What is Penetration Testing?

A penetration test is a simulated attack against an organization in which ethical hackers use many of the same tools, techniques, and procedures as a real attacker would use. By simulating attacks by real-world threats, pen testers can identify vulnerabilities in an organization’s systems and evaluate the effectiveness of security solutions and incident responders. The results of the assessment can then be used to improve enterprise cybersecurity by patching vulnerabilities, closing security gaps, and improving incident response processes.

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What is Penetration Testing?

The Importance of Penetration Testing

Penetration testing is designed to simulate a real-world threat to an organization. By doing so, it provides multiple benefits, including:

  • Risk Discovery: Penetration testers attempt to identify and exploit vulnerabilities in an organization’s systems to achieve the goals of the test. By doing so, they provide visibility into security gaps that an organization can then address.
  • Vulnerability Triage: By simulating a real-world threat, a penetration test identifies the vulnerabilities that an attacker is most likely to exploit in an attack. By closing these security gaps, an organization can dramatically reduce its cybersecurity risk.

Process Evaluation: A penetration test provides the opportunity to test incident response processes in a realistic but no-risk environment. This makes it possible to evaluate how well existing processes are working and make improvements before they are tested during a real attack.

How Does Penetration Testing Differ from Vulnerability Scanning?

Penetration testing and vulnerability scanning are both intended to identify vulnerabilities and other security issues. However, they differ significantly in terms of technique and the types of issues that they can detect.

Unlike a penetration test, vulnerability scanning is performed wholly using automated tools. These tools contain databases of signatures of known attacks such as CVEs and vulnerabilities included in the OWASP Top Ten list. The tool assesses whether the target systems may contain these vulnerabilities and generate an automated report describing all discovered vulnerabilities and their severity.

Penetration testing provides deeper insight into an organization’s vulnerabilities than a vulnerability scan. While vulnerability scanning identifies security issues in an organization’s attack surface, penetration testing involves exploiting and combining these vulnerabilities to gain deeper access.

Vulnerability scanning is often part of a penetration test, identifying low-hanging fruit and potential places where a pentester can start their assessment. However, a pentest goes deeper, which provides a better understanding of the impact of various vulnerabilities and helps to eliminate false positive detections.

The Three Ways to Perform a Pentest

Penetration tests can be performed in many different ways using various tools and techniques to assess the security of certain systems. However, all pen tests can be generally divided up into three main categories:

  • Black Box: In a black-box assessment, the penetration test begins with no knowledge of or access to the target environment. This simulates a threat where an attacker must perform their own research and reconnaissance. While this provides the most realistic assessment of the risk that an organization faces from external threats, it can be much more time-consuming than other methods.
  • Gray Box: In a gray-box assessment, a penetration tester is provided with limited access to and knowledge of the target environment. For example, the tester may start with a legitimate, non-privileged user account and a similar understanding of the corporate network as an average employee. This type of test more accurately simulates an insider threat or an attack where an external threat actor has gained initial access via phishing, compromised credentials, or similar means.
  • White Box: In a white-box assessment, the pen tester is granted full access to the target network and has full documentation and information about the system. This type of assessment can be faster than the other forms because the pen tester does not need to perform their own reconnaissance. However, it does mean that the penetration tester may be influenced by administrators’ preconceptions about how a system is designed to work rather than how it actually works.

The Penetration Testing Process

A penetration test is a realistic simulation of a real-world attack against an organization. This process includes the following steps:

  1. Scoping: In this stage, the pentester and client define the rules of engagement, such as the systems in scope, allowable attacks, and the objectives of the attack.
  2. Reconnaissance: During this stage, the pentester collects information about their target that is used to identify potential attack vectors.
  3. Scanning and Enumeration: Penetration tests commonly use vulnerability scanning to identify methods to gain initial access to the target environment.
  4. Exploitation: The pentester exploits an identified vulnerability to gain a foothold within the target network. Then, the attacker exploits internal vulnerabilities to move through the network and achieve objectives such as planting a flag on a critical system or gaining access to a privileged account.
  5. Documentation: At this stage, the penetration tester creates and presents a report detailing the assessment, its findings, and how the client can address the identified issues.
  6. Mitigation and Support: After the engagement is complete, the pen testing team works with the organization to mitigate identified security issues.

Penetration Testing with Check Point

In addition to providing industry-leading security solutions, Check Point also offers penetration testing services. Based on deep experience tracking cyber threats and developing solutions, Check Point’s Cybersecurity Resilience Testing (CRT) helps to evaluate the effectiveness of your organization’s defenses against modern cyber threats and address identified vulnerabilities based on cybersecurity best practices.

Learn more about Check Point’s CRT services or contact us to discover how Check Point can help to improve your corporate cybersecurity via penetration testing.

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