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Penetration testing, or pen testing, involves simulating cyberattacks against your own systems to help identify any vulnerabilities that could be potentially exploited. Network penetration tests use various hacking techniques to identify security vulnerabilities in your networks. These tests use real methods and approaches that a hacker could use to access the system, providing critical information about the security of a network.

How does network pen testing work?

In simplest terms, network pen testing works by simulating a real-life attack, providing critical information about potential weaknesses hackers could use as entry points to gain access to your network(s). “Ethical hackers” (likely security specialists on your team or a third-party vendor) use a variety of methods to attempt to compromise your network(s).

A typical network pen testing approach involves the following steps:

  1. Planning. In the planning phase, ethical hackers discuss the scope and overall aim of the test with key stakeholders. Testing methods and success metrics are defined in this initial discussion phase. After a basic overview is decided upon, hackers start surveying all components of the businesses’ network.
  2. Testing. In this phase, hackers use either static or dynamic testing solutions to study and understand how the network responds to simulated attacks.
  3. Accessing networks. After testing the network to understand its behavior, ethical hackers will perform a variety of attacks on the network, including web application attacks, SQL injections, etc. These attacks will help identify the target network’s vulnerabilities. If the ethical hackers identify vulnerabilities, they will attempt to actually exploit them, from attempting to steal data to escalating privileges to intercepting traffic. The idea here is to determine how much damage they can cause. After successfully gaining access, another metric of interest is to see how long the tester can maintain their access within the system. If hackers can maintain access to a system for a long period of time, this lends them more opportunity to wreak havoc and collect valuable sensitive data.
  4. Analysis. After completing testing activities, pen testers will analyze their results and create a report showing their findings. This report will provide actionable insight into vulnerabilities, actual exploitability, and the chance for businesses to take necessary remediation action before a real hacker has the opportunity to exploit their system. 

Penetration Testing: A Buyer's Guide

This guide details the benefits of pen testing, what to look for in a pen testing solution, and questions to ask potential vendors.

What should be included in a network pen test report?

The final step in pen testing, providing a report with the analysis, should include the following several key items:

  1. An executive summary. This summary should offer a concise description of the business risk and the overall impact of findings to the business. By providing a nontechnical and approachable analysis of the current state of security, nontechnical stakeholders can easily understand their overall security posture and more easily provide needed support.
  2. Risk analysis. This section should walk through the risk findings, providing detailed analysis of the discovered risks and their implications.
  3. Impact analysis. This should include a detailed description of how likely discovered vulnerabilities are to be exploited and how devastating/widespread the impact would be if they actually were to be exploited.
  4. Remediation recommendations. This should offer next steps the business can take to remediate discovered vulnerabilities and weaknesses. 

What are the benefits of performing network penetration testing?

The overarching benefit to implementing network pen testing is that it allows a business to gain valuable insight into its overall security posture and empowers it to take informed action to resolve problems before a malicious actor has the opportunity to exploit its systems.

More specifically, network pen testing provides the following:

  • The ability to analyze and understand security posture and controls
  • The ability to prevent breaches before they can happen
  • Help in learning what to do in case of an actual attack by understanding how a system responds to hacking activities
  • Less time and money spent fixing damage caused by preventable attacks
Network Penetration Testing Process | Synopsys

Are pen tests required by law?

Many data protection regulations mandate the use of pen testing. In order to maintain regulatory compliance, some organizations must use it to show that they are appropriately protecting sensitive data against attackers. Depending on the regulation, pen testing may need to be performed at certain frequencies or in certain ways. 

How can Synopsys help?

Synopsys Penetration Testing enables you to address exploratory risk analysis and business logic testing so you can systematically find and eliminate business-critical vulnerabilities in your running web applications and web services, without the need for source code.

Pen Testing extends DAST by using a variety of testing tools and in-depth manual tests focusing on business logic to find vulnerabilities outside a canned list of attacks (e.g., OWASP Top 10). We offer multiple depths of penetration testing assessments so you can tune the level of testing based on the risk profile of each tested application.

Resources to manage your AppSec risk at enterprise scale