The most common Penetration Testing Methodologies

The most common Penetration Testing Methodologies

What are penetration testing techniques? How can I identify security vulnerabilities in my network? What is the difference between malicious and non-malicious techniques? These are all good questions to ask when deciding what method is right for your enterprise. The following list includes five best methodologies for penetration testing, with a quick overview and definitions included.

(1). Advanced Persistent Threat

Simply, an advanced persistent threat is when an attacker gains unauthorized access to a network and then continues to exploit weaknesses in that network. APT’s are commonly used by nation-states and terrorist groups but can also be used by corporate spies. To combat these, you need a robust security posture and a 24x7x365 SOC to monitor suspicious activity and remediate any issues before they become breaches. Information-gathering attempts by the attacker will also occur before any activity, so you must educate all users on how they can spot these attempts and handle them as suspicious behaviour.

 (2). Reconnaissance and Vulnerability Scanning

Reconnaissance scanning is the initial phase when an attacker attempts to identify a target network’s vulnerabilities. The goal of reconnaissance scans is to find out what information they can gather before they launch any APT or other efforts. This is like the classic “warm up” round for a boxing match: both sides are focused on seeing what the opponent can do, where he can go, and which weapons he has at his disposal.

(3). Probing and Scanning

This phase aims to develop an understanding of the target network’s vulnerabilities and become familiar with any systems on the network. This is a time for the attacker to learn about the user accounts, applications, secret keys, and other data that might be useful later. Also known as daisy-chaining, probing involves copying large volumes or files from one system to another to gain knowledge about them.

penetration testing

 (4). Active Exploitation

After the attacker has gathered all the information he can through reconnaissance and probing, it is time to actively exploit those weaknesses. This means they find a vulnerability and use it to gain unauthorized access to the system.

(5). Covering Tracks and Exfiltration

This final phase may be the most important in accomplishing a successful penetration test. The goal of any penetration test is to simulate an attack for you to prepare for a real attack scenario. Simply marking an exercise as complete ends you with the same result as if an attack had occurred and you were unprepared. This is even more important when a nation-state is conducting the test instead of a hacker. Properly covering tracks means making it appear like no one was ever there. For example, if a hacker breaks in using some known vulnerability, then cover that vulnerability off so that others cannot use it again. If a penetration tester uses hacking skills to gain entry, he should edit his attack logs to appear legitimate authentication processes were used.


The process of deliberately testing an organization’s security  to find vulnerabilities; the main goal is to identify potential points of access. The most common access point is through users–either employees, contractors, or outside consultants.