Facebook Google Plus Twitter LinkedIn YouTube RSS Menu Search Resource - BlogResource - WebinarResource - ReportResource - Eventicons_066 icons_067icons_068icons_069icons_070

A Look at the Most Popular Penetration Testing Methodologies

Penetration testing provides essential visibility into IT vulnerabilities. Here's a look at why it matters and common methods for completing assessments.

Penetration testing is a critical, yet often underutilized, cybersecurity practice that helps businesses gain a more concrete understanding of the strengths and limitations of their configurations. At its core, penetration testing boils down to a simple principle – identifying cybersecurity vulnerabilities by attempting to penetrate the configuration. As such, a penetration testing framework can take many forms, with options to support different use cases and solve various problems. However, the common thread in all of these penetration testing tools is the ability to reduce manual work and quickly assess large amounts of data to better identify vulnerabilities that may slip through the cracks.

Before diving into specific penetration testing tools and methodologies, let’s delve into the context behind the practice.

The importance of penetration testing

The scale and frequency of data breaches is escalating. What's more, breaches are highly variable and target a wide range of business types. According to the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report that analyzed nearly 42,000 cybersecurity incidents and 2,013 data breaches, breaches are targeting organizations across just about every industry, and they are doing so regardless of the size of the business.

A study we commissioned from the Ponemon Institute found that 91% of respondents have been hit by a cyberattack. What's more, 58% of those said they lack adequate staff to keep up with cybersecurity demands. 

Penetration testing can automate key security analysis tasks and drive efficiency within your infosec team. 

A penetration test shouldn't be a one-time project. As enterprise IT configurations constantly shift with new cloud services, device authorizations and other changes, companies must develop a consistent cybersecurity practice and regularly revisit their strategies in remediating vulnerabilities to ensure their tactics remain viable.

The purpose of penetration testing

At its simplest point, penetration testing is designed to identify vulnerabilities. However, a TechTarget report highlighted that the breadth of penetration testing makes it applicable for a wide range of more specific, nuanced purposes. For example, some penetration tests can be used to identify flaws within security policy.

Different penetration testing methods may focus on varied purposes. As such, businesses should consider a wide range of penetration testing methods.

Common penetration testing methods

Organizations can perform a diverse array of tests, from targeted assessments to blind tests. Penetration tests can analyze application vulnerabilities or security policies, mimic attacks from insiders, evaluate a network configuration or put an operating system under stress to determine weak points.

Here's a closer look at some of those test methods:

Software-based tests

Many penetration testing methods use software as the penetration tester, evaluating anything from network security to application vulnerabilities. Software can use automated scanners to perform vulnerability tests across just about any component of an IT system. Whether it's analyzing a web browser for a data caching error that causes information to be written to the wrong location or assessing security vulnerabilities in a soon-to-be-released app, software can automatically evaluate a wide range of system types.

Of course, there isn't just one software system out there to do all of this. Different vendors specialize in varied test types, creating software that can automatically identify, report on and suggest solutions for different types of vulnerabilities, including analysis of your operational technology (OT). 

Bug-bounty programs

A somewhat unconventional option, but by no means revolutionary in terms of technique, bug-bounty programs involve paying white-hat hackers a bounty if they identify a vulnerability within a system. White-hat hackers as part of penetration testing is a longstanding practice. These security experts attempt to hack into a company's systems, but do so with good intentions, notifying businesses of the vulnerability. It's most common in identifying application or software vulnerabilities. Bug-bounty programs take this test format to another level by formalizing the reporting process and offering rewards for finding bugs, making it a more systematic solution.

How to establish a solid penetration testing framework

Where individual penetration testing methods are the ways you perform assessments, a framework represents your overarching strategy. It should encompass:

  • The goals of your penetration testing program
  • Key performance indicators, benchmarks and metrics you are measuring through your tests
  • Details on the methods you are using and which parts of your configuration each method evaluates
  • Guidelines for how frequently you will perform different tests
  • Regulations for how to report the results of the study

A penetration testing framework is, in essence, a complete guide to how penetration tests should be completed within your organization. The key is to develop a cohesive, detailed framework that covers what you are testing and how.

Unlocking penetration testing's full potential

Penetration testing is a highly varied practice. However, automated, software-based tools can dramatically improve your ability to understand your systems, identify vulnerabilities and monitor weak points. Tenable can help you through this process by providing complete exposure analysis, even extending into your cloud configurations. 

Start your free trial now

Subscribe to the Tenable Blog

Subscribe
Try for Free Buy Now

Try Tenable.io

FREE FOR 30 DAYS

Enjoy full access to a modern, cloud-based vulnerability management platform that enables you to see and track all of your assets with unmatched accuracy. Sign up now.

Buy Tenable.io

Enjoy full access to a modern, cloud-based vulnerability management platform that enables you to see and track all of your assets with unmatched accuracy. Purchase your annual subscription today.

65 assets

$2,275

Buy Now

Try for Free Buy Now

Try Nessus Professional Free

FREE FOR 7 DAYS

Nessus® is the most comprehensive vulnerability scanner on the market today. Nessus Professional will help automate the vulnerability scanning process, save time in your compliance cycles and allow you to engage your IT team.

Buy Nessus Professional

Nessus® is the most comprehensive vulnerability scanner on the market today. Nessus Professional will help automate the vulnerability scanning process, save time in your compliance cycles and allow you to engage your IT team.

Buy a multi-year license and save. Add Advanced Support for access to phone, email, community and chat support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Full details here.

Try for Free Buy Now

Try Tenable.io Web Application Scanning

FREE FOR 30 DAYS

Enjoy full access to our latest web application scanning offering designed for modern applications as part of the Tenable.io platform. Safely scan your entire online portfolio for vulnerabilities with a high degree of accuracy without heavy manual effort or disruption to critical web applications. Sign up now.

Buy Tenable.io Web Application Scanning

Enjoy full access to a modern, cloud-based vulnerability management platform that enables you to see and track all of your assets with unmatched accuracy. Purchase your annual subscription today.

5 FQDNs

$3,578

Buy Now

Try for Free Contact Sales

Try Tenable.io Container Security

FREE FOR 30 DAYS

Enjoy full access to the only container security offering integrated into a vulnerability management platform. Monitor container images for vulnerabilities, malware and policy violations. Integrate with continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) systems to support DevOps practices, strengthen security and support enterprise policy compliance.

Buy Tenable.io Container Security

Tenable.io Container Security seamlessly and securely enables DevOps processes by providing visibility into the security of container images – including vulnerabilities, malware and policy violations – through integration with the build process.

Learn More about Industrial Security

Get a Demo of Tenable.sc

Please fill out the form below with your contact information and a sales representative will contact you shortly to schedule a demo. You may also include a short comment (limited to 255 characters). Please note that fields with asterisks (*) are mandatory.

Try for Free Contact Sales

Try Tenable Lumin

FREE FOR 30 DAYS

Visualize and explore your Cyber Exposure, track risk reduction over time and benchmark against your peers with Tenable Lumin.

Buy Tenable Lumin

Contact a Sales Representative to see how Lumin can help you gain insight across your entire organization and manage cyber risk.