Web Application Penetration Testing: What You Need To Know

Penetration testing is a simulated ‘attack’ on your system to reveal any security weak spots or loopholes in your web applications. Penetration testing – also known as pen testing or security testing – is the only way to find out what an actual hacker could access from your systems. It lets you find and fix any vulnerabilities so you can achieve water-tight, hack-proof protection for your business.

Hack-proof your web applications for peace of mind

Security is not something you can sweep under the carpet. In the internet age, protecting your systems from attack is mission critical. An expert penetration test tells you what you need to know to minimise business risk:

  • Determine the possibility of specific attack vectors.
  • Identify a combination of high and low risk vulnerabilities exploited in a specific sequence.
  • Uncover vulnerabilities that cannot be detected easily by automated vulnerability scanning software.
  • Measure the potential impact of real attacks on your business operations.
  • Assess the ability of automated network software to detect and respond to attacks on your systems.
  • Ensure that all data security compliance protocols are being met, particularly in the Payment Card Industry.
  • Detailed reports that support your initiatives to improve organisational information and invest in more technology/security staff.

Why you need skilled ‘ethical’ hackers

You’ll need to hire one or a team of penetration testers for successful web application pen testing. The penetration testers – also called ethical hackers – are not given access to source code and will try to attack your system, in a simulated and safe environment. If they can get in, so can a real hacker…

Why your Web Applications should be Penetration Tested

Not only does Penetration Testing find the loopholes in your information security systems. It also tests the efficacy of your security policies and procedures:

Test your people

Penetration tests give information security staff gain experience dealing with a potential breach. When conducted without prior notice, it will determine how well your policies are being implemented. They’ll tell you if your employees need more awareness or training in procedures to safeguard organisational information.

Test your policies

Penetration tests reveal any flaws in your security policy. Some organisational policies, for instance, focus on preventing and detecting attacks but have no proper stance on dislodging an ongoing attack. In this situation, a penetration test will show if your security personnel are not equipped to remove a hacker from your system in time to prevent significant damage.

Prioritise your security spend

By revealing the weakest links in your web applications, penetration testing reports help you prioritise your security spend. The reports allow web application developers to identify mistakes and train towards programming perfection. When developers see how the hacker was able to break into their application, they can code stronger, more secure web applications.

How to choose a good Penetration Tester

In 2010, the Penetration Testing Execution Standard (PTES) was developed to provide a widely accepted penetration testing methodology. Below we explain in simple terms the steps of the PTES methodology, making it easier for you to choose expert testers and fully protect your web applications.

  1. Pre-engagement Interactions

A penetration tester will have access to your organisation’s sensitive information, so you need to choose a reliable individual or team. It’s important to be clear with your requirements when you brief the penetration tester. Here are key points for consideration:

Scope

Do you want it performed on a particular business area or your entire business? Specify what is included and what is not.

Schedule

At what time will the test be performed, and for what duration will it be performed while the business is still running?

Whitebox or Blackbox test

For a blackbox test the tester is not given any information, just like an outsider. In a whitebox test, a tester is given basic access or information to start with.

Communication channels

Contacts of all involved individuals and parties must be provided before the start of the pentest process to avoid unintended consequences.

  1. Intelligence Gathering

The penetration tester plans its attack. An experienced tester will have clear idea of what is within scope and what is not. However, if your provider is not looking at each and every area of scope to ferret out information in every possible way, you will know they are not doing their job correctly.

  1. Threat Modelling

After gathering relevant information, a pen testing methodology builds a profile of your company along with its assets. The pen tester will look for assets with the highest value, which might include organisational policies and procedures, customer data and employee information.

  1. Vulnerability Analysis

Sound methodology for web application penetration testing will always clearly define the project scope to make sure desired outcomes are met. With clear target assets in line, the pen tester will determine how to enter and exploit them. All vulnerabilities within the given assets are identified and assessed for extent. Their weakness level is determined, and any sensitive information they’re exposing will be revealed.

  1. Exploitation and Post Exploitation

Once the entry points and related vulnerabilities are identified, the pen tester then simulates a real attack, just as a real hacker would do. After gaining access to the system, the pen tester will try to remain undetected and will try to gain more access to to extract maximum sensitive information.

In the post-exploitation phase, the penetration tester assesses the value of compromised system and identifies its potential to be exploited for later use.

  1. Reporting

A report is the true essence of a penetration test, because it provides a detailed, prioritised account of exploitations and vulnerabilities that need to be rectified.

Penetration testing reports must include high-level recommendations for problems with the web applications, how the exploitations were carried out and measure the risk level of the identified vulnerabilities.

If your organisation is not yet regularly pen testing web applications and overall systems, it is more than likely to be at significant risk. Web application security is not a nice-to-have; it is a must-have, right now. Your initial penetration test results will probably be an eye-opener, highlighting vulnerabilities you had no idea were there.

What to do next?

If you’re looking for an expert to pen your web application, we’re here to help. Please visit our services page or contact us for more information.

Ajay Unni

Ajay Unni is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Stickman. Ajay specialises in helping customers manage the growing threat of data breaches and compliance with globally accepted industry standards for data security and compliance. More articles by Ajay Unni

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