Types of Penetration Testing

In the world of cybersecurity, various types of penetration testing exist, but before we explore the various kinds, what is penetration testing?  A penetration test intends to identify network, system, or application vulnerabilities of an organization. These loopholes are then shared with decision-makers, who choose whether or not to rectify them. 

A penetration tester submits a report sharing detailed information about the process and suggests remedial actions. These recommendations are usually mentioned in descending order of cruciality. So, executives can decide how to adequately address them. 

With so many penetration testing methods, it can get a bit confusing to know which is the right option for your business.

In this blog, we discuss the different types of penetration testing based on styles, areas, methods, and techniques.


Penetration Testing Areas

Here’s a quick snapshot of six major areas with different goals of penetration testing.

  • Network: Here, penetration testing experts focus on cloud-based and on-premise network security testing. This is done by identifying internal and external vulnerabilities on different servers, routers, switches, and network hosts.
  • Web App: Where, the penetration tester tries to locate entry points and security gaps in databases, source coding, back-end networks, etc. that can hamper the safe functioning of the web app. 
  • Mobile App: Both automated and extended manual testing is used to identify any issues related to session management, cryptography, authentication, and authorization.
  • Client Side: Usually, “client side” denotes anything that happens on the user’s end of the application (no matter if the “client” is a paying customer or an employee that uses a proprietary web app). This penetration testing area finds vulnerabilities there.
  • Wireless: Examination of aspects like configuration, APIs, encryption, storage, and security controls form part of this penetration testing exercise.
  • Social Engineering: Penetration testers here impersonate hackers to break into a company’s system via a social engineering attack. This checks the detection and reaction approach of staff members. The testing is typically done in addition to checking security measures that require change or improvement.


Penetration Testing Styles

Knowing how to do penetration testing step by step largely depends on the pen testing style  suited to your organization. Some considerations include your goals, risks, tolerance, budget, and other factors.

Commonly, there are three penetration test approaches: black box, white box, and gray box.

  • Black Box: No helpful information is provided to the tester. Thus, they’re placed in an unprivileged situation similar to bad actors that try to break into your systems. It’s helpful to know how an adversary with no prior information can breach your IT infrastructure.


  • White Box: In the white box penetration testing style, the company provides all the necessary information related to its network and system. As it takes a lot of time to conduct this test, companies usually aim resources at a specific component, rather than testing the whole system.

  • Gray: Gray box testing is also referred to as translucent box testing. Only a limited piece of information like credentials is shared with the tester. This is done to mimic the actions of a fairly privileged attacker to locate an insider threat. A gray box penetration test is also deployed to spot vulnerabilities within a network circumference.


Penetration Testing Techniques

For companies, the goal of penetration testing is to learn about and take measures to improve their system security. Depending on who does the test, the structure, budget, and risk assessment, the types of penetration testing are as follows: Manual, automated, or combination.


This is a reliable method in which the tester validates the overall performance of the system structure. The manual process starts by gathering data such as table names, database versions, device configuration, and third-party plugins (if any). 

After a thorough search to find any loopholes, a simulated attack is launched. This reveals how critically the system can be affected in case of an actual offense.


Manual tests reveal more fundamental issues. However, they can’t find all the vulnerabilities. Companies station automated techniques to bridge the gaps left open by a manual penetration test.

Automated pen testing helps eradicate threats by regularly scanning any susceptible elements. Another plus point of this technique is that it doesn’t require any additional software. A single automated penetration testing tool takes care of the complete process. 

Automated penetration testing is quick, thorough, and cost-effective.


Combining both manual and automated penetration testing methods is a comprehensive and responsive approach towards the safety of your company’s assets. 

Despite working differently, manual and automatic penetration tests fill in various cracks left by the other. Although this testing type might be more expensive than any of the individual ones taken separately, it’s worth investing in.


Penetration Testing Methods

Penetration testers normally use one or more of the five methods of attacking a system to identify vulnerabilities. 


In external penetration testing, a tester locates and evaluates weaknesses to check the probability of a remote criminal attacking your system. They do this by finding information available and accessible to an outsider.


An internal penetration test is done after the external penetration test. Here, experts find out what could be stolen, altered, deleted, or modified by an internal staff member or third-party vendor having access to your system. The stages of penetration testing include  checking open ports and spotting active hosts.


In the blind penetration testing method, no information is given to ethical hackers for breaking into a system. In most cases, they’re just aware of the organization’s name. This is done to evaluate how deep a non-privileged attacker can go into your system.


In double-blind penetration testing, employees don’t know about an ongoing pen test drill. This is done to check the employees’ responses and evaluate their level of preparedness. If the response isn’t as expected, employees get training on handling and reacting in such situations. 


In the last method of penetration testing, white-hat hackers and security teams cohesively check each other’s proficiency, attentiveness, and scope of improvement. Targeted pen testing provides real-time insights on a hacker’s potential exploits.


Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are many types of penetration testing techniques. Choosing one or the other depends on your company’s needs and resources. First choose the area you want to test and then, go through our list to determine what style, technique, and method would be more suitable for your business. Keep the benefits and risks of penetration testing in mind too.

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