Modern computer networks are very complex: they combine global, local and wireless networks, as well as a large number of endpoints. The totality of networks can reach the size of the Internet, but also the network can consist of just a few devices connected to each other. The list of devices can include: servers, workstations, mobile devices, IoT devices, etc. Many technologies, such as firewalls and intrusion prevention systems, are also related to networks. And all of the above things can be used by hackers to access the network.
In this article, we will talk about network penetration testing: what it is, how it is carried out, what tools are used and what all this is for. Read on to find out more.
What is network penetration test?
A network penetration test is the process of identifying vulnerabilities, weaknesses in the security of a network and its security controls, through the deliberate use of various methods and tools. Pentest may also include checking the vigilance of employees through, for example, phishing attacks, psychological manipulation, etc.
All this is necessary so that in the future the organization can correct the shortcomings of the security system and errors in its work. In fact, experts act in much the same way as potential attackers: they identify loopholes and vulnerabilities that are the hardest to find and exploit them, but do not cause any harm to the organization.
There are two types of network penetration testing: external and internal.
- Internal network pentest: its essence is to assess the damage that hackers could cause if they managed to penetrate the network and gain a foothold in it.
- External network pentest: this pentest is carried out in order to detect vulnerabilities that can be exploited via the Internet.
Benefits of a network penetration test
The main benefit is that a pentest gives an organization a real picture of the overall state of a cybersecurity system, how it works in real-life conditions, and what damage hackers can do if they manage to break into the network. This information can then be used to enable the enterprise to take informed action to resolve problems before they are exploited by attackers.
In general, network pentest provides:
- The ability to analyze the operation of the security system, evaluate and understand its condition and effectiveness;
- Ability to prevent network hacking;
- Understanding what measures should be taken in the event of an actual attack, which protection mechanisms are more effective and which are not;
- Reducing the time and money spent on eliminating damage from a possible attack.
How is a network pentest performed?
Network penetration testing for companies and enterprises usually includes six stages: preparation, scanning, obtaining information about the system, exploitation, evaluation and analysis, conclusions and recommendations. Let us look at them in more detail.
Preparation and reconnaissance
During the preparatory phase, penetration testers collect data about the organization and employees from open sources, including social networks, job sites, blogs, etc.
In addition, scopes, test methods, success rates, and overall test objectives are agreed upon by stakeholders.
Scanning and getting system information
At the scanning stage, pentesters identify potential weaknesses in the system:
- technical vulnerabilities: search for weaknesses in network ports, software, services, etc.;
- human vulnerabilities: looking for opportunities to penetrate the network through social engineering, phishing, etc.
Thus, experts receive accurate information that can be used to determine the attack vector and penetration into the network.
The vulnerabilities identified in the previous step are used to carry out a real attack. Once inside the network, pentesters, if possible, evade detection, circumvent security measures, and then demonstrate what damage can be done.
Evaluation and analysis
At this stage, testers summarize the description of the entire process and its results into one report. It contains information about the identified and exploited vulnerabilities, info about the data that was accessed and other info that will allow the organization to correct security errors.
The final step in a network penetration test is to provide recommendations on how to fix vulnerabilities and improve security measures, the implementation of which would allow the organization to protect against potential attacks.
Network penetration testing tools
There are hundreds of programs and tools for penetration testing. Combining them allows pentesters to flexibly adapt to the goals of testing and the characteristics of the system with which they will work.
Let us take a look at some popular and most useful tools and programs:
- Acunetix — vulnerability scanner, a great penetration testing tool that allows you to scan and detect exploits inside the network.
- Burp Suite — a powerful tool that contains various research and attack utilities.
- Kali Linux — perhaps the largest assembly of various tools “in one box”.
- NMAP — a port scanner that can be used as a vulnerability scanner and, in some cases, even as a password guesser.
- Metasploit — a pentest framework that contains both exploits and specialized modules, for example, for generating backdoors, searching for shared folders, guessing passwords, etc.
- Ettercap — a sniffer used to analyze and intercept network traffic.
- HashCat — very fast password cracker (recoverer).
- THC-Hydra — utility for selecting passwords for network services.
There is also a huge number of different utilities that solve highly specialized tasks.
When planning a business, it is extremely important for organizations to clearly understand what risks they may face. It should be noted that a flaw in the cybersecurity system can entail not only financial or reputational consequences, but also legal ones.
Therefore, it is so important to take care of the real cybersecurity of the company’s assets. And it is impossible to find out how effective your protection methods are without a pentest.
If you have any questions regarding penetration testing, please contact us right now at the contacts listed on the site.