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What Is Penetration Testing? A Detailed Pen Testing Guide for Companies

CVE Details found 363 high-risk vulnerabilities with RCE access and CVSSv3 10.00 in 2021. This article focuses on helping you understand penetration testing, why you should do a pen test, and how to do it.

Pen testing, as the name suggests – is to find vulnerabilities in an organization’s website or network from an external perspective. It’s a process that companies can use to assess their security posture and identify problems with their authentication infrastructure.

Taking on any IT project, especially one that impacts your business’ security, could be daunting if you don’t know where to start.

Knowing the requirements for pen testing and cyber security can help companies secure their information.

What Is Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing (or pen testing) is a proactive cybersecurity exercise focused on identifying and exploiting vulnerabilities in a company’s computer systems. This stimulated cyber-attack aims to find weak areas in the system’s defenses that attackers can exploit.

A perfect example is when a bank hires someone to pose as a burglar and try to access their building and vault. Upon success, the bank will gain insights into effectively strengthening its security.

Who Performs A Pen Test?

The best way to perform pen testing is to hire an expert without knowledge of how an organization’s security system is set up. They are more likely to reveal blind spots the system’s developers overlooked.

Therefore, this expert often called an “ethical hacker,” tries to hack into a company’s system with permission to enhance security.

You can also outsource this stimulated cyber-attack from a company offering pen testing services. iTexxia has helped several companies uncover security vulnerabilities and proffered solutions to strengthen systems.

Why Is Pen Testing Important?

As a company that has employed other means to secure your systems and data, the thoughts that may come to mind are, “Why do we do penetration testing?” “How important is penetration testing to my organization?”

Ponemon Institute conducted a global analysis of the cost of data breaches in 2015. It studied 350 organizations in 11 countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Japan, and the United Emirates.

Unfortunately, every participating company encountered data breaches. About 47 percent of these incidents resulted from malicious attacks. Others were due to human errors and system glitches.

Furthermore, the average data breach global cost per stolen record was $154.

The study above shows that no company is beyond cyber-attacks, but you can take proactive steps to minimize being hacked.

Therefore, penetration testing assesses the overall security of IT infrastructures. Despite having robust security protocols in some areas, a company may lack them in others.

Moreover, it helps companies and developers know the tools they need to strengthen a weak security spot and minimize errors.

What Are the Stages of Penetration Testing?

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How is a pen test conducted? Here are the six stages of pen testing you should know.

Planning and Reconnaissance

Test scope and goals are defined in this stage, along with the testing methods and systems that require addressing.

During this process, testers use public and private sources to collect all relevant information on the target system.

This intelligence gathering includes Incognito searches, social engineering, domain registration information retrieval, and nonintrusive network and vulnerability scans.

Ethical hackers use this data to comprehend a target’s operation and any potential weaknesses fully.


Testers may employ different scanning tools to investigate the system and its vulnerabilities further based on the initial stage findings.

Penetration testing tools like port scanners, network mappers, and war dialers help to detect as many security loopholes as possible. These identified loopholes are then shortlisted to be addressed.

Gaining Entry

This stage involves detecting a target’s weaknesses through web application exploits like backdoors, SQL injection, and cross-site scripting.

Typically, security experts will escalate privileges, steal data, intercept traffic, etc., to attempt to exploit these vulnerabilities.

Maintaining Access

At this stage, the pen tester stays connected to the target system longer to exploit loopholes for a maximum data breach.

This process mimics a complex persistent threat that might remain active in a target system for an extended time to capture sensitive information and cause more harm.


The penetration testers analyze and report the pen testing results at this phase. This report explains each penetration testing process which includes:

  • Specific vulnerabilities the ethical hackers exploited,
  • Sensitive data type accessed, and
  • The time duration the penetration testers stayed in the target system undetected.

Cleanup and Remediation

When the testing is over, the penetration testers must erase any traces of the processes and tools used in earlier stages.

This helps to mitigate a real threat actor from leveraging the testing tools and processes as a foundation for system and invasion.

What Are the Types of Penetration Testing?

White Box Pen Testing

White box testing is often called clear-box, internal penetration, code-based, or open-glass testing.

When performing white box penetration testing, the pen tester has complete access and knowledge of the source code and internal structure.

Black Box Pen Test

Also called external penetration testing, the Black box type provides the testers with minimal or no information and access to the target system structure.

This pen-testing type aims to imitate an actual cyber attack, with the pen tester acting as an uninformed hacker.

Gray Box Penetration Testing

Gray box pen testing is a hybrid of white-box and black-box testing methodologies. Therefore, testers have partial knowledge of the IT structure, like network maps and logical flow charts.

The advantage of gray-box pen testing is identifying possible code and functionality issues.


Penetration testing is vital for every company and organization to minimize system vulnerabilities and cyber-attacks.

Therefore, you should adopt concrete security measures using a risk-based strategy to tackle targeted threats and regularly review your company’s risk exposure.

To learn more about pen testing benefits and compliance issues, schedule a service, or contact professional cybersecurity experts at iTexxia today.

Penetration Testing FAQs

How much time is required for penetration testing?

Typically, it takes four to six weeks to complete a pen test project, from the planning to the remediation stage.

How often should you perform a penetration test?

You should conduct penetration testing regularly, at least once per year. It guarantees reliable network and IT security management by disclosing how cybercriminals can exploit emerging vulnerabilities or new threats (0-days/1-days).

Companies could run more frequent tests when the following event happens:

  • New applications or infrastructure are added to their network.
  • Apps or infrastructure that has been significantly modified or upgraded.
  • Opening of new office sites.
  • Application of security patches.
  • Modification of end-user policies.

Other factors that determine the frequency of penetration tests are:

  • Company size
  • Budget
  • Regulation

What comes after pen testing?

Following the successful completion of a pen test, an ethical hacker communicates their results with the target organization’s IT team.

These results are the foundation for further study, evaluation, and remediation of the organization’s security posture.

The security team and the company’s decision-makers establish timelines to address all security issues promptly.

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