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If you want to understand where your defenses are vulnerable, actively testing those defenses under real-world conditions is invaluable. That’s the principle behind white hat penetration testing, which seeks to identify, exploit and analyze any security gaps within a computing system. “White hats” are similar to ethical hackers, as they attempt to use the tools and techniques of modern adversaries to help organizations identify their weak spots.
To help you better understand how this process works and the benefits associated with it, let’s take a deeper dive into the various types of penetration tests.
The Three “Color Boxes” of Pen Testing
Security gaps often develop as the result of flawed software code, operating system backdoors, improper configurations and other similar issues. During a pen test, an attempt will be made to discover problems such as these by targeting servers, wireless networks, mobile devices and other possible points of entry for attackers.
Typically, there are three types of penetration testing:
- White box testing — in this format, pen testers have full access and knowledge of the systems they are testing, including source code, IP addresses, etc. Also sometimes called clear or open box testing, this approach can simulate an internal attack and allows for an extremely rigorous test.
- Black box testing — unlike white box scenarios, testers here have no information about the systems they will attempt to breach. Because of this, these tests often take longer to complete, as they may rely heavily on an automated, trial & error approach.
- Gray box testing — as the name indicates, this approach is a combination of the other two approaches. Testers have some visibility and can pose as an attacker who has gathered limited information about the target.
Testing Target Types
Within these three formats, there are several sub-types of tests that occur. These include:
- Web application tests — in addition to web apps this may include testing of browsers and their components.
- Network service tests – this test attempts to identify vulnerabilities within the network infrastructure, both remote and local. Firewall configuration tests, firewall bypass tests, and DNS tests are all common components of network service testing.
- Wireless device tests — smartphones, laptops and other devices deployed on the network will be examined under this testing protocol. Wireless configurations and access point management will also be analyzed to identify any security issues.
- Client-side tests – here, testers will attempt to identify local threats, such as flawed software running on a corporate workstation. This test applies to everything from major third-party software applications to open source software or internally created code.
- Social engineering tests — given the prominent role human error plays in most security breaches, this test helps identify how vulnerable organizations are to such tactics. These tests may include remote components (such as attempting to gain access by launching a phishing attack against an employee) or on-premises components, such as intelligence gathering inside a building or looking through discarded records.
During pen tests, teams are often divided into colors. A red team plays the role of the adversary, a blue team plays the role of defenders and a purple team is comprised of both attackers and defenders, who work as a unit and divide into offensive and defensive teams.
Once a testing exercise is complete, a penetration testing report will be issued, and organizations can learn from the results of the exercise, ultimately strengthening their security posture.
The Role of Automated Penetration Testing
As you might imagine, manual pen testing is usually resource-intensive. Most organizations must hire trained, third-party white hat pen testing or red team pen testing experts to conduct the exercise. Alternatively, they may create their own red, blue or purple teams from internal staff members, should they have the institutional expertise.
Cyber-attack simulation — such as that offered by XM Cyber — provides a more efficient and cost-effective option to conventional manual testing. By using an automated pen-testing service, organizations can reap the benefits of network attack simulation without the cost and disruption of traditional pen-testing. Additionally, cyber-attack simulation software runs continuously, which means the visibility gaps that occur in-between manual testing exercises no longer exist.
If you’d like to discover more about how your business can benefit from breach and attack simulation software, we urge you to click here and learn more about XM Cyber’s market-leading solutions.
Dan Anconina is Customer Operations Manager at XM Cyber