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A Complete Guide to the Six Phases of Penetration Testing

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Hackers are evolving in their attack methods, so we need to improve our IT security strategy and plan. But every time we talk about security and vulnerability, we find a limited number of solutions at our disposal. Penetration testing is one such methodology that helps in reducing risks in a specific area. Even in this case, not much is known about proper techniques or phases of penetration testing.

A typical IT security meeting almost sounds like a variation of this conversation:

IT security manager: ‘We need to improve our cybersecurity strategy.’

Senior Management Member: ‘Ok, let’s call a pentester and get an assessment.’

Incomplete knowledge can be dangerous and will prove costly in the long run. As an IT security manager who is about to work with a penetration tester, you too should know what you are getting into. It will save you and your firm a lot of money.

 Why Penetration Testing Is Important for All Businesses

Most businesses that handle and store sensitive data like healthcare services, financial institutions, banks, eCommerce, etc., are susceptible to malicious attacks because of their intel According to Cisco phishing attempts soared by 667% after Covid-19 pandemic. As employees worked from home, networks were under more significant pressure. According to Security magazine, Ransomware attacks also reached $1.4 billion in 2020.

Organizations need penetration testing to protect them from all forms of weaknesses. It is vital to implement penetration testing strategies for these reasons:

  • Uncover new threats by potential attackers and vulnerabilities that would otherwise have remained undetected.
  • Aids security team to learn how to tackle any break-in from malicious actors.
  • Verify the effectiveness of specific tools.
  • Recognize real-time vulnerabilities within systems and web applications.
  • Develop strategies to tackle the flows detected in the infrastructure, application, or process.
  • Optimize security response time.
  • Assist developers in making fewer errors.
  • Provides insight into which channels in your application or organization are at most risk and determines the tools to be used or protocols to be followed.

Pentesting certifications are one of the most sought-after learning programs across the globe. The skills earned during this course help resolve many cybersecurity issues.

What Is Information Security Governance

The 6 Phases of Penetration Testing

Typically, a penetration test is conducted in six phases. Each phase has a target that must meet to enhance the attack detection.

1. Pre-engagement interactions

This phase is often overlooked, yet it is one of the essential phases of penetration testing. Here the penetration tester learns all they can about the target company. The penetration tester works with your employees to thoroughly understand your risk posture, organizational culture, and, consequently, the best penetration testing strategy to implement.

It is also known as the information-gathering phase. It is the stage where the pentester plans the testing exercise and aligns organizational goals to specific pentesting results.

2. Reconnaissance

Also called open-source intelligence (OSINT) gathering, reconnaissance involves using the information gathered to accumulate additional intelligence about the potential targets from publicly available sources. This stage is significant because it allows the penetration tester to gather additional information that may have been previously overlooked.

  • The penetration tester applies an extensive checklist for discovering open entry points and flaws within the organization.
  • The OSINT Framework offers specific features for open information sources.
  • The type of pen testing you agree upon will determine how the tester may gather various forms of intel about your organization to determine entry points and weaknesses in your environment.
  • Some of the standard intelligence-gathering methodologies include Social Engineering, Search engine queries, Tailgating, Tax Records, Domain name searches/WHOIS lookups, or Internet Footprinting (e.g. email addresses, reverse DNS, usernames, packet sniffing, social networks, or Ping sweeps), etc.

3. Threat modeling and vulnerability identification

The next phase is threat modeling and vulnerability scanning. Here, the pentester pinpoints targets and maps the attack vectors. Vulnerability scanners detect the security threats posed by the uncovered loopholes. Afterward, the tester will determine if the uncovered flaws are exploitable.

Penetration testers will map and identify an organization’s business assets and classify high-value assets such as customer data, employee data, and technical data. The tester will also identify and classify internal threats (vendors, employees, or management) and external threats (Network traffic, ports, network protocols, or web applications).

4. Exploitation

All the information is assembled, and the pentester starts testing the exploits located within your application, network, and data. This phase aims to understand precisely how attackers can break into your environment and evade detection. The penetration tester can perform social engineering, web application attacks, physical attacks, network attacks, and memory-based attacks, among others, as exploit tactics.

5. Post exploitation

Post exploitation processes involve risk analysis and recommendations. This phase of penetration testing aims to record the techniques exploited to gain access to an organization’s critical assets. The tester determines the significance of the compromised system and the significance of the collected data.

Afterward, the penetration tester makes recommendations based on these findings. The tester should also perform cleanups after the testing exercise. This can include removing any rootkits installed in the environment, eliminating any user accounts invented to connect to the breached system, deleting temporary files, scripts, etc.

6. Reporting

The penetration tester gathers all the details of the exploitation and document the techniques exploited to gain access to an organization’s critical asset. The ethical hacker prepares a detailed report covering all the activities in the previous five phases of penetration testing efforts. It includes how the vulnerabilities were detected and exploited. Apart from this, the report will also tell you about the testing methodologies, outcomes, and recommendations for corrections.

Hiring a professional for penetration testing won’t do much if you don’t know about the process, report, and phases. This is why we recommend employing the individuals who receive their training by the most skilled professionals with pentesting experience. As an IT security officer, you can also earn penetration testing certification. It will open more opportunities for a safe, secure and rewarding career.

Enhance Your Cybersecurity Skills with Certified Penetration Testing Professional 

The CPENT or Certified Penetration Testing Professional is a unique certification program that allows candidates to attain two certifications with just one exam. It is a flexible exam that is proctored in different parts of the world and tests your general knowledge of penetration testing. The community of the CPENT certifications targets real job-focused competencies rather than taking an all-purpose approach to IT Security.

BLS projects a 32% increase in demand for information security analysts between 2018 and 2028

Penetration testing certification

Apply for CPENT Today!



What is double-blind penetration testing?
Double-blind penetration testing is a penetration testing method where only one or two people within an organization know that a test is being performed.
How many types of penetration testing are there?
There are different types of penetration tests. These include:

  1. Network security penetration testing
  2. Web application pen tests
  3. Physical pen testing
  4. Cloud penetration testing
  5. External network penetration testing
  6. Internal network penetration testing
  7. Online website pen testing
  8. Wireless network penetration testing
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