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What is Penetration Testing (Pen Testing)?

What is Penetration Testing (Pen Testing)?

Pen Testing allows Cyber Security experts and Ethical Hackers to scale planned attacks against the security infrastructure of the company, such that they are capable of identifying the weaknesses and security vulnerabilities that need to be fixed.

In this blog, we will discuss the following topics in detail:

Let’s get started by learning what pen testing is.

Before getting into the details of what professionals in this field do, check out this video on Penetration Testing

What is Penetration Testing?

Pen testing is an authorized cyber attack simulated on a system as an attempt to assess the security and the IT infrastructure of the company by exploiting its vulnerabilities in a sound manner. These vulnerabilities could be in operating systems, applications or services, etc.

The tests often simulate various attacks that can possibly threaten the company. A pen test could help in examining the robustness of a system, to check if it is capable of resisting attacks from both authenticated and unauthenticated users.

What do Penetration Testers do?

Penetration Testers are experts in Ethical Hacking who use various techniques, tools, and processes that are similar to that of hackers and cyber attackers. This allows them to determine the various system weaknesses and their impact on the organization.

Now that we have briefly understood the use of this testing in the field of Ethical Hacking, let’s read about the various tools that these experts use in order to perform pen tests.

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Penetration Testing Tools

Automatic pen-testing tools are used by professionals to find vulnerabilities in applications. These tools help to scan code to find any vulnerabilities in application codes that could lead to any type of security breach. Moreover, they examine various methods of data encryption and are capable of cracking coded values that assist in finding security issues in the system.

Some of the most popular open-source tools that can be used in pen testing are listed below:

1. Metasploit

It is an open-source penetration testing software that comprises numerous penetration testing tools that can be used on networks, online applications, and servers. Moreover, this network perpetration testing tool allows Penetration Testers to identify, verify, and manage security threats to protect the organizations’ systems. It is among the best web application penetration testing tool.

2. Nmap

Nmap or network mapper scans networks and systems in search of any vulnerabilities that are connected to open ports. It is directed to the IP address or addresses corresponding to the location of the network or system that needs to be scanned. Further, Nmap tests these systems in search of open ports and can also help in managing service or host uptime and map surfaces of network attacks.

 3. Wireshark

This tool enables professionals to perform vulnerability assessment and network penetration testing by profiling the traffic of the network and analyzing network packets. Moreover, it allows companies to minute details of the various network activities that take place. It is a network sniffer/network analyzer/network protocol analyzer that finds problems in real-time network traffic.

4. John the Ripper

It integrates multiple password crackers in a single package, identifies the distinct password hashes automatically, and finds a suitable cracker that can be customized as per the requirement. John the Ripper is often used to find weaknesses in passwords to attack system vulnerabilities.

Now, let’s check out the reasons why professionals use these tools.

Reasons to Use Pen Testing Tools

  • They can easily scan a system
  • They are easy to configure, deploy, and use
  • They can verify system and network vulnerabilities automatically
  • They can re-check past exploits
  • They can prioritize vulnerabilities based on their level of severity

These are some of the reasons why these tools have gained popularity over the past years.

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Now, you will read in detail about the different types of pen testing.

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Types of Penetration Testing

The organization provides information and access to the target system based on the goal of the respective test. In a few cases, the team considers one approach and continues with it throughout the testing process while in other cases, the team enhances their strategy as they move along in the test and gain new information.

Let’s discuss the various types of pen testing:

1. Black Box Pen Testing

This type of testing is performed by a team of Penetration Testers who have no information of the target system’s internal structure. They act similar to hackers who probe for any vulnerabilities that can be exploited externally.

2. Gray Box Pen Testing

In this type of pen testing, the team members have little knowledge about the target system’s credentials, algorithms, code, and internal data structures. With the help of this information, testers can build test cases as per the designed documents of the architectural design of the respective system.

3. White Box Pen Testing

In white box testing, the testers have complete access to the target systems and can gain all the information regarding their significant data, like source code, containers, servers that run the system, etc. This method of testing offers the highest assurance level regarding the security of the system in a minimum amount of time.

