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Cyber security inspector: what is penetration testing?

Pentest can be reliable tool to prevent the growing number of cyber attacks.

Cybercrime, which is projected to cost a total of $ 6 trillion in 2021, would be the world's third-largest economy after the United States and China. This figure is expected to increase by 15% annually in the coming years and reach $ 10.5 trillion in 2025. This will be many times more profitable than the global trade in illicit drugs, far greater than the damage caused by natural disasters in a year. The magnitude of the loss means that both large and small companies are at risk of future investments. Because cybercriminals always find an easy way to make money. They choose either rich people, or banks, or other financial companies with large budgets. The ability of cybercriminals to achieve their goals quickly and easily depends not only on the budget of companies but also on the weakness of defense systems. Therefore, companies that are not well protected from cyber threats are among their main targets. Companies, on the other hand, take precautionary measures and build secure firewalls to protect against cyber attacks. But just as ever-evolving technology tools allow cybercriminals to reach their goals faster, they also keep companies vulnerable. However, the development of the field allows companies' IT specialists to both identify vulnerabilities that could lead to cyber attacks and prevent threats. One such tool is called Penetration Testing, or Pentest.

During Pentest, experts perform a simulated attack and thus identify vulnerabilities in the IT infrastructure. Weaknesses that trigger cyberattacks can occur in operating systems, service and web application failures, inappropriate configurations, risky end-users, or other potential access points. Penetration testing to prevent these hazards is usually performed using either manual or automated technology. Ethical hackers, unaware of how the system's IT security is implemented, use different methodologies, tools, and approaches to test.

What methods do ethical hackers use during pentest?

According to a recent study by Positive Technologies, almost every company has vulnerabilities that can lead to hacker attacks. In 93% of the tests, the testers were able to identify the company's system vulnerabilities and access the network. An average of 4 days was enough for them. The reason for the short time is that there are now fully automated testing tools for Pentest. During the process, ethical hackers perform various types of pentest using tools such as, nmap, metasploit, Wireshark, John the Ripper and Hashcat.

White box pentest - in this type of test, hackers are given some information in advance about the security information of the target company.

Black box pentest - This method, also known as "blind" test, gives the hacker no information other than the name of the target company.

Gray box pentest - is a combination of white box test and black box test. The purpose of this test is to look for defects caused by incorrect structure or improper use of applications

Covert pentest - is a double-blind test in which no employee of the company, including the IT professionals responsible for the attack, is aware of the attack. However, in order to avoid any problems in the end, it is important for the ethical hackers to inform law enforcement agencies in advance about the scope and other details of the test.

External pentest - when hackers use this method, they carry out attacks against peripheral technologies such as the company's website and external network servers. In this case, they are not allowed to enter the company's building, and the process is carried out from a distance.

Internal pentest - in this type of test, on the contrary, attacks are carried out against the internal network and are of particular importance in terms of anticipating security measures that may occur in the future for internal reasons.

What are the steps leading an ethical hacker to his/her goal?

While Pentest has been noted to be a positive factor for companies, it can cause significant harm to companies if the test is not performed by the right professionals. For example, server crashes, sensitive data exposure, and critical data breaches are among the company's losses. Therefore, it is necessary to make sure that the pentester does not abuse his skills. In particular, the complete elimination of existing gaps during the process requires compliance with the conditions of confidentiality of the attack. Otherwise, the company's employees will prepare for the test and take measures to prevent the attack. A real hacker attack uses methods that are difficult to plan and is started without warning. Properly applied pentest is carried out in certain successive stages.

Research: At this stage, hackers get as much information about the target as possible from public and private sources to define the attack strategy. Sources include internet searches, domain registration information, network copying, and sometimes even a trash can. These sources help to map the attack target of the pentester. Research can vary according to the scope and purpose of penetration testing.

Scanning: In the next step, the pentester uses tools to check the target website or system against several vulnerabilities, including open services, resources, and application security issues. These tools vary according to the information found during research and testing.

Access: In real cyber attacks, a hacker's motivation can take many forms, from stealing, altering, making money, or deleting information to damaging an image. At this stage, ethical hackers determine the attack scenario for their purposes and select the most unique tools and techniques that will facilitate access to the system.

Access protection: In the last stage, ethical hackers try to stay connected to the system they have access to for a long time in order to fully achieve their goals. During this time, they show the extent to which an attack can affect the data by deleting, modifying, or abusing its functionality.


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