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Introduction to Website Penetration Testing

Penetration testing (Pen Test) is the most commonly used security testing technique for web applications. A Penetration test is a simulated cyber attack to find out the security of the servers and also to know how much secure the web hosting site and server are. In the context of web application security, penetration testing is commonly used to increase a web application firewall (WAF).

In Penetration Testing, testers try to breach application systems, (e.g., application protocol interfaces (APIs), (frontend/backend servers) to uncover vulnerabilities (The vulnerability is a language used to identify flaws in the system which can expose the system to security threats.). such as unsanitized inputs that are vulnerable to code injection attacks.

Information provided by the penetration test can be used to make your web application’s firewall security policies and detect vulnerabilities.

Penetration Testing lets the user find out the known weaknesses in the application and defines methods to fix and improve the overall security of the application. It primarily finds out if security patches are installed and whether or not the systems are properly configured to make attacks difficult.

Importance and the need for Web App Testing:

  1. Penetration Testing helps to identify the unknown vulnerabilities.
  2. It helps in checking the effectiveness of the overall security policies.
  3. Help in testing the elements exposed in public like firewalls, routers, and DNS.
  4. Let users find out the most vulnerable route through which an attack can be made.
  5. It helps in finding the loopholes which can lead to theft of sensitive data.

Therefore Penetration Testing becomes important in making certain that we are building a secure system that can be used without any worries of hacking or information loss.

Penetration testing stages:

  1. Planning and Reconnaissance: It involves defining the scope and goals of a test and the testing methods to be used. Gathering information to better understand how a target works and its potential vulnerabilities.
  2. Scanning: Examine an application’s code to estimate the way it behaves while running. These tools can scan the entire code in a single pass. It provides a real-time view of an application’s performance.
  3. Gaining Access: In this stage, the tester uses web application attacks, such as cross-site scripting, SQL injection, and backdoors, to find a target’s vulnerabilities. Testers then try and exploit these vulnerabilities, typically by escalating privileges, stealing data, intercepting traffic, etc., to find how much damage they can cause.
  4. Maintaining Access: The main goal of this stage is to check if the vulnerability can be used to reach a persistent presence in the exploited system long enough for a foul actor to gain in-depth access. The idea is to imitate advanced persistent threats, which stay in the system for months in order to steal an organization’s most important information.
  5. Analysis: The results of the penetration test are then compiled into a detailed report:
    1. Specific vulnerabilities that were exploited.
    2. Sensitive data that was accessed.
    3. The amount of time the penetration tester was able to remain in the system undetected.

This information is used by security personnel to help configure the WAF settings of a company and other application security solutions to patch vulnerabilities and protect against future attacks.

Penetration testing methods:

  1. Internal testing: In internal testing, a tester with access to an application behind its firewall simulates an attack by a malicious insider. This isn’t necessarily simulating a rogue employee. A common starting situation can be a worker whose credentials were stolen by an attack.
  2. External testing: In an external penetration test, the testers target the assets of an organization that’s visible on the internet, for example, the web application itself, the company web site, and email and domain name servers (DNS). The main goal is to gain access and extract valuable information.
  3. Blind testing: In blind testing, a tester is only given the name of the company that’s being targeted. This gives security personnel a real-time look into how an actual application attack would take place.
  4. Double-blind testing: In double-blind testing, security personnel has no prior information about the simulated attack. As in the real world, they won’t have any time to support their defenses before an attempted breach.
  5. Targeted testing: In targeted testing, both the tester and security personnel work together and keep each other apprised of their movements. This is valuable training that has a security team with real-time feedback from a hacker’s point of view.

Tools used for website penetration testing:

Here are some of the best penetration testing tools for carrying out pen testing exercises:

  1. Metasploit: Metasploit is a very popular penetration tool. Cyber-security professionals and other IT experts have been using it for years for discovering vulnerabilities of websites and applications, managing security evaluations, and formulating defense methodologies.
  2. Nmap: Nmap, also called network mapper, is a free and open-source tool for scanning your systems or networks for vulnerabilities. This tool is also useful in carrying out other activities, including monitoring host or service uptime and performing mapping of network attack surfaces.
  3. Wireshark: Wireshark is a simple tool that can help you to see the minutest details of the activities taking place in your network. It is a network analyzer, network sniffer, or network protocol analyzer used to find the vulnerabilities of your network traffic in real-time.
  4. Nessus: Nessus is a popular paid tool used for scanning vulnerabilities in a computing system or network. It is easy to use, offers fast and accurate scanning results, and can provide you with a comprehensive outlook of your network’s weaknesses at the click of a button.
  5. Burpsuite: Burp Suite is widely used for checking the security of web-based applications. Burpsuite contains various tools that can be used for security tests, as well as mapping the attack surface of the appliance, analyzing requests and responses take place between the browser, servers, and crawling web-based applications automatically.

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