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How to Carry Out Basic Penetration Testing

Performing regular penetration testing can be a costly and complex process, but it’s something that businesses today cannot do without.

The rate of tech advances leaves businesses at risk from bugs, vulnerabilities in programming, and hacking by external attackers. This is why many businesses in many industries are required to do pentesting to remain compliant.

Don’t risk exposing your data and the inner workings of your business to intruders. Follow these steps to perform basic penetration testing of your IT infrastructure.

1. Make a Plan

What do you hope your pentesting will accomplish? What would you like to test, and which method will you use to test it?

These questions are part of the planning phase. Think of it as planning a simulated attack on your own system. For example, if you recently updated your mail server, you may want to test it for susceptibility to malware.

Once you’ve decided the scope of your testing, you need to gather as much intel as you can on your “target” in order to identify any potential weaknesses. This might include determining the range of the network, identifying access points to the server, and accessing user account info.

2. Scan your Code

Next, it’s time to scan the software code to understand how it may respond to intrusion. There are two ways to do this.

  • Static Scan: To perform this scan, you analyze static code to predict how your software may respond to intruders. Remember to look for software issues too, like errors or bugs.
  • Dynamic Scan: This type of scan is done while the software is running. A dynamic scan allows you to study the code as it functions in real-time.

Often, a blend of static and dynamic scanning is the best way to find potential weaknesses in your code.

3. Gain Access

It’s now time to simulate an attack. This may be a backdoor attack or an SQL injection—the attack(s) chosen should be based on the technology you’re testing and the vulnerabilities you’ve uncovered.

Attempt to exploit your system’s vulnerabilities and accomplish the goal that you planned for your attack. This might include stealing data, intercepting traffic, or altering privileges.

If you succeed, it means that your security has been penetrated, and you need to update your system. But the test isn’t finished yet.

4. Maintain Access

Gaining access to your system is not a hacker’s primary goal. They want to linger and continue exploiting you over time. So, you need to assess whether the vulnerabilities you’ve found allow persistent access to your system.

If so, these would be categorized as advanced vulnerabilities that must be addressed immediately.

Basic vulnerabilities, which allow surface-level or short-term access, are still serious. However, they may not expose your most sensitive data or allow for major breaches to your security.

5. Analyze the Results

Your penetration test is now complete, and it’s time to assess the damage. Typically, an assessment is compiled into a report that includes:

  • Which vulnerabilities were identified and exploited
  • The type of breach, or the data that was exposed or accessed
  • How long the intruder (aka the pentester) was able to access the system before being detected

This report is used as a blueprint to patch vulnerabilities and improve system security.

If you didn’t manage to penetrate your system during your first pentest, don’t celebrate just yet.  It may mean that you missed some key information that would have led you to a yet-undiscovered vulnerability. To be sure your system is secure, go back to the first step and plan another attack.

Penetration Testing Solutions

Pentesting should be thorough and frequent to keep your system safe. However, this can be costly and time-consuming for businesses, especially those that update critical software regularly.

As a general rule, human pentesting should be conducted annually. This should be done by third-party professionals, as even simulated attacks can cause damage to your system if not done properly. If you’re a small business with a limited budget, testing guides are available to help you get started.

For regular and comprehensive security checks, automated penetration testing provides quick and reliable assessments, and you don’t need to spend a lot of cash or risk significant downtime.

A combination of regular human and automated penetration testing is recommended for comprehensive system security.