Hunting Down Software Vulnerabilities with Pen Testing
Advances in technology and the advent of web applications have led to where almost everything that people do is done through the Internet. This can be anything from shopping to banking, and even watching movies.
The popularity of these web applications also opened the door for hackers and other malicious third parties to exploit security vulnerabilities in these apps for their personal gain.
Because these web apps often send out and store sensitive personal information, it is important that organizations make sure that these apps are secure. For this reason, it is vital that organizations do penetration testing on their software applications to make sure their customer data remains secure.
But what exactly is penetration testing, how does it work, and what are some of the tools that security pros use to do these penetration tests? This post looks at these questions in more detail.
What Is Penetration Testing?
As such, application pen testing involves the attempted breach of a variety of application systems like APIs, source code, and servers, to uncover potential security vulnerabilities.
Once an organization has the results of the web app penetration test, it can then use these insights to improve its security policies and remedy the detected vulnerabilities via source code or system settings.
Generally, there are three broad categories of testing methodologies. The first is white box penetration testing where attackers have unlimited access to the tested systems including the source code and the documentation thereof.
The second is gray box penetration testing where the attackers have less access to the tested systems and, usually, they do not have access to the source code.
Finally, black box penetration testing refers to when the attackers have no technical information about the targeted systems and generally, only have a company name and expected outcomes of the test.
Of these, white box penetration testing typically provides the most comprehensive security review, but it is also more time-consuming and more expensive than the other methods.
In contrast, black-box penetration testing is closest to a real-life scenario because attackers often do not have access to or in-depth knowledge of the organization's systems.
In addition to these, security pros often evaluate any other vulnerabilities that exist within the organization. The really good security pros who perform pen-testing services often try to creatively exploit other methods to provide a more comprehensive evaluation.
Malicious employee attack simulations that are performed by aggrieved employees, contractors, or other parties who are no longer in the employ of the organization but may still have access to the internal security policies and passwords.
Social engineering attacks where attackers use psychological manipulation of people to obtain confidential access information of the organization’s systems.
Simulation of phishing attacks. Here, analysts will use fraudulent emails or websites to attempt to fool employees of the organization into providing the login details.
Attacks using user privileges where the analyst gains access to a user account on the application and then tries to gain administrative permissions through this account.
Because application developers often only focus on attacks that occur externally, they often overlook these types of internal attacks, even though they pose a significant security threat.
Penetration Testing Stages
Typically, a successful application penetration test goes through certain stages. During the first stage, the security analyst starts by working with an organization's IT leaders and other stakeholders to identify each test’s scope and goals.
The analyst will also research the infrastructure of the application which helps him to understand the application’s functions and where there might be any security vulnerabilities.
According to this initial analysis, the analyst then comes up with the parameters he will use to perform different types of penetration tests.
Here, in respect of black-box testing, the analyst sets up tests that will mimic the actions of a hacker with average skills and little knowledge about the inner workings of the application.
In respect of gray box testing, the analyst will devise tests from an application user’s perspective with access to the organization’s systems and infrastructure. Lastly, with white box testing, the analyst develops tests that will mimic the actions of a user with more system access, like, for instance, someone who works in IT or security.
Once the analyst has developed these tests, he will then move on to conduct the evaluations that will provide insight into how the application should respond to these different attacks.
For example, the analyst could go through the application code to simulate the expected reactions should the application run. The analyst could also perform more dynamic analysis to test the security vulnerabilities of the application during run time.
Once all the testing is done, the analyst will typically prepare a report that sets out the type of tests performed, the details of every test, the vulnerabilities found during the test, and the recommendations to fix the vulnerabilities.
Once an organization has this information, it can then use these insights to fix the security vulnerabilities and protect its applications and systems.
Penetration Testing Tools
To do these tests, analysts use a variety of tools, like:
Nmap. Nmap or Network Mapper is a scanning and reconnaissance tool that analysts use for network discovery and security auditing. It can provide basic information on the target application, and also includes a scripting module that can be used for vulnerability detection.
Wireshark. Wireshark is one of the most popular network protocol analyzers on the market and helps analysts to do a deep inspection of protocols as well as live traffic capture and off-line analysis of a captured file.
Metasploit. Metasploit is a framework that analysts use to create custom tools for particular tasks.
Nessus. This is a vulnerability scanner that helps analysts to identify vulnerabilities, configuration problems, and even the presence of malware in applications. Although this tool is not designed for executing exploitations, it is often helpful when doing reconnaissance.
Burp Suite. This is an all-in-one platform for testing the security of applications and it has several tools that can be used through every stage of the testing process.
Other tools to play with:
The Bottom Line
Although web applications offer businesses and customers a lot of convenience because of their ease of use and their availability no matter where the customer is, they also expose customers to a variety of cybersecurity threats. And because they are so popular, they are prone to vulnerabilities as innovative technologies emerge.
Because of this, organizations should make it a priority to do penetration testing on their applications to make sure their personal information, as well as the information of their customers, are properly protected and safe.