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Types of penetration testing


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Industry experts generally divide penetration testing into three categories: black box testing, white box testing, and gray box testing. The categories correspond to different types of attacks or cybersecurity threats.

Black box testing is concerned with a brute-force attack. In this scenario, the simulation is that of a hacker who does not know the complexity and structure of a company’s IT infrastructure. Therefore, the hacker will launch an all-out attack to try to identify and exploit a weakness. The penetration test does not give the tester any information about a web application, its source code, or any software architecture. The tester uses a “trial and error” approach to see where the vulnerabilities exist in the IT infrastructure. This type of penetration testing most closely mimics a real-world scenario, but it can take a long time to complete.

White box penetration testing is the opposite of this first technique. In white box testing, the tester has full knowledge of the IT infrastructure, with access to the source code and software architecture of a web application. This gives them the ability to zero in on specific parts of the system and perform targeted component testing and analysis. It’s a faster method than black box testing. However, white box penetration testing uses more sophisticated pen testing tools, such as software code analyzers or debugging programs.

Finally, gray box testing uses both manual and automated testing processes in a scenario in which the tester has partial knowledge of the internal IT infrastructure. The tester might receive the software code, for example, but not the system architecture details. Gray box penetration testing is a hybrid of white box and black box testing, allowing a user to utilize automated tools on the all-out assault while focusing their manual effort on locating “security holes.”

These overarching types of penetration testing methods can be further subdivided into specific categories. Other types of penetration tests include:

  • Social engineering tests: The pen test scenario tries to get an employee or third party to reveal sensitive information, such as a password, business data, or other user data. This can be done through targeting help desks or sales representatives through the phone or internet.
  • Web application tests: The pen test uses software to assess the security vulnerability of web apps and software programs.
  • Physical penetration tests: Mostly used in government sites or other secure facilities, the pen test tries to access physical network devices and access points in a mock security breach.
  • Network services test: This is the most common pen test scenario, in which a user tries to either locally or remotely identify openings in the network.
  • Client-side test: This is when an MSP tries to exploit vulnerabilities in client-side software programs.
  • Wireless security test: The pen test identifies open, unauthorized, or low-security hotspots and WiFi networks and tries to infiltrate through them.

All types of penetration testing should consider both internal and external components of an IT infrastructure. There are different phases of a penetration test that will ensure a holistic and regularly updated approach to an organization’s cybersecurity.

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