After learning in detail about the different types of pen testing methods, it is time to read about the various stages in this testing field.

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Penetration Testing Phases

Penetration Testers follow specific steps and plan while performing the required tests in the system. Let’s take a look at the step-by-step process of pen testing:

Step 1: Plan and Reconnaissance

This is the first stage of testing. In this phase, professionals need to gain as much details regarding the target system as possible by exhausting private and public sources in order to come up with an attack strategy. Some of these sources include information registration from domain registration, non-intrusive network scanning, etc. This data enables the testers to build a map of the attack surface of the target system, along with possible weaknesses.

Apart from this, the professionals need to define the aim of the test, such as the systems that need to be tested and the methods that need to be used for testing. Reconnaissance varies with respect to the goal and scope of the test.

Step 2: Scan

Now, the testers are required to understand the response of the target system with respect to the distinct attempts of intrusion via static or dynamic analysis. They use these techniques to test the target system or website for any weaknesses, like application security problems, open services, open-source vulnerabilities, etc.

Static analysis is the method of inspecting the code of the system to predict its behavior when it runs. These tools are capable of scanning the whole code in one go.

Dynamic analysis, on the other hand, requires inspection of the code while the system is in the running state, making it a more practical approach as it offers real-time information of the system or application.

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Step 3: Gain Access

The aim of the attackers and hackers varies from modifying, stealing, or making amendments in crucial data to damaging a company’s reputation to illegally moving funds.

In this stage of pen testing, testers need to perform each of the test cases using the best tools and methods to attain access to the target system by exploiting vulnerabilities like malware, SQL injection, etc. This will allow them to understand the amount of damage that can be caused when actual attackers hack into their systems.

Step 4: Maintain Access

After gaining access, the stimulated attack of the testers should be connected for the required amount of time to meet their aim of remove data, modify it, and so on. The main goal here is to check if the respective weaknesses can be used in order to get a persistent and continuous presence in the system that has been exploited.

After learning in detail about the steps that are taken while performing this test, let’s read about the differences between automation testing and pen testing.

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Manual Penetration Testing vs Automated Penetration Testing

Pen testing usually requires manual effort but testers also use automated testing and scanning tools during the process. Moreover, they use their knowledge of security barriers and the latest techniques of attacks to offer an enhanced testing experience compared to a vulnerability assessment that can be achieved via automated testing.

Manual Pen TestingAutomated Pen Testing
This test needs to be performed by an experienced professional.Since it is automated, even beginners can run the tests.
It needs various tools to perform the test.It comprises various integrated tools and does not require any external tools.
The outcome may differ in different tests.The outcomes are fixed.

You have learned about the differences between the two. Further, let us briefly understand the various pros and cons of pen-testing.

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Penetration Testing

The need for organizations to withstand cyber attacks is constantly increasing as the amount and severity of breaches and attacks are risks. Let’s read about the various advantages and disadvantages of this testing method.


  • It helps in identifying weaknesses in practices of upstream security assurance, like coding and configuration standards, automated tools, etc.
  • It locates known and unknown flaws and vulnerabilities in security and software, including small issues that alone would not have much impact if exploited but can be harmful in complex attacks.
  • It enables professionals to attack any system, getting an idea of the possible malicious behavior of attackers and simulating close to the real-world adversary.


  • It is expensive.
  • It requires an ample amount of manual effort.
  • It does not prevent bugs comprehensively in production.

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Begin Your Journey in Pen Testing

In this blog on pen testing, you have come across numerous topics like penetration testing meaning, the tools used in this sector, the various types of Software testing methods, the different phases involved, and so on. To learn penetration testing and become a penetration tester, you must sign up for the best course and gain proficiency in it.

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About the Author

Technical Lead - AWS Solutions Architect

Shivanshu is a Technical Lead and AWS Solutions Architect passionate about utilizing Cloud technology to empower businesses. Proficient in AWS, Terraform, and GCP, he crafts innovative solutions to propel companies forward. As an enthusiastic writer, he shares his expertise to inspire others in this field.