With cybersecurity threats evolving at an alarming rate, it is so important that your business is regularly reviewing and updating its security efforts. There are lots of ways this can be done, one of which is using penetration testing.
But as there are multiple types of penetration tests available, it can be tricky to know which one to choose - so we’re here to help.
In this guide, we’re going to look at the four different types of penetration testing and how they can help your business. This will allow you to pick the security test that is going to be most beneficial for your security team, so you can better protect your networks and systems.
Penetration testing: The basics
Just in case you’re not all that familiar with what a penetration test is, let’s first go over the basics.
A penetration test also referred to as a pen test, is a cybersecurity assessment that uses ethical hacking techniques to identify, exploit and then ultimately eliminate vulnerabilities across your IT environment.
These simulated hackings allow businesses to recognise any weaknesses they may have, so they can address these before a real hacker exploits them.
The different approaches to penetration testing
Penetration testing can be broken down into three wider approaches, and these are black, white and grey box (or hat) testing.
A black box penetration test, also known as external penetration testing, is when the tester is given little to no information about the systems they’ll be hacking. This makes for a more realistic simulation of cyberattacks.
On the other hand, white box pen testing, which is sometimes referred to as clear or glass box testing, is when the tester has complete knowledge of the systems and is given access to the IT environment.
Finally, grey box testing is somewhere in the middle, when the pen tester has partial knowledge and access to the systems, in particular internal networks or applications.
Within these three approaches, there are a number of different types of penetration testing, and we’ll look at these in more detail in the next section.
The different types of penetration testing
The time has come to look at four of the key types of penetration tests that are available to your business, and each of these will require very specific knowledge, methodologies and tools in order to be performed.
As we outline each of these different tests below, we are also going to look at how these can help your business and when you might use them, so you can decide which test is right for you.
1. Network service penetration test
Network service penetration testing sometimes referred to as infrastructure testing, is one of the most common types of penetration testing there is.
The key aim behind this type of pen test is to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses within your network infrastructure; this includes servers, firewalls, routers, printers and more.
You should opt for a network service test if you want to protect your business from common network-based attacks, and unfortunately, there are lots of these. Just some of the most common network attacks include:
- Firewall bypass
- Router attacks
- DNS level attacks
- Proxy server attacks
- Unnecessary open ports attacks
- Database attacks
- Man In The Middle (MITM) attacks
Given that your network is so critical to your business, this is an important type of pen test that should be run both internally and externally - and regularly!
2. Web application penetration test
A web application penetration test is used to discover vulnerabilities in any of your web-based applications by aiming to break into these. But more than this, a web application pen test also includes browsers and other components such as plugins, source code and scriptlets.
Of course, this means that this test is ideal for your business if you’re hoping to identify security weaknesses within your web-based applications and any related components. It can also be an important tool in software application development.
This type of test tends to be more detailed and targeted than some of the others, but it is also a little more complex to run.
3. Client-side penetration test
Client-side penetration testing, as the name suggests, is used to uncover vulnerabilities in client-side applications and weaknesses that could be exploited on your client’s computer systems. This includes applications such as email and web browsers.
These tests help you to identify specific attacks, including:
- Cross-site scripting attacks (CSS)
- Clickjacking attacks
- Form Hijacking
- HTML Injection
- Malware Infection
So, you might wish to run this type of pen test if you’re hoping to find any of the issues listed above. It might also be useful if you’ve got a lot of client-side applications and software that you haven’t paid much thought to before, and you’re hoping to offer additional security to those using these systems.
4. Wireless penetration test
Wireless penetration tests are used to examine connections between any devices that are connected to your company Wi-Fi. This could include desktops, laptops, smartphones and any other internet of things (IoT) devices that you might have around the workplace.
Wireless penetration tests are so important and should be considered by every business with a Wi-Fi connection (which, let’s face it, is almost all of them nowadays). These allow you to discover any vulnerabilities or weaknesses that could impact communications and data invisibly running in and out of the network via your wireless internet.
How to decide which penetration test is right for you
So, we’ve covered four of the most important penetration tests out there, but how do you know which is right for you?
Well, the test you choose will depend on a number of factors, including budget, compliance regulations (as they might dictate the areas you need to focus on) and essentially, what you’re hoping to get from the test.
For example, do you want to test a particular system or application for vulnerabilities? Or perhaps there is a certain scenario you want to play out to see how a hacker might go about gaining access to your systems?
Just don’t forget, you can run different or multiple penetration tests throughout the year to help bolster your security. So, if you’ve noticed that two or three of these areas might be beneficial to your business - that’s OK.
You should run these types of tests regularly and ensure you cover all the different aspects of your IT environment, focusing on the most vulnerable first.