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Beginner's Guide to Ethical Hacking: Penetration Testing 101


What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing (pen testing) is an important process for companies to assess the security of their computer systems. The goal is to find vulnerabilities or weak spots in the system that could be exploited by hackers. This way, the company can take steps to fix these issues before they are discovered and exploited by malicious actors.

During the pen testing process, experts use various techniques to identify vulnerabilities in the system. Once they find a problem, they assign a score to show how important it is to fix it. The experts then work with the company to fix these problems and make the system more secure.

Sometimes, experts need to perform a special type of testing called black box testing. This is where they try to break into the system as if they were a hacker, without knowing much about the system beforehand. To do this, they may need to change their computer's address so they can't be detected. They can use a tool called a proxy server to do this.

A proxy server helps hide the expert's real location and allows them to find and fix problems without being detected. This is especially important for black box testing, as it allows the experts to simulate a real-world hacking attempt and identify vulnerabilities that may otherwise go undetected.

Why Use Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing is used to verify vulnerabilities. Also, testers use it to evaluate the security of the system.

Today's technology is changing rapidly. However, human error still accounts for 88% of data breaches. Modern hackers target security misconfigurations at any level of the application stack. To know if your security systems are capable of dealing with such attacks, they need to be tested.

How a company can benefit from penetration testing is as follows:

  1. Testing identifies weaknesses in an organization's hardware, software, or human assets for control purposes.
  2. Testing ensures that the three most important aspects of network security (confidentiality, integrity and availability) are maintained.
  3. Testing ensures that the controls implemented are adequate.
  4. Testing provides metrics that provide insight into a company's established security measures. This is determined by how it can be attacked and the steps required to protect it.
  5. Testing improves the company's overall security posture.

Types of Penetration Testing

1. Network penetration testing

Inspect the physical structure of systems to uncover dangers in an organization's network. Penetration testers conduct tests on a network so they can identify flaws in the network's architecture, operation, or implementation. Testers examine individual business components, such as computers, equipment, to find possible defects.

2. Physical Penetration Test

This type of penetration testing simulates real-world risks. Penetration testers play the role of cyber hackers, trying to breach physical security barriers. This type of testing is used to find defects in physical equipment such as surveillance cameras, lockers, obstacles and sensors.

3. Web application penetration testing

In this type of testing, testers look for bugs in Web-based systems. Web application penetration testing identifies possible vulnerabilities in websites and applications. It also searches for security issues caused by insecure development.

Websites and applications with transactional pages require this type of penetration testing. Examples include online shopping sites, banking applications, and other e-commerce sites.

4. Wireless network penetration testing

This type of penetration testing examines the connectivity of all devices connected to the corporate internet. Its purpose is to avoid data leakage that may occur when sharing data between devices over a wireless network.

3 Methods of Penetration Testing

There are three ways a tester can perform a penetration test. They depend on the kind of information available at hand.

1. Black box penetration testing

In black box or external penetration testing, the tester has no knowledge of the company's IT architecture. This process is similar to simulating a real-world cyber attack and usually takes a long time to complete.

2. Gray box penetration testing

In this approach, the tester has some information about the company's infrastructure, including IP addresses, operating systems, email addresses, locations, and network maps.

This is a more targeted approach, since testers have limited intranet access. This frees them to focus on finding potential vulnerabilities. So it saves them more time and money.

3. White box penetration testing

White box penetration testing is also known as internal or transparent box penetration testing. Penetration testers have all the information such as IT infrastructure, source code and environment.

This is a broader and deeper penetration test that touches every aspect of an application, often including code quality and basic design as well. Plus, this type of penetration testing typically takes two to three weeks to complete.

Tools Used in Penetration Testing

Penetration testing relies heavily on tools. These tools help detect security flaws in networks, servers, hardware, and software. Penetration tools are software applications used to find vulnerabilities, and they are also used by real hackers.

There are hundreds of tools available in the market for implementing different penetration testing processes. Below are some of the most popular penetration testing tools that are useful for common testing.

1. SQL Map

SQL Map is a program for automatically discovering and exploiting SQL injection problems. It includes a robust detection engine that can be used with any database management system. It supports all SQL injection techniques. With proper authentication, IP address, port, and database name, you can connect to the database without using SQL injection.

2. W3af

To discover arbitrary vulnerabilities, the Web Application Attack and Audit Framework (W3af) was employed. It gets rid of issues like DNS, cache poisoning, cookie management, and proxy support.

3. Wireshark

Wireshark is the most used network protocol analyzer in the world. This tool allows testers to detect network activity at a very small level. It also allows thorough inspection of hundreds of protocols, as well as real-time capture and offline analysis. Wireshark is compatible with all major operating systems such as Windows, Linux, macOS and Solaris.

4. Metasploit

Metasploit is a common tool for penetration testing. It is used by testing teams to review and manage security assessments, thereby thwarting white hat hackers. Metasploit includes command line and GUI interfaces. It runs on all operating systems including macOS, Linux and Windows. However, Linux is the most popular.

This tool allows penetration testers to break into systems and find fatal weaknesses. With this tool, testers can exploit weaknesses for real attacks.

5. Nmap

Nmap is free, versatile, powerful, portable, and easy to use. It can be used in different ways, for example:

  • Review and manage service upgrade plans
  • Monitor hosts and services that are up and running
  • Manage Network List

It determines whether a host is available by analyzing raw IP packets. Nmap is also used to see what services are running on a host. Also, it can check application name, version and OS information.

Testers can see what packet filters are used. Nmap can scan anything from a single computer to a large network. It is compatible with almost all operating systems.

6. Nessus

Many companies around the world rely on Nessus as one of the trusted penetration testing tools. It is used to scan IP addresses, websites and search for sensitive data. Nessus can help identify missing patches, malware and mobile scans. In addition, it features a full-featured dashboard, extensive scanning capabilities, and multi-format reporting capabilities.


Web application penetration testing is important for identifying critical security flaws in a system, and is also necessary for identifying vulnerabilities in IT infrastructure or web applications. As cyberattacks become more common, detecting threats and vulnerabilities becomes increasingly important. This is why penetration testing is a must.

Different companies have their own penetration testing tools and methodologies. However, the goal remains the same: to protect corporate assets from external intruders. Penetration testers with advanced skills can find more and more flaws. It can then be patched to make the system more secure.

Penetration testing is now expanding to include mobile device and cloud security. As a penetration tester, you need to be prepared and aware of vulnerabilities and how to test in these areas.

Remember, penetration testers must always be one step ahead of black hat hackers. In this game, there is only one winner, and it should be the company you work for.

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