Penetration testing methodologies and standards

The online space continues to get bigger rapidly, opening more chance for cyber attacks to occur within a computer system, network, or web application. To mitigate and get ready for such risks, penetration testing is a required step in finding security vulnerabilities that an attacker might use.

What is penetration testing?

A penetration test, or “pen test,” is a security test that is run to ridicule a cyber attack in action. A cyber attack may include a phishing try or a breach of a network security system. There are many types of penetration testing available to an organization depending on the security controls needed. The test can be run manually or with automated tools through the lens of a particular course of action, or pen testing methodology.

Why penetration testing and who is involved?

The phrase “ethical hacking” and “penetration testing” are sometimes used interchangeably, but there is a difference. Ethical hacking is a wider cyber security field that includes any use of hacking skills to make better network security. Penetration tests are just one of the procedures ethical hackers use. Ethical hackers may also give malware analysis, risk assessment, and other hacking tools and techniques to uncover and fix security weaknesses rather than cause harm.

Firms hire pen testers to launch simulated attacks opposed to their networks, apps, and other assets. By staging fraud attacks, penetration testers help security teams uncover critical security vulnerabilities and improve overall security posture. These attacks are frequently performed by red teams, or offensive security teams. The red team simulates actual attackers’ tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) against the organization’s own system as a way to assess security risk.

There are a number of penetration testing methodologies to think about as you get into the pen testing process. There is no one-size-fits-all proceed towards. It needs an organization to understand its security issues and security policy for there to be a fair vulnerability analysis prior to the pen testing process.

5 top penetration testing methodologies

One of the beginnings in the pen testing process is deciding on which methodology to follow.

Below, we’ll dive into five of the most well liked penetration testing frameworks and pen testing methodologies to assist guide stakeholders and companies to the best method for their particular needs and make sure it covers all required areas.

  1. Open-Source Security Testing Methodology Manual

Open-Source Security Testing Methodology Manual (OSSTMM) is one of the most well liked standards of penetration testing. This methodology is peer-reviewed for security testing and was created by the Institute for Security and Open Methodologies (ISECOM).

The procedure is based on a scientific approach to pen testing with adaptable and accessible guides for testers.

OSSTMM gives a framework for network penetration testing and vulnerability assessment for pen testing professionals. It is meant to be a framework for providers to find and solve vulnerabilities, like sensitive data and issues surrounding authentication.

  1. Open Web Application Security Project

Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), is an open-source organization committed to web application security.

The non-profit company’s aim is to make all its material free and easily accessible for anyone who wants to make better their own web application security. OWASP has its own Top 10 which is a well-maintained report outlining the biggest security concerns and risks to web applications, such as cross-site scripting, broken authentication and getting behind a firewall.

The guide is split into three parts: OWASP testing framework for web application development, web application testing methodology and reporting. The web application methodology can be used separately or as a part of the web testing framework for web application penetration testing, IoT penetration testing, API penetration testing, and mobile application penetration testing.

  1. Penetration Testing Execution Standard

Penetration Testing Execution Standard (PTES), is a comprehensive penetration testing method.

PTES was designed by a squad of information security professionals and is made up of seven main sections covering all aspects of pen testing. The purpose of Penetration Testing Execution Standard is to have technical guidelines to outline what companies should expect from a penetration test and guide them throughout the process, starting at the pre-engagement stage.

The Penetration Testing Execution Standard aims to be the baseline for penetration tests and provide a standardized methodology for security professionals and organizations. The guide gives a range of resources, such as best practices in each stage of the penetration testing process, from beginning to end. Some main features of Penetration Testing Execution Standard are exploitation and post exploitation. Exploitation mentions to the process of obtaining access to a system through penetration techniques such as password cracking and social engineering. Post exploitation is when data is extracted from a compromised system and access is maintained.

  1. Information System Security Assessment Framework

ISSAF or Information System Security Assessment Framework is a pen testing framework supported by the OISSG or Information Systems Security Group.

This procedure is no longer maintained and is likely not the best source for the most up-to-date information. However, one of its key strengths is that it links individual pen testing steps with specific pen testing tools. This type of format can be a best foundation for creating an individualized methodology.

  1. National Institute of Standards and Technology

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), is a cyber security framework that gives a set of pen testing standards for the federal government and outside organizations to follow. NIST is an agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce and should be think about the minimum standard to follow.

National Institute of Standards and Technology penetration testing aligns with the guidance sent by NIST. To comply with such guidance, companies must perform penetration tests following the pre-determined set of guidelines.

Pen testing stages

Set a scope

Before a pen test starts, the testing team and the company set a scope for the test. Scope outlines which systems will be tested, when the testing will occur, and the techniques pen testers can use. Scope also determines how much details the pen testers will have ahead of time.

Start the test

The further step would be to test the scoping plan and assess vulnerabilities and functionality. In this step, vulnerability and network scanning can be done to get a better understanding of the company’s infrastructure. External testing and internal testing can be done relying on the company’s needs. There are a lot of tests the pen testers can do, including a black-box test, white-box test, and gray-box test. Each gives varying degrees of detail about the target system.

Once an overview of the network is established, testers can begin analyzing the system and applications within the scope given. In this step, pen testers are gathering as much information as possible to understand any missconfigurations.

Report on findings

The last step is to report and debrief. It is important to develop a penetration testing report with all the findings from the pen test outlining the vulnerabilities identified. The report should include a plan for mitigation and the potential risks if remediation does not occur.

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