What are the 5 Stages of Penetration Testing?

As per Cyberwarfare in the C-suite Report, global cybercrimes are anticipated to grow by 15% year-over-year until 2025. This expands to  $10.5 trillion annually, up from $3 million in 2015.

Moreover, people working in small businesses are targeted by 350% more social engineering attacks than large firms.

Sounds scary, right? So, what’s the solution to this global issue? The answer is penetration testing.

It’s a technique to attack your own system and check vulnerable points. The insights gained from pen testing help businesses deploy the right cybersecurity protocols to bar entry of real threat actors.

Typically, there are five stages of penetration testing. Continue reading to learn about them. 


Planning and Scoping

This is the first among the five stages of penetration testing. It involves planning to imitate a cyberattack. This helps gain information about entry points and loopholes in the security system.

It’s undoubtedly one of the most time-consuming stages of penetration testing.  Experts must explore the elements of the IT structure, locate vulnerabilities, and see how the system responds to such attacks

They search for information related to clients, employees, finances, strategies, source coding, network topology, IP addresses, and more. 

This phase of penetration testing also includes researching open ports and apps that are prone to attack.

Testers use penetration testing tools depending on the depth and aim of the analysis. The type of elements targeted in the IT environment are also contributing factors. Common gathering approaches include social engineering, dumpster diving, and network scanning. 

Dumpster diving is a way of attackers to obtain information which can be used for maintaining or establishing trust. This can even be a harmless document. On the other hand network scanning is used for finding all the active devices on a network. These are then mapped to their respective IP addresses to patch the exploiter.


Asset Discovery

Based on their findings in the primary stage, white-hat hackers scan the tools and plan on how to do penetration testing step by step.  

The goal of this second stage of penetration testing is to locate any weak points. They’re potential access points for attackers. As such, all details must be noted properly as they’ll support the next penetration test stages.


Attack Simulation and Exploitation

Followed by the first two stages of a management penetration testing project, this stage of web penetration testing aims to evaluate the effectiveness of the operational security controls by performing an actual attack on the structure.

While exploiting the system, white-hat hackers try to go as deep into the system as possible to identify the intensity of vulnerabilities.

This is done in two ways:

  • Static Analysis: This examines the applications’ codes to check how they behave while running. There are several tools to evaluate the entirety of the code in one go.
  • Dynamic Analysis: This is a practical way of finding out exactly how the applications respond while running. This approach offers a real-time overview of the coding.

After gaining a foothold in the network, the penetration tester holds the simulated attack for an extended period. This is done to mimic the goals of a threat actor.

The goals of penetration testing are to obtain maximum network data and access to the system. This ensures all the efforts are leaping in the right direction.

The different phases of penetration testing stages let a business know how badly they could be affected in case of an actual cyberattack. The malicious actors can steal important information and passwords, causing detrimental effects to a brand’s reputation. 


Analysis and Reporting

The fourth stage of penetration testing is all about creating and submitting a report and sharing the entire penetration testing process. Irrespective of the type of penetration testing, some common information in the report includes:

  • Intensity of the risks emerging from identified susceptibilities
  • Tools that may allow  hackers to bypass the system
  • Description of all gathered data
  • Elements where security protocols have been implemented or changed
  • Remediation recommendations against future attacks

It’s one of the most important stages of penetration testing. The report helps technical and managerial personnel understand what necessary preventative measures to implement. Therefore, it’s best to create separate reports; one for the technical team and the other one for non-technical team members. 



The last stage of a penetration test is retesting. It’s an evaluation done after a specific time period (typically 2-3 months after submitting the report) to check if the vulnerabilities are remediated. 

Most businesses only get critical elements retested. It’s much less costly than re-running an entire penetration test. Business owners can also evaluate the effectiveness and improvement of a pen testing drill.

Essentially, retesting ensures that everything has been implemented correctly, and the system is now well-protected against future attacks. 


Final Thoughts

Irrespective of size and industry, businesses are becoming more vulnerable to cyberattacks as the number of spoofers increase, especially post-Covid. The FBI’s Internet Crime Report 2020 states a 69% increase in the number of cybercrimes reported from 2019.

Hackers are even targeting schools and health care centres by stealing information and demanding ransoms.

This makes it even more crucial to know the benefits and risks of penetration testing and its five stages.

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