Penetration testing is critical to identifying security threats to your IT infrastructure before they can blossom into full-blown attacks. Conducting an external “black box” pen test will help you pinpoint security vulnerabilities you may not readily identify with an internal pen test. Read on to learn more about black box pen testing best practices from which you could benefit.
Breakdown of Black Box Pen Testing Best Practices
Pen testing is typically conducted via “white box,” “black box,” or “grey box” approaches, and which you use depends on your unique security needs. You may be wondering whether to implement a black box pen test (or another variant) as a security monitoring tool.
Below, we’ll break down black box pen testing by exploring:
- Black box pen testing as a security monitoring tool
- Best practices for optimizing black box pen testing
- Benefits of conducting pen testing in cybersecurity
What is Black Box Pen Testing?
Black box pen testing refers to penetration tests conducted with limited knowledge of an organization’s cybersecurity infrastructure. The “black” in black box pen testing was coined to define the existing knowledge gap when external pen testers attempt to breach your security controls by exploiting potential vulnerabilities. Since the testers have limited knowledge, they are in the dark about the existing vulnerabilities in your cybersecurity infrastructure.
Compared to other types of penetration testing, black box pen testers act just like a real-world attacker—providing you with an unbiased outlook on your current security posture.
In contrast, white box pen testing is on the opposite end of this spectrum. The pen tester will be briefed about your existing vulnerabilities or have some extent of access to or knowledge about your systems. These tests simulate attacks from employees or other internal threats.
On the other hand, grey box pen testing combines various elements of black box and white box pen testing. The testers may have some knowledge of security vulnerabilities or none entirely, or the test may begin as more white box and external and then become more internal over time.
Best Practices for Effective Black Box Pen Testing
Now that we’ve defined black box security testing, what are some best practices you can leverage to streamline black box pen tests? Although they apply universally to any organization that implements a certain level of security controls, black box pen testing best practices work most effectively when optimized to your specific and unique cybersecurity needs.
By implementing black box pen testing best practices, you will establish a system for continuously optimizing and improving penetration testing in the short and long term.
Employ a Black Box Pen Testing Methodology
Considering that black box pen tests simulate a real-world cyberattack, it is critical for testers to implement a black box pen testing methodology. A methodical penetration testing approach typically translates into higher chances of discovering security vulnerabilities.
Ideally, an effective black box pen testing methodology should comprise:
- A list of exploitable vulnerabilities – With limited knowledge of an asset’s vulnerabilities, an ideal starting point for any black box pen test is to find and exploit:
- Vulnerabilities available in publicly-available databases (e.g., OWASP’s list of web application vulnerabilities)
- Other types of vulnerabilities—such as those specific to an industry or geographic location (e.g., merchant-specific vulnerabilities for card payments)
- Sources of open source threat intelligence (OSINT) on the Internet
- Categories of assets to target – Depending on the attack surface and overall perimeter of your IT infrastructure, you may have to choose which assets are at higher risk of being compromised, should an attack occur. Black box pen testers can prioritize assets to test based on the assets’:
- Risk and vulnerability rankings (e.g., networks that transmit PHI)
- Location within sensitive data environments (e.g., firewalls in CHD environments)
- Critical perimeter defenses (e.g., network security controls)
- Post-testing recommendations – At each step of the black box pen test, testers should document vulnerabilities based on risk or threat level and recommend strategies for threat and vulnerability remediation, such as:
- Optimizing incident response protocols
- Installing firewalls at vulnerable access points
More importantly, a black box security testing methodology should attempt to measure the resilience of your controls, keeping track of your progress toward a reliable security posture.
Automate Black Box Pen Testing Exercises
By automating black box pen testing via real-time software tools, you can significantly improve the ease and flexibility of penetration tests. Unlike other types of penetration testing, black box pen testing is much faster at uncovering potential vulnerabilities. This is because black box pen testers are not required to analyze pre-gathered intelligence (as in white box pen tests). Rather, testers simulate an attack based on any vulnerabilities they find as they prod the attack surface.
With a traditional pen testing approach—black box or otherwise—teams of humans spend time exploring potential attack vectors. This process often requires significant bandwidth, financially and resource-wise, to ensure testers identify and assess as many vulnerabilities as possible.
And, as humans methodically assess the security controls for each asset, there is a need to define each vulnerability identified during the test. With automated penetration tests, you can:
- Extend testing to a broader area of your cybersecurity infrastructure
- Conduct tests more frequently, depending on security needs
- Adjust testing configurations based on asset type
And, if partnering with an experienced penetration testing services provider, you can automate certain aspects of black box pen testing while still leaning on traditional testing for high-risk assets that require nuanced human analysis.
Benefits of Pen Testing in Cybersecurity
A discussion on black box pen testing would not be complete without exploring the broader benefits of pen testing—including white box and hybrid tests. Whereas the most pressing reason for conducting penetration testing is to safeguard your critical digital assets from security threats, you may need to assess the posture of your IT infrastructure for other reasons.
Regulatory compliance is one of the biggest pain points pen testing can solve.
Meet Regulatory Compliance Requirements with Pen Testing
Penetration testing is a compliance requirement for the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standards (DSS) framework, which protects cardholder data from cybersecurity risks.
Similarly, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) requires organizations to conduct pen testing to safeguard protected health information (PHI).
Both regulatory frameworks require organizations that handle sensitive data to routinely conduct security assessments of data environments to identify threats. So, without a clear pen testing strategy, you risk exposing sensitive data to threats that can result in high-impact data breaches.
In certain industries, an established set of pen testing tools can communicate to customers, clients, and other stakeholders that you are committed to routinely testing your security controls. Demonstrating robust security controls can provide the data security assurance needed to win lucrative contracts, such as those awarded by the Department of Defense (DoD).
Every organization that handles sensitive data needs to pen test, black box or otherwise.
The best way to choose the appropriate penetration test that will detect security threats early on and keep your organization safe is to partner with a penetration testing specialist—like us.
Get Started with Black Box Pen Testing!
With its relatively unbiased penetration testing approach, black box pen testing will help evaluate your current security posture—and ensure it meets industry and regulatory standards. Conducting effective black box pen tests of your organization’s sensitive digital assets starts with leveraging the security testing experience of a penetration testing partner like RSI Security.
To learn more and get started with penetration testing, contact RSI Security today!