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What is Black Box, Grey Box, and White Box Penetration Testing?

Posted DateApril 13, 2021
Posted Time 4   min Read

Pen-testers offer several types of pen-tests such as white, grey, and black box penetration testing. However, cutting through the jargon and finding the right one from among the different types of penetration testing can be challenging. Read on to understand these pen-testing types.

Black Box Penetration Testing 

Black Box Penetration Testing, also known as External Penetration Testing or Trial & Error Testing, helps companies find vulnerabilities that make their systems/ applications/ network exploitable from outside. The pen-tester plays the role of an unprivileged hacker. They are equipped with little to no information about or granted access to the security policies, architecture diagrams, or source code.

In Black Box Penetration Testing, the responsibility of reconnaissance lies with the pen-tester who must gather all sensitive information required to penetrate the furthest into the client’s network and unearth as many vulnerabilities as possible. They draw up a map of the target system based on their observations, analysis, and research like an unprivileged attacker would.

Based on their findings, the pen-testers attack the target system using methods such as brute force attacks, buffer overflow, password cracking, and so on. Further, they engage in privilege escalation and access maintenance after the breach.


  • Black Box Penetration Testing is the closest to real-world attacks since the pen-tester acts and thinks like an uninformed, average attacker.
  • Pen-testers typically leverage a range of open-source tools and multiple techniques to breach the systems, just like a typical attacker would.
  • When carried out by trustworthy and highly skilled pen-testers, this pen-testing type detects a wide range of vulnerabilities, including security misconfigurations, XSS, SQL injections, input/ output validation issues, server misconfigurations, and so on.
  • This approach gives an accurate risk assessment keeping hackers’ view in mind for public-facing applications and recommended to be done frequently on production systems.
  • A combination of automated scans and periodic manual penetration testing to augment the automated scans is highly recommended and gives an accurate security posture and risk assessment of the application.


  • The efficacy of Black Box Penetration Testing rests on the ability of the pen-tester to breach the perimeter by finding security gaps.
  • If the tester is unable to locate and exploit vulnerabilities in the external-facing assets and services, then testing is ineffective, and businesses would live with a false sense of safety. Not just that, the investment in the pen-test will be wasteful too.
  • The depth of coverage is only to the extent of the information provided to the pen tester and the coverage possible via automated scanner and the ability of the pen tester and time given to them to go deeper.

White Box Penetration Testing 

White Box Penetration Testing, also known as Internal Testing or Clear Box/ Glass Box/ Structural Testing, helps businesses to test the strength of the systems/ networks/ applications against privileged insiders as well as outsiders.

In White Box Penetration Testing, the pen-tester is equipped with complete information about and full access to the network, system, and applications including source code, IP address schema, OS details, configuration files, network maps, credentials, and so on. Pen-testers perform both static and dynamic analyses for a comprehensive assessment of vulnerabilities.


  • White Box Penetration Testing provides a comprehensive assessment of internal and external vulnerabilities, evaluated from beyond the point of view available to the average attackers.
  • It helps identify vulnerabilities, gaps, and misconfigurations within the infrastructure, source code, design, business logic, typography, syntax, security settings, and so on.
  • This testing type is more thorough and helps evaluate the quality of code and application design.
  • The time and cost of engagement are relatively less since pen-testers are equipped with full access to information.


  • Given the voluminous information at their disposal, pen-testers may take longer to decide which areas to focus on.
  • This testing type requires more sophisticated penetration testing tools and methods for enhanced effectiveness.
  • Reliability and trust play a crucial role in White Box Penetration Testing. It often deters businesses from sharing critical insights with the testers, thereby, reducing the effectiveness of testing.

Grey Box Penetration Testing

Grey Box Penetration Testing, also known as Translucent Box Testing, emulates a scenario wherein the attacker has partial information or access to systems/ network/ application such as login credentials, system code, architecture diagrams, etc. Grey box tests aim to understand what potential damage partial information access or privileged users could cause a business.


  • Grey Box Penetration Testing strikes a balance between depth and efficiency of black and white box tests.
  • It provides a more focused and efficient assessment of security posture.
  • It is more time and more cost-effective than the trial-and-error approach, saving time and costs on reconnaissance.


  • Grey Box Penetration Testing is most effective when the business defines network areas that need penetration testing.


It is not a choice between the different types of penetration testing, but to ensure you have the right mix of all these types at the right frequency to get full coverage. A black box penetration testing is the absolute must-have as it gives the most important risk assessment mimicking hackers or attackers’ view of your application.

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