Whether you’re pondering the entire exercise of a network penetration testing procedure, or you’re halfway through with a network vulnerability assessment, it’s important to understand the security goals of the business to prioritize the risk assessment steps.
Once the specific guidelines of the network penetration testing procedure are defined, the testing team can step into the generalized process.
This includes reconnaissance, highlighting the scope, conducting exploitation, and sending in the final report.
The end goal of a network penetration testing procedure is to optimize the security of the company network, its internal assets, devices, and other important information while ensuring that all the stakeholders remain informed about the procedure.
Benefits of a network penetration testing procedure
A network penetration testing procedure involves carefully designed attack methods by exploiting potential security vulnerabilities within the system to evaluate the response.
By conducting an in-depth test of the network, the procedure will help in better understanding the network baseline, testing its security controls, guarding against possible breaches, and optimizing overall network security.
Every network pentesting process should evaluate and understand the network’s baseline, typically done with scanning tools such as port scanners, network, and vulnerability scanners.
Defining this baseline will help the testing team and the company to list out the existing security controls, identify the ones that are working and those that aren’t, and test them with additional information.
All existing security controls and barriers must be tested for their effectiveness against several hacking attempts and new-age techniques.
This is why the intermediate goal of the automated pen testing process is to successfully breach the network by exploiting specific vulnerabilities and providing customized recommendations.
This will eventually help the firm in protecting itself against network and data breaches by using the results of the procedure to strengthen its risk analysis and mitigation procedures.
Finally, the pentesting procedure ensures that there is an overall assurance of system security.
A company may have strong external security barriers but may be lacking in its internal protective measures due to a lack of intrusion detection/prevention systems (IDS/IPS) for protection against accidental or intended attacks.
Important Steps for a Network Penetration Testing Procedure
A successful penetration testing process for network security should ideally include the following steps:
Gathering information and deciding attack strategies
The first step of any online penetration testing procedure should involve collecting information about the target network, understanding client expectations, and defining the scope of testing.
Client expectations should be factored in for setting the date and time of the testing procedure, if production or a staging/testing environment is needed, and if the process is meant for vulnerability detection or complete exploitation.
Existing security measures may need to be shut down for the testing process which could have consequences on business-critical aspects.
The testing team also needs to decide on the kind of penetration testing technique – black, white, or grey penetration testing.
Black box testing is done with minimal information about the network and usually focuses on external vulnerabilities.
White box testing is done from the perspective of an internal user with access to internal documents, source code, and network infrastructure mapping, in order to imitate insider attacks.
In the middle of both these attack methods comes grey box pen testing, which is done with the help of some information about the target network, making it the more realistic attack method.
The Exploitation Phase
The first step here will be vulnerability detection and analysis with the help of various port and network scanners to understand potential vulnerabilities in the connected devices, network architecture, etc.
For this, tactics such as social engineering are used to manipulate users into giving up personal information for gaining unauthorized access to the network.
The next step will be using this information to conduct the pentesting process with the help of tools that exploit scripts, use password cracking methods, buffer overflow, etc.
Sometimes, multiple vulnerabilities should be tested together for gaining access to the network successfully.
For example, if there is an open port on Port 80 within a client system that typically doesn’t need access to the internet, this may be a potential backdoor for hackers.
You can even test the pivot method to use this system to attack other systems on the same network after a brute force attack to evaluate the internal defenses.
A pentest report is prepared to cover the entire details of the network penetration testing procedure including the vulnerabilities discovered, the proof-of-concept, exploitation techniques used, and the suggestions for remediation.
It should be presented in a language that’s understandable for both technical and non-technical stakeholders.
Always remember that remediation measures can include both security patches and company policies such as IT Security and Employee Practices for overall network security.
This is a general overview of network penetration testing procedures and the benefits of regularly conducting such a procedure for the company’s security strategy.
Companies should be careful in selecting third-party service providers with adequate knowledge of all these steps.