What is Penetration Testing (Pen Testing)?

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on LinkedIn
  • Share on Instagram

Penetration testing (also known as pen testing) is the process of checking if your infrastructure and applications are robust enough to protect against cyberattacks.  This is done by effectively hacking your own systems in a controlled way to simulate a cybercriminal’s activities. 

Pen testing allows you to uncover a range of weaknesses that a criminal could exploit, such as poorly configured systems, potential flaws in pen testing software and hardware, and social engineering exploits.   

By revealing vulnerabilities in your systems using this measured approach, you can gain a better insight into the real security risks your business faces.


How to do Penetration Testing

What Are the Stages of Pen Testing?

Penetration tests can be broken down into 5 stages.

1. Planning and reconnaissance

This initial stage involves understanding the scope and objectives of a pen test, such as defining what systems will be tested and what methods will be used.  Additionally, finer details are gathered such as domain names, devices and network information.

2. Scanning

Following the initial planning stage, we next need to understand how the applications will react to a range of controlled attacks.  Two types of methods are often used for this; they are static analysis and dynamic analysis

Static analysis checks code within an application to understand how it behaves during runtime.  These tools are highly efficient, scanning the entire code in one go.

Dynamic analysis checks code during runtime, providing testers with a practical and live view of how the application is performing.

3.  Gaining access

In this stage, web application attack methods are used such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting and backdoors.  These uncover weaknesses that testers then try to exploit.  Types of controlled attacks include trying to obtain data, elevating privileges, and targeting traffic.

4. Maintaining Access

Once a weakness has been found, a penetration tester will want to keep it open for as long as possible. During this step, a tester will attempt to create a backdoor into the system so they can continue to explore the system.

5. Covering Tracks

What is the end result of a pen test? Naturally, once a backdoor has been established and the tester has got the results they want, they’ll need to leave undetected. A pen tester will remove logs and any other traces they may have left behind. This may alert a System admin who has the ability to check system logs through, as there will be clear gaps in some of the log’s timestamps.

What Are the Different Types of Pen Testing?

There are several different categories of penetration testing, with most security professionals agreeing upon these main types:

External/Internal Network Testing - These tests will attempt to find weaknesses both outside and inside the network. External testing will look for exploits in anything client-facing, such as company emails, websites, and cloud-based services. On the other hand, Internal testing will often pose as a bad actor who already has some access to the system, and will emulate the actions a possible “inside attacker” may perform. 

Social Engineering Testing - Unlike other forms of testing, this type of pentest is purely based on tricking and deceiving staff members to allow a tester access. These can come in the form of phishing attempts or impersonating other employees.

Physical Penetration Testing - While most other forms of pen testing are mostly digital, these tests take place in the real world. Physical pen testers will attempt to get into a physical location, via impersonating employees or simply breaking in. Tests like these can show real-life vulnerabilities through gaps in security and procedures, and can often lead to bigger exploits if they can find access to the network from the inside.

Application Penetration Testing - The most broad type of testing, these seek to find vulnerabilities across any applications your company may have. Testers will look for exploits in missing patches and common exploits in externally-facing web applications. This form of testing will also look for exploits in end-user devices, such as smartphones and computers.

Why is Pen Testing Important?

Penetration testing is one of the most common ways to defend against bad actors. The internet grows exponentially each day, and malicious users find new ways to get into systems all the time. Defending yourself against these potential attacks is crucial in the digital age.

A robust security team can make a massive difference when it comes to making sure your company meets compliance standards, such as PCI-DSS regulations or internal standards. It can also help better train staff to respond to security breaches or other major events. Routine testing can help improve security protocols and bring better standard practices.

How Does Pen Testing Help With Compliance?

Companies have to meet compliance for a number of reasons: internal procedures, requirements by law, or regulatory bodies within an industry. Active penetration testing can aid in compliance by making sure any security guidelines are met. Companies that handle sensitive private data or credit/debit transactions require routine testing to make sure that there are no potential exploits.


How Often Should You Pen Test?

