The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Penetration Testing

The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Penetration Testing

Cybercrime and cyber-attacks are on the rise, as more and more individuals, as well as companies, start incorporating digital and web-based technologies into their daily lives. Many different types of security testing go into protecting your systems and data from attackers or unwanted users. Among all the different types of testing that can be done, penetration testing in specific can prove to be quite significant. And so, in this article, we’ll be focusing on penetration testing, covering all the basics for you.

Different types of IT security testing:

There are about 7 main types of security testing when it comes to information technology. However, there could be more based on the nature and complexity of the system or infrastructure you’re dealing with.

  1. Penetration testing
  2. Vulnerability scanning
  3. IT security audits and risk assessment
  4. Social engineering
  5. Disaster recovery and business continuity planning (BCP)
  6. Physical intrusion testing
  7. Network forensics

Each of these tests serves a different purpose in the overall integrity of a system’s safety. However, the main purpose of all security testing is to identify vulnerabilities in a system or network so that they can be fixed before an attacker can exploit them. Penetration testing is one that people often misunderstand or don’t know about at all. We’ll go into more detail on this now.

What is penetration testing?

Penetration testing is the process of finding and exploiting vulnerabilities in a system, such as a website or other computing device. It can be used to test for weaknesses and loopholes that a malicious user could exploit. Penetration tests will often include vulnerability scanning which uses software penetration testing tools to identify security issues on your network. Once these are identified, a penetration test will attempt to exploit them to determine how severe they are.

The two main points of access to consider when penetration testing

An ethical hacker or penetration tester needs to cover the various ways data could be breached. They could do this remotely, or from within by physically getting a hold of a device or a way to access it.

Remote: In this method, an ethical hacker will attempt to remotely exploit vulnerabilities in a system from the outside world. The goal is to be able to access it as though you were any other user or program on that network. This is often done by identifying and exploiting security flaws such as unencrypted data transmissions, weak passwords, etc.

Internal:  In this scenario, the hacker will attempt to exploit vulnerabilities from within the system. This could be by gaining access to a device such as a laptop or a phone and then trying to extract data from it, or by taking advantage of an already compromised system.

Once you understand how attackers can gain access to your systems, you can better protect them by plugging the holes they would use.

Three different types of penetration testing:

White box: In this type of test, the tester has full access to all security measures and knowledge about the system being tested.

Black box: In this type of test, the testers will perform their tests on the system having no prior knowledge beyond its name and address about the system or its infrastructure. This is done to simulate how a hacker would view the system externally and plan their attacks.

Grey box: This type of test is a mix of white and black box testing, where the tester has some knowledge about the system but not all.

Why is penetration testing important?

Penetration tests reveal the true security of a system. While vulnerability scans and other tests can only identify problems, they don’t prove that vulnerabilities are exploitable or how severe an issue might be if attacked. The results from penetration testing will help you understand just how vulnerable your systems are when they are up and running. This will give you an idea of what needs to be fixed and what could need immediate attention as well as possible future improvements to your security posture.

Who is penetration testing for?

Penetration testing is for anyone who wants to ensure the security of their systems. This includes large businesses as well as smaller ones or even individual users. Many people believe that everyone should perform a penetration test on their home network at least once a year.

Benefits of penetration testing

There are many benefits to performing a penetration test. Some of these include:

  • Mitigating vulnerabilities before an attacker can exploit them
  • Identifying the true security posture of your systems
  • Training employees on security practises and how to identify and avoid social engineering attacks
  • Testing disaster recovery and business continuity plans

How can penetration testing be done?

There are mainly three ways to go about this- using automated tools and/or scripts, Manually, or a Hybrid approach. The approach you choose would depend on the size and complexity of the target environment as well as what you’re testing for.

Automated: This method will use software or scripts to detect security issues, exploit them, test for common problems, and provide reports on the findings.

Manual: This method will require a specialist skilled at ethical hacking who will manually find and exploit vulnerabilities.

Hybrid: This is the best approach and is a combination of the two methods listed above. It couples the speed of automated testing with the added accuracy from manually testing areas that were overlooked by the automated tools.

Different tools for different purposes

There are some best and different kinds of tools for penetration testing, each built for a different purpose. They can be categorised as:

  • Vulnerability scanners – software that checks systems for known vulnerabilities so you can fix them before being exploited by an attacker.
  • Exploitation frameworks – reusable code that makes it easier to develop exploits against common applications and services, such as databases or web servers.
  • Password cracking tools – used to reveal passwords by various methods based on what data was found and how securely passwords are stored. Some of the features of such tools include- reverse-hashing, brute-forcing, etc.
  • Network sniffers – software that can capture and decode all traffic passing over a network, including usernames, passwords, and other sensitive information.

Depending on what your target environment includes, how it contains data and what kind of data it holds, you will need different tools. If you don’t know where to start, talk to a professional penetration tester to get the right toolkit for your specific needs.


So, there you have it. All the basics of penetration testing. We’ve covered what it is, why it’s important, and who should perform it. Additionally, we looked at the different types of tests that can be carried out as well as the tools needed for each one. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, it should give you a good starting point for understanding and performing penetration tests on your own.

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