An Overview of Penetration Testing

These days, almost all businesses have concerns about the growing number of cyber threats to network security, web applications, devices, servers, peripherals, and even people and physical buildings. Sometimes shortened to pen test, penetration testing describes an effective method to identify real-world cybersecurity issues before they occur and just as important, how to fix them.

If businesses leave these problems undetected, criminals and other malicious parties could exploit vulnerabilities to gain access to sensitive information or even take over entire systems. Here at RedTeam Security, our penetration testing includes simulated cyber-attacks, all developed by highly trained security experts. Not only will Red Team pen testing uncover and document cybersecurity problems, but the security assessment will also provide risk assessments and effective security controls to eliminate vulnerabilities. To schedule a free consultation with RedTeam Security professionals, contact us online or call 612-234-7848.

What is Network Penetration Testing?

Many businesses have already run a vulnerability assessment, so they may ask why they need to take the extra step of running Pen Tests.  Penetration testing usually occurs after performing a vulnerability assessment. A vulnerability assessment has the same goals as a Pen Test, but generally, a vulnerability assessment only employs automated vulnerability scanners to spot common issues.

It’s true that vulnerability scanning can help by pinpointing security vulnerabilities. Good scans even categorize security risks, assign risk levels, and offer remediation suggestions. While it’s not the same thing as a penetration test, this kind of assessment may be used to help gather the information that will help plan the test.

In contrast, a Network Pen Tester will engage in what’s called ethical hacking. These security professionals will set up tests that behave as if they came from a real digital criminal. By simulating actual attacks, computer, internet, and Network Penetration Testing will uncover exactly how systems respond to an actual cybersecurity threat. The security professionals will also provide clear remediation advice that may apply to software, hardware, or even the human side of managing complex digital systems.

Network Penetration Testing Steps

How is Penetration Testing Different From Vulnerability Assessments?

Again, vulnerability assessments simply refer to a system scan to uncover potential, common security issues. They’re part of the plan of a true network penetration test. The vulnerability assessment uncovers potential problems, but the pen test shows what could happen in a real-time attack against a live system.  

Also, trained and experienced security experts will interpret these assessments and tests’ results, so an organization doesn’t have to worry that they really don’t understand the report they get or how to handle any issues.

It’s the difference between reading about what could happen and seeing what happens. Also, the vulnerability scan will generally only uncover technical issues and not any threats that may come from the human side of managing security.

Benefits of Performing a Pen Test

Pen testing can offer numerous benefits to any organization concerned about security.

Some of the primary benefits of this type of security testing include:

Identifying Network Security Flaws

As technology advances, digital criminals’ methods to exploit weaknesses in an operating system or network also evolve. Some examples of these flaws include social engineering attacks, SQL injection, outdated versions of software, poorly configured firewalls, and malware.

Understanding Risk Levels

Some security weaknesses could expose sensitive information, which can result in violating compliance requirements, bad press, and of course, the loss of customer trust. On the other hand, exploitable vulnerabilities that merely lead to losing next month’s cafeteria menu may not threaten that much harm to a company. It’s essential to determine the risk levels for various systems to allocate resources accordingly.

Mapping Out the Organization’s Overall Security Posture

Security posture refers to an organization’s overall security status for hardware, software, networks, data, and processes. It includes security controls, security management, and the ability to react and recover to threats. Businesses need to assess and document their security posture before they can hope to improve it. Having a strong security posture can help business leaders make confident decisions and improve their company’s overall trust.

Fixing Information Security

Businesses cannot expect to fix information security for sensitive data until they know the problem exists. Once caught, companies can expect suggestions to remediate issues as the final product of the testing process. While these may include technical recommendations, they may also cover business processes or even employee education about resisting phishing, developing strong passwords, etc.

Pen Test Steps

Typically, security experts break down Pen Testing into four steps:

1. Understand Client Expectations and Determine Test Type

To plan the project, penetration testers must first understand client expectations and determine which type of penetration test to run.

Three kinds of tests include:

  • Black Box: A black box test simulates an average hacker, without much knowledge of the internal system or network. It attempts to exploit vulnerabilities of parts of the network that the public might see. As an example, a black box test might determine if hackers could breach an eCommerce site. This is usually the fastest type of test to run. On the other hand, if this test fails to breach security, it won’t uncover internal cybersecurity issues that a more sophisticated criminal could exploit.
  • White Box: Since organizations need to account for internal threats or stolen login permissions, they may choose a white box test to see if people with strong credentials could create mischief if they were so inclined. For example, these tests might determine the issues a hacker who obtained the login information from somebody in IT or IS. This kind of test typically takes the longest to plan and run, but it can offer genuinely robust security suggestions.
  • Gray Box: A gray box text rests between a black box and a white box test. Testers develop these simulations to understand issues that an average system use could cause if they had bad intentions or if their login permissions were stolen. For example, a gray box test might look for application vulnerabilities in an information system that employees generally use.