Pen testing can often become quite expensive, based on the amount of work needed. According to Coresecurity’s 2021 Pen Testing Report, about 39% of cybersecurity professionals only ran pen testing once or twice a year. This falls in line with most regulatory bodies, such as payment card processors. But is it really only needed once a year?

With more and more teams working in agile practices and more frequent releases, security becomes incredibly important. The risk of security exploits becomes exponentially higher with new releases, so quarterly or even monthly pen testing can become the new standard.  


What Are Pen Testing Tools?

A successful pen tester will have a variety of security tools at their disposal, to cover a wide array of attack vectors. Some notable examples of penetration testing software includes:

Network Sniffers collect network traffic data, which can allow a pen tester to look for sensitive data and applications over a network.

Password Crackers do exactly what they say - they attempt to find weak passwords used by employees or across the network. These can even discover a password hash for a system and expose all of the passwords in a database.

Vulnerability Scanners will scan entire systems for common exploits, giving pen testers a starting point for potential vulnerabilities.

Web Proxies help pen testers intercept traffic and look for HTML exploits, such as cross-site scripting or hidden form fields.

Port Scanners simply look for open ports on a system, so pen testers can collect data for potential attack vectors.



Uleska helps security and development teams manage application security at scale by automating and orchestrating their preferred security tools within CI/CD.

With Uleska, teams can confidently start an AppSec program using open-source, commercial, and custom tools and then quickly change, add or scale tools as the technology and business needs evolve. Uleska also brings speed and scale when integrating into development tools, and reporting of metrics and risk.

By bringing security, DevOps and development teams together, we help reduce manual tasks so application security takes less time, cost and can scale, allowing teams to focus resources on the issues and metrics that matter.

Subscribe to the Uleska blog

You may unsubscribe at any time using the unsubscribe link in the newsletter.

Popular Articles
Visit the Blog

Open Source Security Testing Tools

Security tools are an essential part of software development today, especially with the ever-increasing number of attacks we see every year....


Security Orchestration Automation and Response (SOAR)

Security teams frequently struggle with the volume of alerts and issues they are tasked with daily. On average, most enterprises receive between...


Secure Software Development Life Cycle

Software development has evolved into an incredibly complex machine, with several moving parts to keep track of. Teams get more extensive, and...


Application Security Orchestration & Correlation

Application Security is a constantly evolving industry, with new threats and methods to combat them appearing regularly. One of the more recent...


Top 5 AppSec Productivity Hacks 2022

The application security (AppSec) industry moves fast. Development, security and operations (DevSecOps) practitioners are having to find creative...


How to improve security tool selection and customisation with Uleska Toolkits

We know starting your application security (AppSec) journey can be a little overwhelming. After all, choosing your tools from scratch and setting...

Application Security

What is Application Security? A Beginner’s Guide

What is Application Security? Application Security is defined by developing, adding, and testing security features in an application or website....


Vulnerability Assessments in Application Security

Did you know that over 79% of developers surveyed in 2020 stated their applications had 20 or more vulnerabilities on average? As the digital world...


Defining and breaking down Vulnerability Management

No system is perfectly secure, as proven by software analysis firm CAST, which reviewed 278 million lines of code and discovered more than 1.3...

Company News, Featured

Toolkits: Taking the guesswork out of security tool selection and customisation

There are thousands of amazing AppSec tools out there, but this can be both a blessing and a curse. While the headway and innovation we are seeing...


How to eliminate risk when scaling application security

Building robust application security is a lot like building a house—you want it done thoroughly, without any missing parts. However, there is a...


What is the OWASP Top 10 and how to use it?

Cybersecurity has been a rising concern in the last decade. In 2021, researchers have seen 50% more attacks per week on corporate networks compared...


What is Shift Left? Ultimate Guide to Shift Left Security

With today’s fast development speeds, it’s hard to keep up with security practices for some organisations. This is especially true in the last few...


What is Software Composition Analysis?

Open-source software has become a vital part of development in the last decade. However, utilising these components often comes with several caveats,...


DevSecOps tool examples that will alleviate your workload

The saying goes: “Many hands make light work.” Nowhere is this more apparent than in DevSecOps where developers and releases outnumber security...