Leading Methodologies Used by a Penetration Tester by Claire Mackerras


Did you know that the figures of cyber-attacks have increased extensively from the last decade? Along with this, Advanced Persistent Threats (APT), Ransomware attacks and insider threats are also becoming a part of the conversation. By keeping the increased number of cyber-attacks in mind, the corporate sectors have started paying attention to the security testing of its software applications and products. 

By the completion of this post, you will be aware of the leading methodologies concerning software security testing. But, before that, if you belong from a non-technical background, you should know about the professional who handles the workload or responsibility of security testing of software applications.

Some Eye-Opening Stats Regarding Cyber-Attacks:

Undoubtedly, the cyber security industry is growing continuously and rapidly. Corporate sectors are spending more and more on the resources to defend against cyber-attacks.

According to a survey result, 95% of breached records came from the industries related to Government, retail, and technology. 

According to the University of Maryland, a hacker attack takes place after every 39 seconds. 

64% of the companies have experienced web-based cyber-attacks, out of which 43% are small businesses.

In 2013, approximately 3,809,448 records stolen from breach every day, and this number jumped by 126% until the year 2017. 

According to a study examined, 75% of the healthcare industries are more infected by malware, according to last year's report. All the above stats proves the importance of cyber security for website and software application, no way to let them loose on security factors.

Unlock The Responsibilities of a Professional Penetration Tester & Process of Penetration Testing:

Well, a penetration tester is a professional who takes care of all security testing concerns related to software applications. Penetration testing is one of the most recommended and highly supported techniques used by the penetration testers to recognize the vulnerable areas of the system. 

Penetration testing includes willful attacks on the network to distinguish the weak areas, which offers a way to the unofficial users for assaulting the system and altering their integrity and fidelity. Also, penetration testing assists in fixing numerous security bugs and loopholes. Conversely, it is not only fruitful but also essential for the companies to perform penetration testing to identify potential vulnerabilities to keep the security posture of the software applications tight.

Once the penetration testers identify the vulnerabilities, it can be utilized to gain access to sensitive information. Security parameters that remain uncovered during the Penetration Testing are then delivered to the system owner along with the accurate potential assessment that impacts the entire organization.

Effective Penetration Testing:

Now the question arises - What is ideal Penetration Testing? Well, effective Penetration testing helps in evaluating the gaps in the security tools that a company is using. Also, it helps in finding the multiple attack vectors as well as misconfigurations. Apart from this, Penetration testing also helps in the prioritization and fixation of the risks along with the improvement of the overall security response time.

Furthermore, Penetration Testing helps in evaluating the capacity of the system to defend against sudden malicious attacks. Following are some of the most common reasons behind system vulnerability:

  • Designing Errors
  • Settings and Configuration Mismatch
  • Network connectivity
  • Human-induced error
  • Communication
  • Complexity

Significant Steps Involved in Penetration Testing:

Before I pursue further, let me introduce you to the significant steps that take part in the process of Penetration testing. Following are some of the vital penetration tester steps involved in leading methodologies used by a penetration tester:

  1. First of all, you need to determine the feasibility of a particular set of attack vendors.
  2. Secondly, you have to identify the risk vulnerabilities that emerge from the combination of lower-risk vulnerabilities, dried up in a specific sequence.
  3. Next, you need to figure out the vulnerabilities that are difficult to detect with automated network applications. 
  4. Subsequently, you need to access the magnitude of the potential business and operational results of successful attacks.
  5. The next important thing that you need to do is to provide the evidence to support the increased personnel and technological security investment.

Nowadays, Penetration Testing is the backbone of most of the IT companies. Penetration testing is spreading its wings, and its impact can be seen clearly in the inter-departmental matters like social engineering, web application security, and physical penetration testing.

However, there are throngs of penetration testing tools that are convenient to use. These tools are not only convenient to use but also easy to deploy and configure. Moreover, you need to keep in mind that the tools should follow the methodology that supports the vulnerabilities to be categorized on the basis of severity that needs to be fixed immediately. Most importantly, Penetration Testing tools should allow automated verification of vulnerabilities to save time and diminish human errors.

Popular Penetration Testing Tools:

The following are some of the popular Penetration testing tools that are supported by numerous Penetration testers around the world:

  • Acunetix
  • Aircrack-ng
  • Cain & Abel
  • Ettercap
  • John the ripper
  • Metasploit
  • Nessus
  • Kismet
  • Wireshark

How to Perform Penetration Testing?

