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Penetration testing, also called pen-testing or ethical hacking, is the practice of testing a computer system, network or web application to find security vulnerabilities that an attacker could exploit.

Penetration testing can be automated or performed manually.

The process involves gathering information about the target before the test, identifying possible entry points, attempting to break in -- either virtually or for real -- and reporting the findings.

The main objective of penetration testing is to identify security weaknesses. Penetration testing may also be used to test an organization's security policy, its adherence to compliance requirements, its employees' security awareness and the organization's ability to identify and respond to security incidents.

Typically, the information about security weaknesses that are identified or exploited through pen testing is aggregated and provided to the organization's IT and network system managers, enabling them to make strategic decisions and prioritize remediation efforts.

Penetration tests are also known as white hat attacks because in a pen test, the good people are attempting to break in.

Types of Penetration testing

External testing

External penetration tests target the assets of a company that are visible on the internet, e.g., the web application itself, the company website, email and domain name servers (DNS). The goal is to gain access and extract valuable data.

Internal testing

In an internal test, a tester with access to an application behind its firewall simulates an attack by a malicious insider. This is not necessarily simulating a rogue employee. A common starting scenario can be an employee whose credentials were stolen due to a phishing attack.

Blind testing

In a blind test, a tester is only given the name of the enterprise that is being targeted. This gives security personnel a real-time look into how an actual application assault would take place.

Double blind testing

In a double blind test, security personnel have no prior knowledge of the simulated attack. As in the real world, they will have any time to shore up their defenses before an attempted breach.

Targeted testing

In this scenario, both the tester and security personnel work together and keep each other appraised of their movements. This valuable training exercise provides a security team with real-time feedback from a hacker’s point of view.

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