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Pentest: A brief introduction

The pentest, short for “Penetration Testing”, is a security assessment of systems, networks and applications with the objective of identifying and analyzing vulnerabilities to understand how a person can gain unauthorized access through a simulation of a real threat, evaluating the effectiveness of the security measures that have been implemented.


The purposes of a penetration test include:

  • Vulnerability identification: research any security flaws that can be exploited by attackers;

  • Security improvement: grant recommendations so that recognized vulnerabilities are corrected, improving system security;

  • Risk analysis: assessing the potential impact of a vulnerability and prioritizing appropriate corrections;

  • Impact check: ascertaining the effectiveness of safety standards and what the resulting impact is.

The ultimate goal of a pentest is to help protect systems and data against real threats, providing important information for improving information security.


The ethical hacker professional, also called pentester, deals with the same operating resources as attackers. He must know the pentest tools, both in the systemic view and in the practical application. That way, pentesters are able to know how real attackers takes advantage of the vulnerabilities and how far they will be able to reach their goals.


Below, 5 examples of some of these widely used tools for vulnerability analysis and penetration testing (don't know the difference between the two? Stay tuned @ our blog!):


1. NMAP – Network Mapper

Used to scan services and ports that are open, determine the type of service, version and possible operating systems, scan the network and get responses from all devices that are connected, allows custom scripts to be created, among other features.


2. John The Ripper


It is one of the best password crackers on the market and works through offline dictionary attacks and can be done on a password file like /etc/password. One of its unique features is to generate additional passwords from an existing wordlist.


3. Metasploit


Set of modules to investigate and test vulnerabilities in different systems, applications and others. Its objective is to have a research environment for the investigation of vulnerabilities and exploitations.


4. Burp Suite


This is a standard tool regarding transparent proxies. Applied in the interaction and direct manipulation of web traffic sent and received from the browser.


5. NetCat

One of the oldest forms of auditing and administrative tool, designed to interact with services ports directly by delivering an IP address, port and a protocol.


Known as nc, it's like a swiss army knife for network administrators, auditors and pentesters. This tool can also perform file transfer and establish host-to-host sessions.


Type of Pentests


Pentests can be categorized into 3 types:

  • Black box: the team has to start the work “blindly”, since they are not given any type of information about the system, characteristics or structure, making the pentesters discover these details for the attack;

  • White box: in this type of pentest, the team has access to practically all the structure before planning the attack, being able to prepare the work considering the characteristics of the system. By the way, it represents a great advantage for pentesters, saving resources and time.

  • Gray box: in the gray box pentest, the team has some knowledge about the operation of the system that will be the target, which may be related to the structure, security and organization, and even customs of its human operators. It is up to pentesters to use the information they have so that vulnerabilities are located and team strategies are defined.

Challenges

There are numerous challenges faced in a penetration test because of its complexity. Some of them are:

  • Improved security: systems and applications are constantly being developed with evolved security measures to prevent intrusions;

  • Limited time: in order to carry out an adequate pentest, time is often limited, which hinders the identification of more complex vulnerabilities;

  • Technical knowledge: it is essential to have advanced technical knowledge to perform efficient penetration tests;

  • Legal restrictions: Penetration testing may be restricted by laws and regulations such as the protection of personal data;

  • Detection: the security system can detect the pentester's activity and apply protection measures so that the resources are safe;

  • False positives: with the activity of penetration tests, it is possible to achieve false positives, so that the success of the data is affected;

  • Complexity: applications and systems have had a significant increase in terms of development, making the discovery and study of vulnerabilities more complicated.

In addition to the challenges mentioned above, other challenges are present such as the need to deal with the privacy and security of sensitive data, time, budget and resource constraints, and many others. Ethical hacking professionals must be prepared to take responsibility for all these challenges and have developed technical skills, effective communication and good project management to ensure test success.


Structure of a Penetration Test Report


The interpretation of the results of an intrusion test serves to qualify and understand the information obtained during the test, as well as the vulnerabilities found, evidence of adequate exploitation and the potential impact on information security. One should elucidate the results correctly to use convenient standards, thus vulnerabilities are corrected and the overall security of the system is improved.


Interpretation of results also includes ranking vulnerabilities according to their priority and severity, and identifying patterns and trends that are used to improve defense against future attacks.


When reporting the results of a penetration test, a concise structure should be followed in order to communicate in depth the findings and recommendations to the interested parties, also called stakeholders. For the report to be completed, it is necessary:

  1. Introduction: provide a general summary of the purpose of the test, systems and applications evaluated;

  2. Methodology: describe how the test, tools and techniques used were conducted;

  3. Results: present the identified vulnerabilities, severity classification, including the potential impact on information security;

  4. Evidence: provide concrete evidence of vulnerabilities, such as screenshots and test logs;

  5. Recommendations: provide solutions and corrective measures for identified vulnerabilities.

In short, the report needs to be succinct and easy to understand, with detailed tips and workable solutions. Furthermore, the report should be customized to meet the specific needs of the recipient taking into account their level of technical expertise.


Final Tips


After a penetration test, it is also important to add security measures to preserve the network and systems. Some tips are:

  • Security Update: Keep all applications and systems up to date, including operating systems, security applications and other software;

  • Firewall: configure firewall rules to block unauthorized access and monitor network activities to detect intruders;

  • Security settings: check if these settings are correctly configured and adjust if necessary;

  • Antivirus: install antivirus software and keep it up to date;

  • Strong passwords: Require strong passwords on all accounts and change them regularly.

  • Backup: create and maintain regular backups of important data to minimize loss in the event of an intrusion;

  • Security Training: Train employees on proper security practices and common threats to network security;

  • Constant monitoring: Monitor the network frequently for threats and vulnerabilities and implement quick fixes if needed.

Finally, the pentest will depend on the objective and scope that will be defined for the test. In general, information is included about identified vulnerabilities, types of threats and their impacts, severity, recommendations for improvements, as well as the effectiveness of existing security controls.


Stay tuned on our blog for more news!

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