Penetration testing is a common technique used to analyze the security posture of IT infrastructure. Web application penetration testing can assist you in identifying the potential security weaknesses in your web-based applications so that they can be fixed before attackers exploit them.
According to a recent study by Ponemon Institute and WhiteSource, organizations are beginning to increasingly prioritize application security to guard against external attacks, data theft, and privilege abuse. Out of the surveyed respondents, 53% secure their applications using external penetration testing, while 46% use internal penetration methods. Though this shows a promising trend, more work needs to be done to address the vulnerabilities in enterprise applications.
This article talks about how you can use penetration testing to help you identify where you’re likely to face an attack and proactively seal those loopholes before malicious exploitations happen.
Penetration testing, also called pentesting or ethical hacking, is an authorized simulated attack used to find out the vulnerabilities that a malicious attacker could exploit in computer systems. Within the context of web application security, you can use pentesting to reveal weak opportunities in your application’s defenses that malicious players could take advantage of.
Basically, it involves looking at your application through the eyes of bad actors and detecting security gaps before they do. At the end of the pentesting, testers usually produce a report that outlines the identified vulnerabilities, exploits, and possible fixes. The results of the ethical hacking exercise can help you to fine-tune the security of your web applications and patch the discovered flaws.
Vulnerabilities that attackers could exploit may arise from several issues, including:
Pentesting requires consent between the organization and the tester; otherwise, it is malicious and illegal. If management does not approve it could unfairly expose the organization’s weaknesses and cause damage to it.
Organizations usually hire external contractors to carry out penetration testing. Since third-party security professionals lack in-house knowledge about how the system operates, it allows them to be more exhaustive and inventive. An internal developer may not properly see some things through the eyes of the threat actor.
Some organizations also offer bug bounty programs that promise payment or prizes in case external security professionals manage to hack their systems and expose vulnerabilities.
Penetration testing and vulnerability assessment are not the same thing — though each of them aims to detect vulnerabilities and reinforce the security of your IT infrastructure.
Vulnerability assessment, also known as vulnerability scanning, refers to conducting tests that discover known weaknesses, or vulnerabilities, in your system. An automated vulnerability scanner is usually used to identify threats as well as assess the quantifiable value and significance of each vulnerability, allowing you to prioritize remediation effectively.
On the other hand, penetration testing deliberately simulates a cyberattack and exploits the identified vulnerabilities. It’s a different way of rooting out weaknesses in your applications. While vulnerability scanning is critical to your organization’s application security posture, pentesting helps cover other methods intruders can use to exploit a security flaw.
Vulnerability scanning is an important stage in penetration testing. When conducting pentests, vulnerability scans help in detecting the weaknesses that exist in the target system.
Pentesting is a comprehensive exercise that comprises several steps. These are the main stages of penetration testing:
Pentests differ based on the target system, conditions of the test, and the objectives to be achieved. The organization usually provides the security testers with varying levels of information about the vulnerable system.
These are the main approaches to penetration testing:
There are a wide variety of tools that security professionals can use to carry out pentesting. Broadly, the tools can be categorized into the following groups:
We hope that you’ve learned what penetration testing is. Web application pentesting helps to detect vulnerabilities and address them before attackers compromise your systems. Pentesting is essential to taking your application’s security to the next level.
If you do not do penetration testing on a regular basis, your applications could be susceptible to attacks. As new cyber threats emerge, malicious intruders could use them to wreak havoc on your system.
Pentests help ensure you’re a step ahead of the attackers. That’s the best way of keeping your systems secure in this age of rising cyberattacks.