Now the question arises - How to perform Penetration Testing? Well, there are three main approaches to performing Penetration Testing, i.e., Manual Penetration Testing, Automated Penetration Testing, and Manual + Automated Penetration Testing. Now let us discuss each strategy one by one so that you can get a better understanding regarding the same.

Manual Penetration Testing: 

Manual Penetration Testing includes a standard approach in which various activities performed in a sequence. In Manual Penetration Testing, following are some of the activities that are presented in a series:

  • Penetration testing planning
  • Reconnaissance
  • Vulnerability Analysis
  • Exploitation
  • External attacks
  • Internal attacks
  • Post Exploitation
  • Reporting

Automated Penetration Testing:

When it comes to Automated Penetration Testing, we can say that it can be performed by making the use of several performance testing tools. Following are some of the highly used tools during Automated penetration testing:

  • NMap
  • Nessus
  • Metasploit
  • Wireshark
  • Veracode 

Manual + Automated Penetration Testing:

This is the combination of Manual and Automated Penetration Testing. If we talk about the purpose of this approach, it makes sure that the testing is useful, monitored, and precise penetration testing.

Methodologies of Penetration Testing:

We can describe the methods of Penetration Testing on the basis of testing approaches. Following are some of the methods of Penetration Testing:

Black Box Penetration Testing: 

Unlike Gray Box penetration testing, a high-level of information is made available to the tester when it comes to Black box penetration testing. In black-box penetration testing, the tester has zero internal knowledge of the target system. Moreover, it determines the system vulnerabilities, exploited from outside the network. Black-box penetration testing relies on a dynamic analysis approach. Furthermore, these testers also need to be proficient in developing their target map on the basis of the observations.

Gray Box Penetration Testing:

Gray box Penetration testing only makes limited information available to the tester to attack the system externally. Gray box testing is one level up from black-box testing. Moreover, Gray-box penetration testers are aware of the network’s internals, including design and architecture. The purpose of gray-box penetration testing is to provide a more focused network security assessment.

White Box Penetration Testing:

In this method of Penetration Testing, the tester has complete access and in-depth system knowledge that needs to be tested. This methodology is exceptionally fruitful when it comes to extensive penetration testing.

It is also known as clear-box, open-box, auxiliary, and logic-driven testing. The challenges that need to deal with white-box testing includes the sorting of massive data available to identify potential points of weakness to make it the most time-consuming type of penetration testing.

Dissimilar to black-box and gray-box penetration testing, white-box penetration testers can perform static code analysis, which makes it familiar with source code analyzers, debuggers, and other significant tools required for this sort of testing. Furthermore, White-box penetration testing also offers a complete assessment of both internal and external vulnerabilities, and this makes it the best when it comes to calculation testing.

Some Other Penetration Testing Methodologies:

Data Collection: 

No doubt, there are several methods that you can use to reach the target system data. Although, web page source code analysis is also a sound technique to catch more information regarding the target system data, software, and plugin versions. Apart from this, there is a collection of free tools and services that you can use to get the information concerning database, table names, software versions, and hardware used by multiple third-party plugins.

Vulnerability Assessment:

Based on the data collected, security vulnerability can be addressed quickly. It assists the penetration testers to launch attacks by making the use of identified entry points in the system.

Actual Exploit:

This is the most critical step. It demands special skills and techniques to configure attacks on the targeted system. Moreover, experienced and veteran testers can make the use of their skills and experience to launch an attack on the system network. 

Result Analysis and Report Development:

Once the penetration tests are done, the next step involves the preparation of detailed reports carrying corrective actions. All the recognized vulnerabilities and recommended restorative methods are needed to be listed in this report. Moreover, you can customize the vulnerability report in the following formats: 

  • HTML
  • XML
  • MS Word
  • PDF

About the Author:

Claire Mackerras is a Senior QA Engineer & Editor associated with Bugraptors. A certified software testing company with extensive experience as a third-party testing vendor in US. She is passionate about writing on technological trends for manual & automation software testing.  She likes to share her knowledge, for the readers who are interested in exploring testing tact’s and trends.


December 16, 2019


Hakin9 TEAM
Hakin9 is a monthly magazine dedicated to hacking and cybersecurity. In every edition, we try to focus on different approaches to show various techniques - defensive and offensive. This knowledge will help you understand how most popular attacks are performed and how to protect your data from them. Our tutorials, case studies and online courses will prepare you for the upcoming, potential threats in the cyber security world. We collaborate with many individuals and universities and public institutions, but also with companies such as Xento Systems, CATO Networks, EY, CIPHER Intelligence LAB, redBorder, TSG, and others.
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
© HAKIN9 MEDIA SP. Z O.O. SP. K. 2023