Conducting penetration testing and vulnerability assessment
According to Trustwave’s 2018 Global Security Report, all online apps are vulnerable to attack. Every application had at least one vulnerability with an average of eleven discovered per application. In addition, the research found a significant rise in the number of vulnerabilities disclosed in 2017. This is mostly due to significant growth in the number of individuals utilizing online apps as well as the number of web applications on the market.
To defend your online application from attackers, you must do thorough web application testing that examines your program from several perspectives. A “one and done” strategy is insufficient. With this, both penetration testing and vulnerability assessment are useful tools that enhance any information security program and are essential components of the Threat and Vulnerability Management process.
Due to marketing hype and other factors, the two are frequently used interchangeably and inappropriately, causing confusion and wasting money for many businesses. With that in mind, let’s define the differences between vulnerability assessments and penetration testing to clear up some of the misconceptions.
Conducting penetration testing and vulnerability assessment: Importance of penetration testing
A penetration test, often known as a pen test, is a simulated assault on your online application. Previously, most penetration testing was done on networks rather than the programs that ran on such networks. The goal of a pen test is to find vulnerabilities in your program that an outside attacker might exploit. Penetration testing may be done on the many types of code and systems utilized in your application, such as APIs and servers.
Web applications should be tested for penetration once per quarter based on best practices. The reality, however, is considerably different. According to a recent research, most firms do not follow this recommendation with around one-third of those polled only pen-tests their apps once a year.
Penetration testing typically consists of five stages:
- Planning and data collection—Define the objectives of the penetration testing. Which systems will be supported? What techniques of testing will be used? Gather information about the assault target, such as the network or domain name.
- Scanning—Tools are used to collect additional data and information about the target. A vulnerability scanner and DAST tools are two examples.
- Gaining access—To disclose vulnerabilities, web application exploits such as Cross-Site Scripting or SQL Injection are conducted. Pen testers attempt to exploit these flaws by stealing data or extending permissions. The objective is to determine how much harm can be done.
- Maintaining access—Ascertain if the revealed vulnerability can be exploited to maintain a persistent presence in the program. In other words, this step determines if the attacker can get deep within the web app, gaining access to sensitive data and causing more harm.
- Covering tracks—The perpetrator takes precautions to avoid detection. Changes made to the system must be reversed to raise no red flags.
Penetration testing yields a formal report outlining the vulnerabilities exploited, how long the tester could go undiscovered, and the sensitive data revealed. This data is used to fix vulnerabilities and improve the security of the web application in order to prevent real-world assaults in the future. Methods of penetration testing include:
- External testing—Only systems and assets visible on the internet are targeted, such as the web application itself. The testing aims to obtain access to the application and its data.
- Internal testing—The pen tester has access to the program behind the firewall. A rogue employee or stolen credentials from an employee might be possible.
- Blind testing—The pen tester is only given the firm’s name. This mimics a real-time application assault.
- Double-blind testing—This is similar to blind testing, except the security team is unaware of the simulation. They don’t have time to plan for the attack.
- Penetration testing—The penetration tester and security team collaborate, alerting each other of efforts taken to attack and protect against the application. This acts as a training exercise, providing real-time feedback during an attack.
Conducting penetration testing and vulnerability assessment: Vulnerability assessment
A vulnerability assessment reveals vulnerabilities in a web application’s security. Application vulnerability testing is used to do this. There are several tools available on the market to aid with threat and vulnerability assessment. The only way to ensure that your application does not leave your users (or your corporation) vulnerable to attackers is to employ various tools.
This is because various instruments detect different types of issues. A variety of tools provides web application security. The following tools should be used:
- Static Application Security Testing (SAST) tools—These look for security flaws in source code, byte code, or application binaries. Fortify SCA, CodeSonar, and Veracode are a few examples. They search for well-known vulnerability patterns that developers may be unaware of. They are scalable and automate a portion of the testing process by scanning code without requiring operator intervention. SAST tools, on the other hand, have a high rate of false positives, and discoveries must be examined and prioritized, which takes time and money.
- Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) tools—DAST tools approach the application as it runs from the outside, imitating an actual attacker. Burp Suite, HP WebInspect, and Appscan are a few examples. Because DAST tools require a functioning program, they cannot be utilized until development has progressed to a certain point, and they will not aid in the early detection of errors.
- Interactive Program Security Testing (IAST) tools—These tools integrate SAST and DAST technologies, utilizing instrumentation technology to detect vulnerabilities within the application while it is operating. Acunetix, HPE, and IBM are among the organizations that provide integrated solutions for IAST testing. IAST tools detect fewer false positives and give more thorough code coverage. However, the technology underlying these tools has the potential to degrade application performance. Because of these performance limitations, the testing experience may differ from the real user experience.
- Software Composition Analysis (SCA) tools—Third-party components, such as open-source libraries and frameworks, are frequently utilized to speed up the development process in web application development. This is a good strategy, but third-party components must be kept up to date and inspected for vulnerabilities. Assuming that someone else has taken the required efforts to ensure the security of a certain library or framework exposes your application to security threats. It’s the same as allowing a stranger into your house. Before deploying an application, SCA tools examine its source code, libraries, and frameworks to discover security vulnerabilities or licensing concerns. The only exception is that you must maintain a precise inventory of third-party components in order to ensure that all external items are evaluated. Black Duck and Sonatype are two examples.
Each of these tools has advantages and disadvantages. Therefore a combined approach is preferable. This provides optimal coverage for your application while lowering the chance of exposure to attacks and vulnerabilities.
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