Of course, the team also needs to determine when and how to perform the test. Some questions they might ask include:

  • Should they perform the test on a live or staging copy of the system?
  • Should they test during business hours or wait until a slow time to avoid business disruption?

Once the team understands client expectations and determines the kind of testing process they need to use, they can move on to learn more about the client’s systems in the discover and recon step.

2. Discovery and Recon

At this point, penetration testers need to put on the hats of sophisticated hackers who might scope out a system to look for potential weaknesses.

The discovery step should include two parts:

  • Tech Assessment
    The team will need to scope out network ports, peripherals, and other common weak points that can help them gain access to a business system.  At this point, they may run a vulnerability assessment, which will help them discover typical issues with other systems of this nature.
  • Social Engineering Assessment
    The testers also want to look into potential social engineering weaknesses. This refers to using deception to steal login IDs and passwords, such as phishing scams. Using tests to ensure employees know how to avoid these scams can produce trustworthy information about their overall security posture. Even the best security systems could fail if employees don’t adhere to a good governance policy.


Once the team has completed reconnaissance, the discovery phase consists of aggregating this information in a useful form to use to develop the actual tests.

3. Develop and Run Tests

At this point, the penetration testers can develop and run their live tests. They use tools that use pre-coded or custom scripts that will probe potential hazards identified in the second step. Since any one script may only uncover one issue, the team will usually need to run multiple scripts to make certain they have uncovered every possible weakness.

As with recon, the security experts should look at both the technical and human side of security. Technical tests may look for such common threats as SQL injection or weak peripheral security. On the other hand, a human test might even attempt to get people to divulge sensitive information.

4. Report and Recommend Solutions

As a final end product, the tests should produce a report that clearly outlines any weaknesses in the system and suggestions to remediate these problems and strengthen security. The report should also include information about the various risk levels of any uncovered threats. That way, the business will know which problems they should consider the most urgent to address to allocate resources accordingly.

Sometimes, recommendations may include such common steps as applying upgrades or patches to software or hardware. In other cases, they may consist of employee education or updated governance policies.

Again, strong security depends both upon the technical side and the human side of the organization. Very often, these must both work together, such as in the case of ensuring employees know to apply all updates to their applications and devices as soon as they’re available and avoid clicking untrusted links in emails.

How Long Does a Network Penetration Test Take?

The time it takes pen testers to complete their work depends on the organization’s systems’ size and complexity. Testing a one-doctor medical office won’t usually take as long as working with a global enterprise. Of course, the time the test takes may also depend upon any weaknesses or vulnerabilities uncovered and the sensitivity of the information that the security system should protect. With that said, testing projects usually last from one to four weeks. After scoping the project, the testing team can offer a detailed estimate.

How Much Do Penetration Tests Cost?

As with time estimates, the cost of pen tests will depend upon the organization’s nature, client expectations, and other factors. RedTeam Security can conduct a quick, painless scoping process to provide both time and cost estimates.

Some factors that may impact the overall cost include the number of live IP addresses, type of applications, overall data sensitivity, kind of test, etc. Generally, a white box test costs more than a black box test, but it may produce the more valuable kind of information in some cases.

Some security companies advertise a flat rate for their projects. Still, those promises suggest they’re offering the same off-the-shelf service to a small business as they are to an enterprise, which doesn’t indicate that anybody will get exactly what they need, or pay what they should.  

While there’s no right one-size-fits-all answer to either the penetration testing time or cost question, RedTeam Security will let clients know what to expect after they scope the project.

RedTeam Security’s World-Class Penetration Testing Services

In this age of cloud storage, bring-your-own-devices, and remote work, companies also face increasing security threats. And just as security has evolved, hackers work hard to stay a step ahead of both professionals and their software. All kinds of organizations need to work with security experts to ensure their business systems’ safety.

Moreover, organizations have also suffered a growing number of threats from the inside, either from malicious users or accidental security credentials loss. Even the most loyal and diligent employees have accidentally divulged information or clicked the wrong link because of a lack of security education. Pen testing can help ensure robust security, both against outside attacks and for internal accidents or mischief.

Penetration testing offers you the only true way to know if your digital assets are truly secure and if they’re not, what security measure you can take to strengthen them. At RedTeam Security, our cybersecurity professionals offer free security consultation. You can schedule your appointment online or call 612-234-7848 today. Get in touch with RedTeam Security today to ensure you’re doing everything you can to protect your computer systems and your business reputation.

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