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What Is Penetration Testing? Definition, Process, and Methods

As technology becomes more accessible and sophisticated, cyber risks increase. A cyber attack can damage your system, steal your data, and destroy your reputation as they reveal your user’s private information. That’s where penetration testing – a cyber security test – comes in. 

With this type of security test, you can assess your system and discover where you need to improve it. Depending on the information you wish to find, you can use multiple methods.

In this blog, we’ll explore this cyber security test and reveal the different methods you can use to test your system.

What Is Penetration Testing in Cyber Security?

What Is Penetration Testing in Cyber Security

This testing, also known as ‘ethical hacking,’ is an imitation of a digital attack. You can use this process to discover vulnerabilities in your system’s defences. In addition, it can help you assess the quality of your system’s security, ensure you meet compliance standards, and build trust with end users.

Since some flaws may escape the test, it’s crucial that experts in the field conduct it. Moreover, it’s usually a labour intensive, manual test conducted by a developer. However, they’re likely to use automated tools and their expertise to find vulnerabilities in your system. 

Furthermore, you can use this process to test the following parts of your system:

  • Web Application
  • Mobile Application
  • Network
  • Cloud Storage
  • Embedded Device
  • Mobile Device

The Methods of Penetration Testing

You can categorise the methods you’ll use to test your system based on the information the tester has about the system and its owner. With less information, they can replicate a hacking scenario based on knowledge that’s available about the target system. Conversely, if the tester has a lot of information, they can target specific parts of the system.

Here are the different methods for penetration testing:

  • Opaque/Black Box: With this method of testing, the tester does not know the target system. This replicates a hacker scenario.
  • Semi-Opaque/Grey Box: This method provides some information to the tester before the simulated cyber attack. In particular, you should use this method when testing a specific area of a system.
  • Transparent/White Box: When a tester uses this method, they have deep knowledge of the target system, including the source code. Since the tester has more knowledge than with the opaque/black box, this test can take less time.
  • External Testing: This way of testing a system focuses on the parts that are accessible from the public, such as the online services in your system.
  • Internal Testing: Unlike external testing, this method focuses on assessing the security of the whole framework. In addition, you can test the connection between the parts of the system.
  • Blind Testing: Only the security team is aware that you’re testing the system when you use this testing. Meanwhile, other testing systems allow you to inform your staff beforehand.
  • Double Blind Testing: During a double-blind test, rather than your security team knowing about the assessment, only a few individuals within your company are aware of it. Then, you can have a more accurate sense of your security’s response. 

How to Conduct a Penetration Test

Now that you understand the different methods to use this testing, here’s how you can test your system:

1. Plan the Test

To begin testing your system, you’ll need to plan what and how you’ll test. Your plan should include the goals of the test. For example, perhaps you wish to test whether a newly integrated feature is secure. Then, you’ll choose the appropriate combination of methods, such as an opaque/black box with an external double-blind test. You should note that the methods should match the threat you’re safeguarding against. Otherwise, the test may not give you useful results.

2. Reconnaissance

After you’ve created a plan for your test, you’ll gather information on the target and the system. This information could come from internet searches or even through examining your trash. This step gathers the information that a real hacker would have access to without accessing a target system.

3. Scanning

Now that you’ve gathered information, you’ll scan the target system. This scan uses manual, automated, and non-automated tools to verify where the system is weak to cyber attacks. In addition, scanning helps you gauge the reaction of the system.

4. Gain Access 

After scanning, the next step in pen testing is to gain access to the target system. You’ll enter the system by using the information gathered when you scanned its flaws.

5. Maintain Access 

Once you’ve accessed the target system, you’ll need to keep that access. A more secure system may respond to your attack. Therefore, this step intends to find a long-term issue in the system. In addition, it provides a way to keep gathering data on the system’s flaws.

6. Analysis

Finally, you’ll compile information gained during the previous step. Then, you can use these results to create an analysis of the system. Based on the testing findings, you can create a list of the changes that need to occur for the system to be more robust. After you’ve made these changes, you can restart this process.

Is Penetration Testing Right For Your Business?

Is Penetration Testing Right For Your Business

This type of test can be crucial when you’re trying to identify vulnerable parts of your system. However, it can be expensive and may bring risks. For instance, the tester could make a mistake and damage your system. 

Moreover, you need to find a trustworthy tester. Otherwise, the tester could act unprofessionally and or even maliciously with your data. Furthermore, in some cases, such as in hospitals, the testing could be unethical.

Nevertheless, it could still bring insights about your security in a safer situation than if you were hacked. Therefore, you need to weigh the risks against all the information you could gain with this test.


Penetration testing is a way to assess your system’s security. By simulating cyber-attacks, this testing identifies vulnerabilities in your system, helping to enhance security, meet compliance standards, and build trust with users. While penetration testing can be complex and requires expert execution, the benefits of identifying and fixing security gaps far outweigh the risks. Whether you’re testing web applications, mobile devices, or network security, understanding and implementing effective penetration testing methods is crucial for safeguarding your business against cyber threats. So, consider integrating penetration testing into your cybersecurity strategy to better protect your system and maintain your business integrity.