Penetration testing (pen testing) is a simulated cyberattack against a computer system or network, to assess the security of the system and identify potential vulnerabilities. Pen tests are typically conducted by ethical hackers, who use the same tools and techniques as malicious hackers to gain unauthorized access to the system.
The goal of a pen test is to identify and exploit any security vulnerabilities in the system. Once a vulnerability is identified, the pen tester will report it to the system owner so that it can be patched. Pen tests can be used to identify a wide range of vulnerabilities, including:
- Weak passwords: Weak passwords are one of the most common security vulnerabilities. Attackers can easily guess weak passwords, or use brute force attacks to crack them.
- Misconfigured systems: Misconfigured systems can leave them vulnerable to attack. For example, if a system is not properly patched, it may be susceptible to known vulnerabilities.
- Outdated software: Outdated software is often vulnerable to attack. Attackers can exploit known vulnerabilities in outdated software to gain unauthorized access to a system.
- Insecure web applications: Web applications are often vulnerable to attack. Attackers can exploit vulnerabilities in web applications to steal sensitive data, such as user credentials or financial information.
Pen tests can be a valuable tool for improving the security of a system. By identifying and fixing vulnerabilities, pen tests can help to protect systems from attack.
There are a number of different types of pen tests, each with its own focus. Some of the most common types of pen tests include:
- Black box testing: In black box testing, the pen tester is not given any information about the system being tested. The pen tester must use their own knowledge and skills to identify vulnerabilities in the system.
- White box testing: In white box testing, the pen tester is given some information about the system being tested. This information may include the system’s architecture, network topology, and software configurations.
- Grey box testing: Grey box testing is a combination of black box and white box testing. The pen tester is given some information about the system being tested, but not all of the information.
The type of pen test that is chosen will depend on the specific needs of the system owner. For example, if the system is critical to the business, then a white box test may be the best option. If the system is not critical, then a black box test may be sufficient.
Pen tests can be a valuable tool for improving the security of a system. However, it is important to remember that pen tests are not a guarantee of security. Vulnerabilities may still exist after a pen test is conducted. It is important to implement security measures to mitigate the risk of attack, even after a pen test has been conducted.
For an elaborate definition of penetration testing, check out Wikipedia online definition which also includes the history of the Art.