Network penetration testing is a simulated cyber attack against a computer network to assess the security of the network and identify vulnerabilities. The goal is to determine if unauthorized access, data breaches, or data exfiltration can occur.
The test is usually conducted by a team of security professionals who use manual and automated tools to try to exploit vulnerabilities in the network. The results of the test are then used to improve the security of the network by patching vulnerabilities and implementing security controls.
What Is the Purpose of Network Pentesting?
Network penetration testing has several benefits, including:
Internal vs. External Network Penetration Testing
Internal and external network penetration testing are two different approaches to testing the security of a network.
Internal Network Penetration Testing
In internal network penetration testing, the focus is on testing the security of the internal network from the perspective of an insider. The goal is to determine if a malicious insider or an attacker who has already compromised an internal system can gain access to sensitive information or other parts of the network.
External Network Penetration Testing
In external network penetration testing, the focus is on testing the security of the network from the perspective of an external attacker. The goal is to determine if an attacker can gain access to the network from the Internet by exploiting vulnerabilities in network devices, such as firewalls and routers, or in web applications.
Both internal and external network penetration testing are important components of a comprehensive security testing program and should be conducted regularly to ensure the security of a network. The type of testing that is performed depends on the specific security needs of the organization and the goals of the testing program.
Steps of Network Penetration Testing
1. Information Gathering and Determination of Scope
This step involves collecting information about the target network and defining the scope of the testing. It is critical because it sets the foundation for the rest of the testing process and helps to ensure that the testing is performed in a controlled and effective manner.
During this phase, the pentester collects information about the target network, such as the IP addresses of systems, the types of operating systems and applications in use, and the structure of the network. This information can be gathered through various means, including network scans, port scans, and web searches.
Determination of Scope
Based on the information gathered, the scope of the testing is determined. This involves defining what systems and applications will be included in the testing and what types of attacks will be performed. The scope of the testing should be agreed upon by both the pentester and the client to ensure that the testing is performed within the desired constraints.
The goal of this step is to provide the pentester with a complete understanding of the target network and to ensure that the testing is performed in a controlled and effective manner. By carefully planning the scope of the testing, the pentester can ensure that the testing is focused and relevant, which can help to identify the most critical vulnerabilities in the network.
2. Reconnaissance and Discovery
This step involves actively gathering information about the target network and identifying potential attack vectors. It is important because it helps the pentester to gain a deeper understanding of the network and to identify potential targets for attack. The pentester may use tools such as vulnerability scanners, exploit databases, and manual techniques to identify potential attack vectors.
3. Accessing Networks
This step involves attempting to gain unauthorized access to the target network using the information and attack vectors identified during the reconnaissance and discovery phase. The goal is to determine if the vulnerabilities identified can be exploited to gain unauthorized access to the network.
During this phase, the pentester uses various tools and techniques to attempt to exploit vulnerabilities in the target network. This may include using exploits to gain unauthorized access to systems, exploiting misconfigured devices, and attempting to bypass security controls, such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems.
If the pentester is successful in gaining access to a system, the next step is to attempt to escalate privileges and gain access to sensitive information or other parts of the network. This may involve exploiting vulnerabilities in the operating system or applications, cracking passwords, and using social engineering techniques.
This step provides the pentester with a hands-on understanding of the security of the target network. The results of this step can help organizations to identify and remediate security weaknesses before they are exploited by attackers.
4. Reporting and Remediation
This step involves documenting the findings of the testing and making recommendations for remediation. It helps organizations to understand the security of their networks and to take steps to improve their security posture.
The pentester documents the results of the testing, including the methods used, the vulnerabilities identified, and the results of the exploitation attempts. The documentation should be comprehensive and provide clear and actionable recommendations for remediation.
The pentester provides the results of the testing to the client in the form of a report. The report should be clear, concise, and easy to understand, and should provide an executive summary, a detailed analysis of the results, and recommendations for remediation. The report should also include risk assessments and prioritization of recommendations based on the severity of the vulnerabilities identified.
Based on the recommendations in the report, the client should take steps to remediate the vulnerabilities identified. This may involve patching systems, implementing stronger security controls, and changing processes to prevent future security incidents. By following the recommendations provided in the report, organizations can reduce the risk of security incidents and improve their overall security.
In conclusion, network penetration testing is a critical component of an organization's overall security strategy. By simulating an attack on their network, organizations can identify and remediate security weaknesses before they are exploited by malicious actors.
The testing process involves several steps, including information gathering and determination of scope, reconnaissance and discovery, accessing networks, and reporting and remediation. By thoroughly performing each step, organizations can gain a comprehensive understanding of the security of their networks and take steps to improve their security posture.
Author Bio: Gilad David Maayan
Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Imperva, Samsung NEXT, NetApp and Check Point, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership. Today he heads Agile SEO, the leading marketing agency in the technology industry.
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