A penetration test, or pen-test, is a planned attack on a network, hardware, or software system, intending to expose security defects that may violate systems integrity and compromise valued data. Although there are different types of penetration testing, they all aim to exploit vulnerabilities and weaknesses to test the effectiveness of the safety measure in place.

penetration testing

The different types of penetration testing are derived from the kind of operation that one wishes to explore on a specific system. It is vital for security testers to know precisely what they want to test or what their testing goals are in order to decide the most relevant test to use.

What is the Purpose of a Penetration Test?

Pen testers use this test to look at the weakness in an IT infrastructure closely. Pen test tools determine the effectiveness of security software, hardware, and cybersecurity policies. The tests aim at establishing whether or not a hacker can successfully evade IT security defenses.

A pen test can be performed internally or externally. Once the test reveals any weak spots or risks, the tester can choose to safely exploit the weaknesses in the system and work on them or give a detailed report to the relevant parties.

Types of Penetration Testing

There are several types of penetration testing, and not all of them are equal. The result of using each test varies according to the amount of information the tester is given. Some tests include cloud penetration testing, web application testing, external and internal network pen testing, physical pen testing, and online website pen testing.

Carrying out different tests will give you a clear view of how secure the network or systems are. This will allow you to evaluate every gateway that a hacker can use to find or access secure information.

Here are some of the types of penetration testing that you can use.

1. Social Engineering Tests

Cybersecurity systems are as strong as the weakest link. Unfortunately, employees or users can easily make mistakes that can compromise security. Social engineering is one of the common ways that internal hackers use to infiltrate a system.

Social Engineering

These tests include remote tests, which are intended to trick an employee into compromising an organization’s data through electronic means, and physical tests, which involve direct contact with employees in a bid to get confidential information from them.

Testers can conduct remote tests using a phishing email campaign and physical tests using intimidation, eavesdropping, manipulation, dumpster diving, imitation, or other tactics. It is vital to inform the management team before conducting a social engineering test.

If employees fail a social engineering test, the management can offer cybersecurity and policies training to sensitize them of such risks and make them aware of their role in cybersecurity.

2. Network Penetration Testing

This type of penetration testing is one of the most popular pen test methods, partly because it can be carried out remotely and on-site. This test aims to discover weaknesses within a network infrastructure. Because networks have both internal and external access points, they are very vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

Notably, leaving the vulnerabilities unsecured can lead to a disastrous breach. This test includes:

  • FTP client/server tests
  • Router testing
  • SSH attacks
  • Application penetration testing
  • Network vulnerabilities
  • Bypassing firewalls
  • Proxy servers
  • Open port scanning and testing
  • DNS foot printing
  • IPS/IDS evasion

Testers can exploit applications such as languages, oracle, java, web applications, MySQL, PHP. XML, .NET, connections, CRM systems, APIs, mobile applications, financial, and HR systems to test the effectiveness of the firewall in place. Testers identify internet-facing assets that a hacker can exploit and assess if unauthorized users can gain access to the system through external networks.

3. Wireless Network Tests

This test checks the security of all wireless devices within an organization. The test is detailed and targeted and can involve several devices like laptops, smartphones, and tablets. The methodology involved in wireless tests are used to:

  • Discover encryption weaknesses like wireless sniffing and session hijacking
  • Identify all signal leakages, WI-Fi networks, and wireless fingerprinting
  • Identify user profiles and the credentials used to access private networks
  • Find weaknesses in wireless protocols, admin credentials, and wireless access points
  • Identify ways through which hackers can use to penetrate a system using WLAN access control or wireless access
  • Look for default or poorly used passwords
  • Find unauthorized hotspots
  • Identify Denial of Service (DoS) attacks
  • Identify cross-site scripting

Testers look for these and more vulnerabilities and use the right methods of ensuring a robust security system.

4. Website Testing

Website tests are detailed, targeted, and intense types of penetration testing. They apply to areas like browsers, web applications, and their components, such as Plug-ins, ActiveX, and Applets.

Fraud Prevention

Website tests examine the endpoints of web apps that users interact with frequently. Therefore, the test needs a lot of planning and time. The increase of cybersecurity and threats has also influenced the growth of website tests.

5. Physical Pen Testing

Physical security protocols can be a gateway to breaches and cyberattacks. This test helps to determine how easily a cybercriminal can access or attempt to gain access to a facility. Physical testing includes:

  • Vendor or personnel impersonation
  • RFID & door entry systems
  • Motion Sensors
  • Lock-picking

During physical penetration tests, a pen tester can manipulate or deceive an employee to gain physical access to the facility.

6. Cloud Penetration Testing

Today, public cloud services are very popular. Private users, employees, and organizations use cloud systems to store or backup all types of data in the cloud. Unfortunately, this makes cloud services a very popular target for cybercriminals.

Handling legal obstacles and cloud security is complicated. Several public cloud service providers are hands-off when it comes to data security, and this forces users or organizations to take full responsibility for the security of their data.

Before conducting a cloud pen test, it may be ideal to inform the cloud services provider of the intent to pen test the security system. The provider informs pen testers about the off-limits areas. For example, some cloud providers only permit tests on RDS, CloudFront, Lamba, EC2, or Aurora and restrict tests on small, micro, and nano EC2.

Cloud pen tests can include:

  • Applications and API access
  • Poorly used passwords
  • Encryption
  • Poorly used firewalls
  • Computer security
  • SSH and RDP remote administration
  • Database and storage access
  • VMs and unpatched Operating Systems

It may be good to use white box testing and have more knowledge about the environment before the testing. If the client is a Microsoft Azure customer, the tester has to comply with the Microsoft Cloud Unified Penetration Testing Rules of Engagement.

7. Client-Side Tests

These tests are used to identify security threats that occur locally. For instance, this can be a flaw in the software application that runs on the user’s workstation that a cybercriminal can easily exploit. The test can include applications and programs such as:

  • Sniffers
  • Putty
  • Browsers like Safari, Chrome, Opera, IE, and Firefox
  • Presentation and content creation packages like media players, MS PowerPoint, Photoshop, and Adobe Page Maker
  • Git clients

Since the threats can be homegrown, it is vital to look for uncertified OSS that a criminal can use to extend or create a homemade application and cause severe unanticipated threats.

Wrapping Up

Performing these various types of penetration testing will help you narrow down on any weakness and help improve the cybersecurity strategies and policies in place. Therefore, it is ideal to conduct regular penetration tests to know how strong a network of systems is and adjust or make improvements, as necessary.