Advanced penetration testing is simulated cybersecurity testing to identify and fix exploitable vulnerabilities and security flaws in an IT environment. By ethically hacking or breaking the front-end and back-end servers, pen testing practitioners find weaknesses in network and software security and then offer solutions and recommendations for remediating them and improving security.
According to a survey, 70% of organizations perform penetration tests for vulnerability management. An evolving threat landscape and growing emphasis on compliance is pushing businesses to resort to pen testing as a method to further improve information security. While penetration testing remains an important part of vulnerability management, is it enough?
Conventional penetration testing relies heavily on known vulnerabilities. It typically involves low-level hackers who attack a system with a set of known vulnerabilities. These attacks are fought with a set of known scans and techniques. While pen testing carried out this way does have its benefits, it might not always be sufficient.
The Changing Threat Landscape
Today’s threats are not just a bunch of teens trying out their hacking skills for fun. Threats are becoming more organized and professional. The hackers are looking for profitable attacks and the stakes are high. High-value targets such as financial institutions and government agencies are on the radar.
Most of such high-value target organizations spend considerable effort to tighten their security. However, professional hackers are using increasingly innovative and sophisticated methods of attacks. Conventional pen testing cannot cope with the menace of resolute professional hackers that target high-security networks. This is where you need advanced penetration testing techniques.
Benefits of Advanced Penetration Testing
- It exposes hidden risks that are not immediately detected through regular penetration tests.
- Vulnerability scans, though effective, are no match for the current threat landscape. Advanced pen testing complements vulnerability scans to provide the complete picture.
- Advanced penetration testing goes deeper into social engineering attacks and provides a thorough report on how secure the systems are.
- Physical pen tests provide a comprehensive view of information security.
How Is Advanced Penetration Testing Different?
Advanced penetration testing goes beyond known vulnerabilities to simulate real-world attacks. It involves the following elements:
- Testing cryptographic elements,
- Network booting attacks,
- Reverse-engineering programs to locate vulnerabilities in the code,
- Attacking restricted environments on Windows and Linux, etc.
- Non-tool based attacks
- Physical attacks
4 Advanced Penetration Testing Techniques
Four of the most complex penetration techniques are as given below.
Network-Specific Penetration Testing
Network infrastructure and architecture are critical to the overall system security. It is also vulnerable to both internal and external attacks. Penetration testing that is focused on the network can be useful to weed out vulnerabilities and prevent threats from manifesting.
Network-specific pen testing is focused on the following elements:
- Connectivity components of physical networks
- Virtual networks
- Network endpoints
- All systems connected to the networks
- All accounts connected to the networks
The ultimate goal of this method of pen testing is to cover all parts of IT security. However, the focus is to conduct the tests from the network connections and then spread out to the different systems.
Wireless networks are becoming integral parts of a business and one of the most important parts of advanced pen testing is to perform tests on the wireless networks. These networks are often targeted by hackers through unsecured routers and access points. Wireless pen testing involves testing how vulnerable the wi-fi networks are and then carrying out attacks to explore vulnerabilities.
Physical Penetration Testing
One of the aspects of information security that often gets overlooked is hackers gaining access to restricted physical areas. They achieve this by dodging security cameras and circumventing security access, physical security, locks, etc. Once hackers gain access to sensitive areas, it becomes easy for them to steal data or launch attacks from the inside.
Physical pen testing involves finding vulnerabilities in the security of physical areas such as server rooms, secure buildings, and security equipment such as alarms, cameras, locks, etc. Pen testing tries to gain access to physical assets and then perform attacks on the software.
Pen Testing for Web Applications
Hackers use web applications and portals to get access to sensitive data and critical systems. With the increased use of web applications, pen testing that is focused on web applications is crucial.
Penetration testing specific to web applications includes testing the following:
- SQL injections
- Caching server attacks
- Security misconfigurations
- Authentication issues
- Password vulnerabilities
- Cross-site scripting issues
- Components such as plug-ins, applets, and scriptlets
- Firewall configuration issues
Pen testing the web applications reduces the risk of internal user errors as well as errors across connected third parties.
Penetration Testing for Social Engineering
Social engineering attacks make up almost 98% of all attacks. An organization needs protection against spurious methods that can compromise sensitive information and expose critical systems. This is especially complex to achieve since you never know to what lengths a hacker’s imagination can go to infiltrate an organization’s sensitive data stores. This is beyond technology-assisted and automated attacks.
Penetration testing for social engineering involves testing against vishing and phishing attacks through emails, phone calls, and text messages. It also involves threats such as USB drops, tailgating, and impersonation. Pen testing needs to take into account the staff’s awareness of the threats and their ability to recognize an attack.
Read more about the different types of penetration testing here.
Related articles: The Strength of Combining Vulnerability Scans and Penetration Testing.