Many of us get complete health check-ups annually. All of us hope that the tests do not bring up anything serious, yet we want to have the reassurance that everything is fine. These health checkups are important because they point out health issues and symptoms that may not be obvious or visible. Penetration testing (penetration test) does just this for organizations.

What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing is a simulated real-time cyber-attack by certified security professionals under secure conditions to detect vulnerabilities, gaps, loopholes, misconfigurations, etc. that are susceptible to malicious code injections, malware, unauthorized entries, attacks, etc.

How does it help organizations?

Security experts/ ethical hackers, with the help of penetration testing tools, breach the frontend and backend servers, APIs, etc. to break through the front-end application security, network security, and access critical assets. They further exploit vulnerabilities by tweaking rules and logic, changing parameters, crafting scripts get insights on its nature, magnitude, severity, the risk involved and so on.

Pen testing enables organizations to understand their security health and the performance of their web applications and the different security solutions, infrastructure, processes and techniques they have employed. It also helps them understand the business implications of the different vulnerabilities and weaknesses and puts the organization in a strategic position by enabling them to remediate these gaps sooner.

Web Application Scanning

Types of Vulnerabilities Pen tests look for

At the infrastructure level…

Password vulnerabilities:

Weak passwords and default passwords are the easiest ways for attackers to gain access to the organization’s critical assets and systems and compromise them. Pen testing helps organizations to find this seemingly trivial yet highly critical vulnerability.

Outdated and unpatched applications:

The criticality of updating software and applications (including operating systems) on a regular and consistent basis cannot be stressed enough as they contain critical patches to protect your web applications and systems. Attackers often use these outdated applications, processes, systems, and software to breach applications and websites.

Misconfiguration issues:

Open ports, overexposed features and services, network misconfigurations and so on can be easily exploited by attackers and bad actors. These misconfigurations have a big impact on the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the organization’s applications and servers.

At the application level…

Injection vulnerabilities:

Most often, attackers try to inject malicious payload in the form of codes, commands, scripts, etc. onto the web applications to get access to the database, backend servers, sensitive information, etc. by using vulnerabilities in the application. The most commonly used vulnerabilities are the permissions for un-sanitized and invalid inputs, codes and commands in the comments, submission forms, contact forms, and other input fields. Attackers could also use legacy and outdated features that are not routinely cleared out from the web applications/ websites.

Heartland Payment Systems faced a large-scale breach in 2008 exposing 134 million users’ credit and debit card details through spyware installed by an SQL injection attack and was thereon disallowed from processing payments for credit card majors. Penetration testing, through the skill and creative-thinking abilities of security experts, exposes these known OWASP top vulnerabilities (SQL injection, XSS attacks, etc.) and avoid such massive disasters.

Encryption, authentication and authorization flaws/ vulnerabilities:

Encryption of data ensures that the data storage, transmission, and communication are secure. When businesses do not use secure encryption protocols like SSL, TLS, etc. and use weak methods or do not use any encryption and keep the data in plaintext, they make their application and data vulnerable to attacks. The Panera Bread data breach in 2018 that exposed 37 million customers’ sensitive information occurred because data was stored in plaintext.

Authentication and authorization flaws such as weak or default passwords, broken access control, authorization abuse, abuse of session management privileges, etc. are most commonly used by attackers to gain access to sensitive user data. Man-in-the-middle attacks take place due to these vulnerabilities. Pen testing enables organizations to gauge the level of security in data storage and communication.

Business logic vulnerabilities:

Business logic is that connector and communicator between the UI and databases and software systems that enable users to seamlessly use the web application/ website. Gaps, errors, overlaps, and flaws in business logic create circumstantial vulnerabilities that can be exploited by attackers who send legitimate values and requests (instead of malformed and malicious ones) to orchestrate attacks. These vulnerabilities cannot be found through automated scanning. It requires the expertise of security professionals.

Vulnerable components:

Using frameworks, software, libraries, etc. with known vulnerabilities creates vulnerable components in the website/ web applications and these are easily identified through penetration tests.

It is important to note that every organization has unique needs and security postures and that one-size-fits-all penetration testing is not advisable. Hire certified security experts who understand the unique needs of your business so that you can focus on your core business while they take care of your security needs.

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