The trend toward mobile, web and cloud-based solutions for online communications and other technologies predates the COVID-19 pandemic and the new, distanced normal. But this trend has only sped up in the past year, and it shows no signs of slowing down in the future. In this context, application security is critical to overall cybersecurity. Read on to learn how white box penetration testing is used for application security and why it’s one of the best ways to keep your company safe.
The White Box Approach to App Penetration Testing
Apps continue to increase in relevance across industries. And it’s not just consumer-facing apps. Companies build applications to be used strictly internally as a way of improving operations or streamlining workflows. While these used to be considered internal “programs,” the distinction is not so clear. Take MacOS, for example, which has blurred lines between apps and full-on programs over the past half-decade.
As applications become more ubiquitous, their role in cybersecurity also increases in relevance. White box pen-testing is a method companies can use to ensure their apps are safe and the information stored on them is secure. The following sections break down all you need to know about it:
- First, what is application pen-testing specifically, and what else can be pen-tested
- Then, what white box pen-testing is and how it differs from other primary pen-tests
- Finally, how the process works and what steps a white box app pen-test requires
By the end of this blog, you’ll understand whether a white box app pen-test is right for you, along with how to conduct one and what to look for in a pen-testing partner.
What is Application (App) Penetration Testing?
Application penetration testing, or app pen-testing, is not a unique form of pen-testing. Instead, it’s the application of general pen-testing principles and approaches to apps specifically. Its targets might include any form of applications, such as native apps built for phones, tablets, or other devices, but the most common objects for app pen-testing are web applications. White box app pen-testing can be considered shorthand for white box web application penetration testing.
A pen-test is a simulated cyber-attack on elements of your cybersecurity architecture. The “attacker” is typically an individual or team of experts from a managed IT, and security services provider (MSSP) contracted to “ethically” hack your company. This allows your internal team to analyze how the attack unfolds.
Other Common Pen-Testing Objects of Analysis
The defining principle of pen-testing is that potent offense informs sound defense. What matters most is that the hackers realistically simulate their attack, accessing as much information as possible to power the greatest insights. The objects of their attacks may include:
- Applications, including both apps used by the company and those developed for others
- Devices used within the office and remotely, including computers and IoT devices
- Firewalls and other perimeter defenses that can facilitate data access
- Networks that transport, host, or otherwise come into contact with company resources
- Physical drives, servers, and cloud computing elements critical to storing your data
Beyond these particular targets, penetration testing can also be optimized to specific goals, like assessing individual staff members’ or units’ uptake of training or patches for compliance.
What is White Box Penetration Testing?
Unlike its focus on apps, in particular, the other distinguishing feature of white box app pen-testing is that it’s within the white box approach. Also referred to as “white hat pen-testing,” this is one of the primary categories of pen-testing (see others below).
A white box penetration test focuses primarily on the inner workings of a given object of analysis, whether an app or any other target noted above. It’s closely linked with “internal” pen-testing, and these terms are often used interchangeably. An essential quality of a white box pen-test is that the hacker begins from a position of strength and intelligence concerning the specific target or the broader nature of the company’s systems.
White, Black, and Grey Box Pen-Test Approaches
Another way to describe a white box pen-test is as an attack from within. The goal is typically to study how much damage the attacker can do once they’re within your systems. This contrasts significantly with the other major category of penetration testing:
- White box – The attacker is usually a current or former disgruntled employee with access to internal systems, and the focus is on how quickly they can seize control.
- Black box – The attacker is usually an unknown outsider without any privileged information about the company, and the focus is on how exactly they get inside.
Not all penetration tests are strictly white box or black box. Many companies opt for a “grey box” approach that adopts elements from both, offering a more flexible or nuanced assessment.
How Does White Box App Pen-Testing Work?
As noted above, the primary distinguishing characteristic of white box app pen-testing is that it applies an internal approach to applications specifically. This means the hacker is likely to be an individual who is closely familiar with the app or apps in question. For general applications used for business purposes, the pen-tester could pose as anyone from the company. For apps made by the business, it would need to be an IT expert.
In any case, the pen-testing team will work with your organization to devise a plan, including which apps to attack and any special situations they should avoid. The less your team knows about how the attack will go down; the better—prior knowledge detracts from the realism of attacks in real-time that go undetected. Let’s take a look at one example of how it might look.
Steps for an Effective White Box App Pen-Test
The white box approach to pen-testing requires different particular practices, depending on the skills and focus of the testing team, your cybersecurity architecture, and the terms negotiated. Nonetheless, a basic flow of operations all white box app pen-tests will follow typically includes:
- Initial negotiation – You’ll work with the pen-testing team to establish what privileged knowledge or position the attacker will begin from, along with any off-limits approaches.
- Attack strategizing – The pen-test team will work independently to craft a plan for the hack based on the information provided, to be bolstered after the next step.
- Reconnaissance – The pen-test team scans for critical information beyond what it began with and mobilizes all gathered intelligence to craft a specific strategy for attack.
- Target exploitation – The pen-testers launch their attacks on identified weaknesses, usually moving laterally from their starting position to commence a deeper inward dive.
- Exit and reporting – Once retrieving their target or seizing control, the pen-test team will end their attack and exit undetected, then report back to your company to begin strategizing fixes.
The most effective penetration testing services are defined less by their adherence to a strict set of steps, like these, than by flexibility to accommodate a company’s specific needs and means.
RSI Security: Your Pen-Testing Partner
For the best penetration testing partners, the final step above is not necessarily the end of the process; it might be a new beginning. We’re happy to work with your team on a customized plan to address all vulnerabilities uncovered or exploited during the pen-test. To see just how impactful white box penetration testing can be for your business, contact us today!