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Penetration tests are cybersecurity exercises that help organizations prepare for malicious hacking attacks on their systems. Organizations use pen tests to pinpoint vulnerabilities and improve network security. Learn about the stages, methods, and tools of penetration testing — then protect your home network with Avast One, an all-encompassing security solution.
A penetration test (or pen test) is an authorized simulated attack that organizations perform on their computer systems or networks to evaluate their security. Penetration testers aim to uncover vulnerabilities using the same tools, techniques, and processes that hackers use. By exposing existing cybersecurity weaknesses, pen tests help reduce the risks of malicious cyber attacks.
Penetration testing results provide valuable insights into where security flaws lie in a system and what their effects might be. That information can be used to improve network security and better anticipate future hacking attacks.
There are five stages in penetration testing:
Reconnaissance: The pen tester gathers important information about the system to plan the scope of the attack.
Scanning: Technical tools are used to analyze the system and probe for vulnerabilities. Scanning helps to tailor an attack according to the features of the targeted system.
Vulnerability assessment: With info gathered from the previous stages, the pen tester uses a penetration testing tool to check for weaknesses to exploit in the targeted system.
Exploitation: To simulate advanced persistent threats and gain maximum insight, the pen tester hacks into the system, exploiting the uncovered vulnerabilities while remaining undetected for as long as possible.
Reporting: With security data gathered, the tester leaves the targeted system. If the aim is to remain anonymous, evidence of compromising the system must be cleared. The pen tester then reports the exploited system vulnerabilities to the organization whose system was targeted
After penetration testing is complete, the pen tester compiles the results into a detailed report. This report may include information about the vulnerabilities found and exploited, the data accessed, and how long the tester was able to remain undetected. The report is then used to shore up network deficiencies and strengthen server security.
Pen testing methods can vary. Different penetration testing methods simulate different attack vectors. Organizations use the results from pen tests to improve their system against attacks that exploit security vulnerabilities that had previously been unknown.
Here are the types of penetration testing methods:
Internal: A pen tester with network access simulates an attack by someone within the organization. This could be a rogue employee or someone whose credentials were stolen via phishing.
External: These tests target aspects of an organization that are easily found online, through a company website, its app, or email addresses and domain name servers (DNS).
Blind: In a blind pen test, a tester is given only the name of the targeted organization — they have to find an exploit from there. This type of test shows the organization how their network could be attacked by someone with almost no information to begin with.
Double Blind: An organization’s security personnel are not given advanced knowledge of the pen test. This better simulates assaults, like zero-day attacks, which exploit unknown vulnerabilities and occur without warning.
Targeted: Penetration testers and security personnel inform each other of their movements. This gives an organization a play-by-play of how cracking attacks and other threats to their network are staged and conducted.
Penetration testers, or pen testers, perform simulated cyberattacks on a company’s computer systems and networks. These authorized tests help identify security weaknesses before malicious hackers can exploit them. Companies may hire ethical hackers to probe and test their systems to find vulnerabilities and other weaknesses.
Penetration tests simulate a cyberattack to help organizations identify weaknesses in their systems and shore up their network security.
Ethical hacking involves breaching or gaining access to a targeted network with permission in order to find security flaws within a computer system, application, or data. Ethical hackers, white hat hackers, and penetration testers use strategies similar to those used by malicious hackers, but they aim to do good with their security skills.
There are a number of security assessment tools available that assist with penetration testing. As with other cybersecurity tests, some security pen testing tools are free, while the more feature-rich options are commercial software.
Here are the top penetration testing tools:
John the Ripper
Penetration testing is critical to organizational security because it helps businesses find weaknesses in their networks. That lets them improve their security and protect against future cyber attacks that could result in identity theft, data leaks, or ransomware infections.
And just as organizations need to stay secure, so too do individuals need to protect their own devices. Avast One is a comprehensive cybersecurity tool that provides industry-leading protection against malware, unsafe networks, and the array of other online security threats. Install Avast One today — completely free.