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What are the 5 Stages of Penetration Testing in 2022

Before we go into the stages and procedures of Penetration Testing, let us first define what Penetration Testing is ? Penetration testing is a security exercise in which a cyber-security expert attempts to find and exploit vulnerabilities in a computer system. The purpose of this simulated attack is to identify any vulnerabilities in a system’s security that attackers may exploit.

This is similar to a bank paying someone to disguise themselves as burglars in order to get into their building and obtain access to the vault. If the ‘burglar’ is successful and gains access to the bank or vault, the bank will obtain vital information on how to improve its security systems.

Is Vulnerability assessment same as Penetration testing?

Certainly not! A vulnerability assessment seeks to identify flaws in an application. The approach is used to assess an application’s vulnerability to various vulnerabilities. To analyse vulnerabilities, automated security scanning technologies are used, and the results are delivered in the report.

With that stated, let us now examine the five steps of penetration testing!

Stage 1: Forethought and Reconnaissance

The initial stage in penetration testing is to devise a malicious attack aimed at gathering as much information about the system as possible.

This might be one of the most time-consuming stages as ethical hackers examine the system, identify vulnerabilities, and observe how the organization’s IT stack responds to system breaches. Employee names and email addresses, as well as network topology and IP addresses, are among the details sought. It should be noted that the type of information acquired and the level of sophistication of the examination will be defined by the audit’s objectives. Some of the tactics used to collect information include social engineering, dumpster diving, network scanning, and domain registration information retrieval.

The presence of several sub-branches of the strategies engaged in the reconnaissance phase makes it a time-consuming operation. An skilled penetration tester, on the other hand, can write custom scripts to automate this process, but it will take time to filter through all of the findings and then work on each one separately.

Stage2: Scanning

Based on the findings of the planning phase, penetration testers use scanning tools to examine system and network flaws.

This stage of the pen test identifies vulnerabilities that might be used in targeted attacks. It is crucial that all of this data be collected properly since it will affect the success of the subsequent phases.

Stage3: Gaining System Access

After learning about the system’s vulnerabilities, pen testers infiltrate the infrastructure by exploiting security flaws. They then attempt to further hack the system by escalating privileges in order to demonstrate how deep they can reach into the target environments.

Stage4: Persistent Access/Maintaining Access

This pen test step analyses the potential effect of a vulnerability exploit using access privileges. Penetration testers should keep access and the simulated attack going long enough to complete and recreate malicious hackers’ aims once they’ve gotten a foothold in a system. As a result, during this pen test phase, we attempt to obtain the maximum degree of privileges, network information, and access to as many systems as possible by identifying whether data and/or services are available to us.

This is the stage at which we must illustrate what the security breach may imply for the customer. Direct access to passwords or compromised data is not the same as access to an outdated machine that isn’t even on the domain.

Stage5: Covering the Tracks

One of the most important stages of system hacking is covering tracks. During this step, the attacker tries to cover all tracks, or logs, generated while gaining access to the target networks or computers in order to avoid being identified, or traced out.

This helps the penetration tester/ethical hacker to copy an actual attack scenario conducted by a hacker to fulfil his malicious intents. This will help the penetration tester to mitigate such scenarios and make the organization as secure as possible.

Quote “As Secure As Possible” because there are multiple ways to exploit the same vulnerability some resulting due to misconfigurations of the implementation strategies at the server side while some resulting due to the usage of vulnerable code and lack of secure code practices by the developers.

Thus, it is important for a penetration tester to understand all the intricacies of a system that could be leveraged by an attacker to target the organization and perform malevolent actions.

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Finally, it is vital to take the necessary safeguards in order to prevent such attacks and occurrences. This is mostly due to a recent exponential increase of attacks, which does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon (2020 has been considered a New Record in a Year on cyber-attacks).

Businesses are the number one target of cyber attacks due to the valuable information that may be gathered. In return for the information, they may even demand a ransom. Similarly, security must be maintained to account for the need to do pen testing on a frequent basis.

“Cyber Security is not a separate domain. It is a plan on which every organization must work upon diligently”