Organizations have become painfully aware of how quickly and consistently the digital threat landscape changes. From 2020 to 2021, there was an 18% increase in security vulnerabilities as hackers developed new tools and strategies to infiltrate existing systems. What flaws are being exploited in new ways? The five most common were server security misconfiguration; cross-site scripting; broken access control; exposure of sensitive data; and authentication and session hijacking.
These are risks that can be detected and prevented, but the tight labor market and economy-wide employee burnout present additional complications. Penetration testing (pen testing) methods of the past are not just labor-intensive but time-intensive and expensive, to the extent that many organizations only conduct a system-wide pen test once a year. But if thieves were trying to get in your home in new ways every day, it wouldn’t make sense to only test the locks and alarms once in a while. A constant threat requires constant awareness!
In this guide, we’re starting with a look back at what performance testing has been and how it has been achieved. Then, we’re explaining how penetration testing as a service (PTaaS) improves on the successes of the past to make life easier and more efficient for companies today.
What is Penetration Testing?
Penetration testing (pen testing) is a bottom-up approach to identifying business risks presented by technology. One or more testers from outside the organization attack the system with hacker tools to find vulnerabilities. Then, they exploit the vulnerabilities to the full extent possible–not to do harm, but to understand what is or might be flawed. Through this method, they find gaps in the defenses before bad actors and criminals use them against you. Penetration testing allows organizations to look past the claims and policies to truly understand the current live state of the system’s defenses.
What are the Four Types of Penetration Testing?
There are four main types of pen testing: external, internal, social engineering, and web application.
- External Network Pen Test: The ethical hackers try to break into the system from outside the perimeter, like through a file transfer protocol (FTP) server or other internet-facing assets.
- Internal Network Pen Test: The ethical hackers are given initial access to the company system to show what could be vulnerable due to risks like ransomware or insider threats.
- Social Engineering Pen Test: The ethical hackers test employee adherence to defined security policies, especially around email, links, and other possible security loopholes.
- Web Application Pen Test: The ethical hackers simulate an attack on a web application (like a customer self-service portal) to see how easily sensitive information is breached.
What are the Three Penetration Testing Methodologies?
There are three ways a pen tester can approach the project: with full access to the system architecture and code (white box), with no access to any information (black box), or with some access (grey box). Each approach comes with advantages and disadvantages as follows.
- White box penetration testing allows a deep analysis of the code and known or hidden errors, since the tester has access to the internal workings of the system. Unneeded lines of code can be removed and writing other test scenarios gets easier. However, this expertise can be expensive to maintain and scale. Tools like debuggers can also be required, adding to cost and complexity.
- Black box penetration testing is conducted by a tester with no knowledge of the system architecture or code. As such, it is ideal for testing large systems and can be performed by less-skilled testers than white box testing. On the other hand, black box testing offers limited coverage and may not put enough pressure on key areas to find the most severe risks.
- Grey box penetration testing gives penetration testers necessary information to test specific scenarios like data handling or communication protocols. The test is still conducted from the point-of-view of the user but leverages some data to achieve an edge on black box results. However, these tests cannot cover every program path, so it’s important to avoid redundancies with other test cases to get as much coverage as possible.
In summary, penetration testers may test external or internal cybersecurity, including both technology and people’s habits. The testers may or may not know much about the environment they are testing.
Due to this variability, there are techniques and methodologies that have grown along with the need for pen testing. Such frameworks guide testers in delivering results and actionable insights under all different testing conditions.
What are the Top Five Penetration Testing Techniques?
The top pen testing techniques are: Open Source Security Testing Methodology Manual (OSSTMM), Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Penetration Testing Execution Standard (PTES), and Information System Security Assessment Framework (ISSAF). These are listed in no particular order: instead, each approach is preferred under different conditions.
- OSSTMM: Since this technique is open source, the methodology is free to access and implement. This framework tests the security of five channels: human security, physical security, wireless communication, telecommunication, and data networks. It also covers error handling, reporting, disclosure, and other elements of security.
- OWASP: This testing methodology is one of many open source projects completed by the OWASP Foundation, which exists to make software more secure. The OWASP penetration testing framework includes everything from test execution standards to what to look for in a qualified pen tester.
- NIST: This is a penetration testing technique and set of requirements established by part of the US Department of Commerce. All US federal agencies and government contractors must follow NIST guidelines and demonstrate annual compliance.
- PTES: The PTES framework and methodology is the source of seven pentest methodology steps which have been tested and proven in the industry for many years. In addition to the seven step methodology, they have a technical guide to accompany their standards.
- ISSAF: This approach to pen testing is very structured and comes with lots of documentation as well as specific tools to use. However, this methodology is no longer being maintained or updated, meaning it may fall further behind other best practices as the industry advances.
No matter which methodology or approach is used, all traditional penetration testing suffers from a shared flaw: it only captures one point in time. When any of these frameworks are used once a year to test your system and security, the company only has a snapshot of the time period when testing is conducted.
But the day after you hear the results of a system-wide penetration test could be the day an employee clicks a corrupted link or a new patch creates a vulnerability. This is why companies are increasingly turning to pen testing as a service (PTaaS) to continuously affirm security and functionality.
What is PTaaS?
Pen testing as a service is when an outside vendor continuously tests your system for vulnerabilities and reports on new findings in real-time. PTaaS provides a constant feedback loop, helping events like errors, cracks, and misconfigurations get identified and acted on before they cause trouble. This service covers all four types of penetration testing, monitoring for internal and external threats as well as those caused by human action or specific to certain applications. Since it is integrated with internal systems and data sources, PTaaS delivers the in-depth expert coverage of a white box pen test without the reliance on a single (often overworked) expert.
Early risk identification gives businesses a chance to clarify the potential impact of the risk and make thoughtful decisions about remediation. The pentest service provider may even help you map the error to its root cause and ensure technical issues are not repeating–at least, that is what we do at InterVision.
Is PTaaS a SaaS?
PTaaS is not achieved solely through software, but platforms like RedSpy365 certainly make it easier for the full service to be delivered by the provider. RedSpy365 delivers the continuous 24/7 test oversight that is needed to make PTaaS work. It also aggregates threat intelligence, business analytics, and compliance information, because no system exists in isolation. Using these data sources, RedSpy365 shares alerts about current and possible attacks, as well as how your system would react to emerging threats before they strike. The platform also maintains the necessary compliance documentation for you.
All this data is great, but knowing about a risk is only part of the equation. PTaaS also includes professional services to strengthen security and address challenges. We work with your security and DevOps teams to help prioritize and execute remediation.
InterVision: Leading PTaaS Provider
InterVision is proud to be one of the penetration testing companies in the USA operating ahead of the curve to deliver PTaaS. It is the only threat modeling platform that continuously maps emerging threats and calculates their real financial impact in a live environment. It is the future of offensive security and will become the standard for PTaaS. To learn more about PTaaS, contact us today for a conversation.
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Featured PTaaS webinar: On-Demand Webinar, The Story and Evolution of Penetration Testing.