Coding Dojo

Coding Dojo Blog logo
Illustration of man looking at direction signs

What Is Penetration Testing? A Beginner’s Guide

There are many hackers these days – the worldwide annual cost of cybercrime is around $6 trillion per year – and cybersecurity is crucial because it protects people’s data from attack, loss, and theft. 

There are many reasons why data can be sensitive and private. The information might be personal, like health data, or intellectual property that belongs to its creator, or it could make a government or business vulnerable if leaked.

This is where penetration testing comes in. 

So, what is penetration testing? How is it done, and how can it help secure data? This article will answer all of these questions and show you how to get into cybersecurity if it interests you.  

What Is Penetration Testing?

Also known as a pen test or “ethical hacking,” a penetration test is a simulated cyber attack against a website, computer, or computer system to find weaknesses in data security. 

After weaknesses are discovered, cybersecurity specialists can make revisions to fix and protect the computer system. 

Pen testing can include trying to breach application systems like frontend/backend servers and application protocol interfaces (APIs) to find weaknesses.

Some vulnerabilities include unsanitized inputs, which are prone to code injection attacks. A pen test can also give insight into what needs to be fine-tuned in your WAF security policies and patch detected vulnerabilities.

A few factors determine when an organization does penetration testing: budget, the size of the organization’s online presence, regulation and compliance, and also whether or not the IT infrastructure is located in the Cloud.

What Is the Purpose of Penetration Testing?

The purpose of a penetration test is to understand your website, computer, or computer system from the perspective of an attacker. Pen testing helps find and figure out your system’s weaknesses so you can protect against them.

Attackers can breach and compromise systems and applications in many ways. Organized teams of attackers use ransomware, shareware, spyware, and spam networks. They can attack your computer or computer system and then offer to sell you the key to unlock your data (ransomware).

They can also trick you into buying fake antivirus software (scareware). Attackers can even get unauthorized access to your bank (spyware). 

There are other types of attackers too, including hacktivists, who attack corporate or political bodies.

Ultimately, the purpose of pen testing is to protect. After all, compromised computer systems mean the data can be sold, leased as a service for ads and spam, or used to spread malware to customers.

Why Is Penetration Testing Important?

One reason pen testing is important is to be prepared for an attack. Pen tests determine whether an organization’s security policies are effective. They also provide solutions to detect and prevent attackers and kick them out of their system efficiently.

Risk identification is another reason why testing is so important. Penetration tests provide insight into which areas of your organization are most vulnerable and what types of security tools you use – and protocols you should follow. This process can also help discover major system weaknesses that were overlooked.

A third reason that pen testing is so vital is it helps developers make fewer errors. 

It is especially important to do pen testing under certain conditions. If the organization recently made major upgrades or revisions to its IT infrastructure or applications, has recently applied security patches, modified end-user policies, or even moved into a new office space.

The 5 Penetration Testing Phases

A pentest helps safeguard customers’ and organizations’ sensitive data. Organizations want to defend against data breaches to avoid loss of reputation, business, and voter trust.

You may be interested in the process. How is it done? What are the steps required for a penetration test? Here are the five main testing phases that a pentester does.

1. Planning and Reconnaissance 

This is the first phase of the pen test, in which the tester collects information about the target.

2. Scanning

The tester uses scanner tools to gather more information about the target, including port scanners, war dialers (programs for identifying phone numbers), and network mappers (for security auditing).

3. Gaining Access (Exploitation)

Here, a pentester uses various tools to gain access and extract sensitive data from servers.

Pentesters can do everything from session hijacking to a denial of service (DoS) attack. 

4. Maintaining Access

This phase involves the pentester creating a backdoor to find hidden weaknesses in the system.

5. Risk Analysis and Reporting

The pentester covers their tracks and reports on their analysis of the system’s vulnerabilities.

What Are the Types of Penetration Testing?

An IT system or computer network is made up of various routers, servers, and firewalls. Pen testing these technologies is just like hacking – except you have permission.

There are different types of penetration testing and different penetration testing techniques. Here are the kinds of ethical hacking or types of penetration testing you can learn more about if you go down a cybersecurity career path

Network Penetration Testing 

Using different hacking techniques, pentesters find security vulnerabilities in a network

Web Application Penetration Testing

Pen testers simulate attacks to try to access data to see whether a system is secure and to try to find any vulnerability.

Wireless Penetration Testing

This means identifying and studying the connections between all devices connected to the business’s wifi.

Internal Penetration Testing

Pentesters identify how an internal attacker with inside access could damage the network, systems, or disclose sensitive data.

External Penetration Testing

Here, a penetration tester imitates attackers on the open internet. An external pen test tries to breach web-facing assets.

Physical Penetration Testing

This is an assessment of all physical security controls like fences, cameras, locks, and even security guards.

Social Engineering Penetration Testing

Pentesters try common social engineering scams on an organization’s employees to determine the organization’s weaknesses to that type of scam.

3 Penetration Testing Techniques

By now, you already know that cybersecurity penetration testing is a stress test for an organization’s IT infrastructure security. But what are some of the actual pentesting techniques?

1. Black Box Testing

This is a type of software testing that studies the functionality of an app without looking at its internal structures or workings. 

2. Gray Box Testing

The goal of this type of testing is to find defects that are caused by incorrect structure or usage of applications.

3. White Box Testing

This is an internal pen test that examines the internal structures or workings of an application instead of its functionality.

How Often Should Penetration Testing Be Done?

Pen testing should be performed regularly – at least once a year – to provide consistency in IT and network security management.

Consistency is achieved by showing how hackers can exploit newly discovered threats or weaknesses. Pen testers must learn how to think like hackers think, so they can anticipate how they might try to compromise their clients’ cyber security.

What Happens After Pen Testing?

After pen testing is completed, there are several next steps to consider. First, it’s important to review the pen test results and discuss them to ensure you understand where your computer and systems may be unsafe. 

Once the results are shared, you have to make a remediation plan to address the concerns. 

When the above two steps have been taken, the last step is to incorporate the test result conclusions into a strong new security strategy.

Learn Cyber Security at Coding Dojo

One of the most important elements of learning penetration testing is practice. That’s why at Coding Dojo, we provide an environment where you can get a lot of hands-on training.

Our cybersecurity bootcamp provides extensive experience, both offensive and defensive, within the Coding Dojo sandbox. When you learn with us, you can learn penetration testing in a detailed and thorough way.

After you have learned the necessary tools and strategies by the end of the course, as much as 75% of your time will be spent in labs, attacking and defending against each other in exercises like Capture the Flag. 

If you want to be ready to hit the ground running when you graduate, this is the right course for you. 

Penetration Testing FAQ

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about penetration testing.

What Is a Penetration Tester?

A penetration tester is a professional cybersecurity expert who simulates cyber attacks on websites, computers, and computer systems so that a business or organization can learn what weaknesses they have and how to fix them.

There is a high demand for professional pen testers because cyber attacks are a continuing threat to data security.

What Does a Penetration Tester Do?

A penetration tester uses tools to study a website, computer, or system for vulnerabilities. Weaknesses could be open-source vulnerabilities, open services, and application security issues. 

How To Learn Penetration Testing?

The best way to develop the skills that a cybersecurity professional needs to become a successful penetration tester is to take a specialized course or bootcamp. 

This kind of program provides a more structured learning environment so you can learn multiple skills at the same time.