As organizations expand their workforce and digital assets, it is critical to invest in cyber defenses against potential threats. Growing enterprises can use penetration testing techniques to evaluate their systems, networks, and applications for exploitable vulnerabilities. Therefore, penetration testing, or pen-testing, can also help your organization mitigate impending cyberattacks. Read on to learn more.
Widely Applicable Penetration Testing Techniques
The benefit of penetration testing is that it can be applied to any application, network, or system, regardless of the industry to which an organization belongs. The most commonly used penetration testing techniques for growing organizations include:
Performing pen-testing on your organization’s security infrastructure will help identify vulnerabilities before threats attempt to exploit them, mitigating attacks and any disruptions to business operations.
What is Penetration Testing?
Pen-testing is the practice of identifying gaps and vulnerabilities in an organization’s cybersecurity architecture by mimicking real cyberattacks. Penetration testing techniques are conducted by a team of cybersecurity professionals trained to identify existing and unknown security gaps within your organization’s cyber defenses.
Investing in pen-testing is critical for growing organizations to ensure that existing vulnerabilities do not go unchecked. Pen-testing results inform ongoing security practices, vulnerability remediation, and patch deployment.
Web Application Penetration Testing
Penetration testing can help organizations strengthen web application security. Specifically, penetration testing techniques can identify commonly exploited web application vulnerabilities, the most critical of which include:
- Broken access control, resulting in unauthorized access to networks and applications
- Cryptographic failures, resulting in sensitive data exposure
- SQL injection, resulting in loss of data or compromise thereof
A suite of pentesting techniques tailored to your organization’s web applications can help address commonly exploited vulnerabilities.
Web Application Intrusion Detection
Penetration testing techniques for web application intrusion detection can help mimic variations of commonly-launched attack vectors. Commonly used web application intrusion techniques work by launching a modified version of an HTTP request and analyzing your web application’s response. A threat actor will launch a series of attacks, hoping to exploit a gap in your web application security.
Critical points to consider when implementing pen-testing techniques for web application intrusion detection include:
- Clearly defined pen-testing targets – Determining which web applications you plan to assess for vulnerabilities can help streamline pen-testing. It is more feasible to test a commonly targeted web application (e.g., from previous internal tests or a commonly exploited vulnerabilities list) instead of one less frequently targeted.
- Defined source of attack – Understanding the source location of common web application threats can also help streamline pen-testing, ensuring the right attack pathways are tested.
- Types of attacks tested – Defining the payload (i.e., actual scripts or code for attack execution) for which you are pen-testing can help with faster detection of existing and materializing threats.
Defining the appropriate target, source, and type of attack for web application penetration testing techniques not only helps improve pen-testing efforts but can increase your organization’s ROI on penetration testing
Web Application Security Scanning
- Generate automatic reports to notify appropriate personnel of a potential incident, triggering a timely incident response
- Sift out false positives from incident reports
- Scan the breadth of web applications and associated devices in your IT infrastructure
- Operate in compliance with relevant cybersecurity frameworks
Since scanning is less effort- and resource-intensive, it should be performed more frequently than pen-testing. The results will similarly inform remediation efforts and patch deployment.
Network penetration testing mainly changes web application testing’s target. This is because the testing team performs the same evaluative processes before beginning. However, compared to web applications, this testing technique evaluates the security architecture and configurations that protect your network.
Once beginning, testers will attempt to gain network access using any vulnerabilities they discover in implementations or configurations. Targets of network pen-testing include:
- Authentication processes
- Network endpoints, including:
- Laptops and mobile devices
Social Engineering Pen-Testing
Social engineering penetration testing techniques help evaluate and improve personnel’s cybersecurity awareness training. Threat actors orchestrating social engineering attacks exploit human behavior and psychology to gain unauthorized network access. As these tests attempt to target people rather than security architecture implementations, their penetration techniques are unique amongst other methods.
Types of Social Engineering Attacks
The most common social engineering attacks include:
- Phishing – Use of email to pretext personnel into:
- Clicking on malicious links
- Divulging user account or password information
- Downloading malware
Phishing can also take the form of vishing (voice phishing) or smishing (text message phishing), both of which attempt to convince personnel to divulge sensitive information or provide threat actors with unauthorized access to networks.
- Whaling – Targeted use of specific information to pretext personnel with privileged account access (e.g., executives, upper-level personnel) to:
- Provide sensitive information such as passwords
- Click on malicious links to gain access to networks
- Waterholing – Exploitation of identity and access management vulnerabilities to convince personnel to enter credentials on fake websites, allowing threat actors to gain unauthorized network access.
- Tailgating – The use of psychology to gain physical access into an organization’s space. Common access points include:
- Intruders impersonating delivery personnel
- Threat actors using excuses to bypass keyed access points
- Borrowing devices with access to sensitive networks or data
Social engineering attacks exploited by threat actors have a similar goal–to obtain unauthorized access to an organization’s digital assets. Developing robust social engineering pentesting techniques can help prevent these attacks.
How to Optimize Social Engineering Pen-Testing
Unlike other types of pen-testing techniques, your organization’s cybersecurity team can get “creative” with social engineering pen-testing for several reasons, including:
- Social engineering techniques constantly evolve, requiring cybersecurity teams to anticipate threat actors’ methods and attack targets.
- Organizations are consistently onboarding new employees, providing opportunities to test for social engineering vulnerabilities, following employee training.
- While onboarding processes are a perfect opportunity for implementing security training, organizations should periodically perform more with existing personnel.
- Pen-testing for attacks such as tailgating doesn’t require technical cybersecurity expertise but a well-planned impersonation exercise.
With the help of an experienced pen-testing partner, you can expand your suite of social engineering penetration testing techniques to match your organization’s needs.
Critical Points for Social Engineering Pen-Testing
While conducting and optimizing social engineering penetration testing techniques, your organization should also pay special attention to:
- Documented processes and policies – Unlike web and network pen-testing, social engineering pen-testing will evaluate your personnel’s adherence to documented policies and procedures.
- Refining personnel training programs – Robust pen-testing should test for gaps in social engineering security training, specifically gaps arising from:
- Personnel deviation from security protocols (e.g., opening unusual looking emails flagged as phishing attempts)
- A need for further training to better identify more sophisticated attacks (e.g., whaling)
- Poor understanding of security protocols (e.g., newer employees granting badge access to potential intruders)
- Generating results from each penetration test – The results obtained from penetration testing techniques can help inform future training. Ideally, each penetration test you perform should guide your organization during cybersecurity gap remediation efforts.
When conducted appropriately, social engineering penetration testing techniques can help mitigate attacks that exploit these vulnerabilities. Data breaches resulting from these attacks can have significant legal, reputational, and financial consequences for your growing organization.
Build Your Penetration Testing Framework
Implementing penetration testing techniques can help broaden your organization’s cybersecurity suite, ensuring optimal business operations, especially during growth and expansion phases.