a shorter time, it lacks the human judgment and creativity to uncover unique vulnerabilities that automated tools may miss. 

What Should Good Penetration Testing Include?

Good penetration testing should include identifying potential entry points into a system or network, attempting to exploit these entry points to gain access, and checking for the presence of sensitive data. This process involves thorough reconnaissance and scanning to understand the organisation's attack surface and identify potential vulnerabilities. Once potential vulnerabilities are identified, the penetration test should include attempts to exploit these vulnerabilities to gain unauthorised access and escalate privileges within the network.

A comprehensive assessment of an organisation's attack surface should include identifying all potential entry points, such as web applications, network devices, and employee endpoints. Gaining full control over the network involves exploiting these entry points to establish a foothold within the network and then moving laterally to gain access to sensitive data and escalate privileges across multiple systems. A good penetration testing engagement should thoroughly test an organisation's security posture and provide actionable recommendations to improve overall security.

How Often Should Pen Tests Be Performed?

Pen testing frequency depends on several key factors, including company size, budget, and industry regulations. For small to mid-sized organisations with limited resources, conducting pen tests annually or bi-annually may be sufficient. Larger companies with more complex networks and greater risk exposure may opt for quarterly or even monthly pen tests. Budget constraints can also impact testing frequency, as more frequent tests typically require a larger investment. Industries that are heavily regulated, such as finance or healthcare, may have specific requirements for pen testing frequency that need to be followed.

Events that should trigger a security test include any major system upgrades or changes, incidents of security breaches or suspected breaches, expansion into new markets or geographies, or changes in regulatory requirements. Additionally, any significant increase in cyber threats or vulnerabilities should prompt an organisation to schedule a pen test. By considering these factors, organizations can effectively determine the appropriate frequency for conducting pen tests to ensure the ongoing security of their systems and data.

Penetration Testing and Web Application Firewalls

Penetration testing and web application firewalls (WAFs) are two distinct yet mutually beneficial security measures to protect sensitive data and systems. Penetration testing is a proactive approach that simulates real-world attacks on a network, application, or system to identify security weaknesses and vulnerabilities. On the other hand, WAFs act as a protective shield by filtering and monitoring network traffic to detect and block malicious activities.

While penetration testing aims to uncover weak spots in a system, WAFs contribute significantly by providing valuable data that helps focus the tests on critical areas. Penetration testers leverage the information provided by the WAF to locate potential entry points, exploit vulnerabilities, and gain unauthorised access to target systems. By working together, these security measures comprehensively evaluate an organisation's security posture.

Moreover, WAF administrators can benefit from the findings of a penetration test to update their configurations and strengthen the defence mechanisms of their WAFs. This ensures that the WAF can effectively mitigate potential threats identified during the test. Additionally, penetration testing satisfies compliance requirements by helping organisations meet industry regulations and standards.


What Are the Types of Pen Tests?

Penetration testing, also known as ethical hacking, is a proactive approach to identifying security vulnerabilities in an organisation's systems, applications, networks, or infrastructure. There are several different types of penetration tests, each with its own purpose and unique aspects. The most common are:

  • External Penetration Test: External tests simulate attacks from the outside, targeting public-facing systems such as websites, servers, and network devices. The goal is to identify vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers trying to gain unauthorised access.
  • Internal Penetration Test: Internal tests evaluate the security posture of an organisation's internal network and systems. This type of test assesses the potential risk posed by insider threats and helps identify vulnerabilities that could be exploited by an attacker who has gained internal network access.

What Happens in the Aftermath of a Pen Test?

In the aftermath of a penetration test, several necessary steps are typically taken to ensure the security of the system or network that was tested. The results of the test are thoroughly analysed by security professionals to identify any vulnerabilities or weaknesses that were discovered. Based on these findings, recommendations for improving security measures are made. These recommendations may include patching software, updating security policies, or implementing additional security measures. It is important to address any issues that were identified during the penetration test to prevent potential security breaches in the future.

Regular follow-up assessments may also be conducted to ensure that the recommended security measures have been effectively implemented and to identify any new vulnerabilities that may arise. Penetration testing plays a crucial role in maintaining the security posture of an organisation by proactively identifying and addressing security flaws before real-world attackers can exploit them. By conducting regular penetration tests and taking appropriate action in response to the findings, organisations can better protect their networks, systems, and sensitive data from unauthorised access and other security threats.

Frequently asked questions

The frequently asked questions section addresses common inquiries about penetration testing. Penetration testing is a proactive approach to identifying security weaknesses in an organisation's IT infrastructure by simulating real-world cyber attacks. It differs from a vulnerability scan, as the former involves actively exploiting vulnerabilities to assess the potential impact. The process typically involves reconnaissance, scanning, exploitation, maintaining access, and analysis. Common tools used include Nmap, Metasploit, and Burp Suite. The frequency of conducting penetration tests depends on the organisation's risk profile, with annual testing being the minimum recommendation.

Utilising a CREST-certified penetration testing company is crucial as it ensures that the testing is conducted by qualified professionals who adhere to industry best practices. CREST certification guarantees the technical capabilities and ethical standards of the company, providing assurance of the quality and integrity of the testing process.

Speak to the Experts

The best way to ensure that a penetration test is conducted correctly and gives accurate results is to enlist the help of experienced security professionals. Working with an experienced team of security experts can allow organisations to identify even the most difficult-to-detect vulnerabilities while also ensuring that any recommended measures are implemented effectively to protect against future attacks.

Here at Pentest People, we provide a range of Penetration Testing Services for each business, tailored to their needs.

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