An external pentest, also known as an external vulnerability assessment or external penetration test, is a type of security assessment that simulates an attack by an external attacker.
The primary objective of an external pentest is to identify and exploit vulnerabilities in an organization's external infrastructure. These vulnerabilities can be used by attackers to access sensitive data, disrupt operations, or cause other damage. More specifically, an external pentest aims to achieve the following objectives:
Pentesters use a variety of tools and techniques to search for known vulnerabilities in exposed systems and applications. These vulnerabilities may be listed in public databases, such as the National Vulnerability Database (NVD).
Auditors assess the organization's overall security posture by identifying areas where security controls are insufficient or could be improved.
Pentests can help organizations demonstrate compliance with security standards and regulations, such as PCI DSS or HIPAA.
The pentest report will provide detailed recommendations for remediating identified vulnerabilities and strengthening security controls.
External pentesting is an essential tool for organizations of all sizes to identify and remediate security vulnerabilities in their external infrastructure.
By conducting regular pentests and implementing remediation recommendations, organizations can significantly reduce their cybersecurity risk and protect their sensitive data.
An external pentest is a multi-step process that aims to identify and exploit security vulnerabilities in an organization's external infrastructure. Typical steps of an external pentest include:
The planning and agreement phase is an essential step in an external pentest. It allows the organization and the pentest provider to define the objectives, scope, constraints and expectations of the test.
The test objectives should be clearly defined before the test begins. Objectives may include:
The scope of the test must also be precisely defined. The scope defines the systems, applications and data that will be included in the test. It is important to define the scope broadly enough to identify the most important vulnerabilities, but not so broad that the test is uncontrollable.
The test constraints must also be defined. Constraints may include time, budget and available resources. It is important to define the constraints realistically so that the organization and the pentest provider have realistic expectations.
Test expectations should also be set. Expectations may include frequency of testing, depth of assessment, and format of the test report. It is important to set expectations clearly so that the organization and pentesting provider are on the same page.
The results of the planning phase must be documented in planning documents. These documents must include the following information:
A kick-off meeting should be held at the end of the planning phase. This meeting allows the organization and the pentest provider to discuss the planning results and address any questions or concerns.
The reconnaissance phase consists of collecting information about the target organization in order to facilitate the following phases of the test.
The objectives of reconnaissance are as follows:
Pentesters use various reconnaissance techniques to gather information about the target organization. These techniques may include:
Reconnaissance is a passive technique that does not allow pentesters to penetrate the organization's infrastructure. However, it is essential to provide pentesters with an understanding of the organization's environment before moving on to the next phases of testing.
The vulnerability assessment and exploitation phase is the third step of an external pentest. It consists of evaluating and exploiting the identified vulnerabilities.
The objectives of vulnerability assessment and exploitation are:
Pentesters use a variety of techniques to assess and exploit vulnerabilities. These techniques may include:
The reporting phase is the 4th step of an external pentest. It consists of writing a report which documents the results of the test.
The objectives of reporting are as follows:
The pentest report should be clear and concise and should provide sufficient information for the organization to remediate vulnerabilities effectively. The report must include the following information:
The cross-audit phase of an external pentest is an important step in verifying that identified vulnerabilities have been addressed appropriately.
The objectives are as follows:
The auditor should follow the pentest report's recommendations to test the exposed systems and applications and ensure that they are no longer vulnerable to the identified vulnerabilities.
The results of the validation of the correct remediation of vulnerabilities must be documented in a report which is provided to the organization. The report must include the following information:
Please note that the Ziwit teams remain available between carrying out the pentest and the counter-audit, at no additional cost, to advise the client on remediation choices.
At Ziwit, we provide certification attesting to the good IT security of an Information System. This certificate is issued when the IS no longer presents vulnerabilities. It serves to reassure employees that the solution exposed does not present any security vulnerabilities.
External pentests are generally classified into three main categories:
In this type of testing, the pentester has no prior knowledge of the organization's network or systems. The listener:
Black box testing is the most realistic, as it simulates an attack by an unknown attacker.
In this type of testing, the pentester is given limited access to the organization's internal information, such as network diagrams, security policies, and application source code.
This allows it to conduct a more in-depth security posture assessment, as it can identify vulnerabilities at a more detailed level.
White box testing is often used for more comprehensive audits and security standards compliance assessments.
This type of testing is between black box testing and white box testing.
The pentester receives limited information about the organization, usually public information and some confidential information.
This allows it to stand between the unknown attacker and the attacker with access to internal information.
Gray box testing is often used when an organization wants a more realistic assessment than black box testing, but does not want to disclose too much internal information.
Choosing the appropriate type of pentest will depend on the specific objectives of the organization.
External pentesting offers several benefits to organizations, including:
External pentesting can help organizations identify and remediate security vulnerabilities in their external infrastructure. These vulnerabilities can be exploited by attackers to access sensitive data, disrupt operations, or cause other damage.
For example, an external pentest can identify an erroneous configuration of a web server that allows an attacker to access sensitive data. Once the vulnerability is fixed, the organization is better protected against this attack.
External pentesting can help organizations prioritize security investments and make informed decisions on risk mitigation strategies. This can help organizations reduce their exposure to cybersecurity risks.
For example, an external pentest may identify that the organization is vulnerable to a denial of service (DoS) attack. The organization may then decide to invest in DoS attack protection measures to mitigate this risk.
External pentests can help organizations demonstrate compliance with security standards and regulations. This may be important for organizations that must comply with specific regulatory requirements, such as PCI DSS or HIPAA.
For example, an organization that accepts credit cards must comply with PCI DSS. An external pentest can help the organization identify areas where it is not meeting the standard and take the necessary steps to become compliant.
External pentests can raise employee awareness of security threats and encourage responsible behavior. This can help reduce the risk of human errors, which are often the cause of cyber attacks.
For example, an external pentest might reveal that an employee is using a weak password. The organization can then educate its employees about the importance of using strong passwords to reduce the risk of account compromise.
In addition to these general benefits, external pentests can also offer specific benefits to organizations of different industries or sizes. For example, organizations that process sensitive data, such as banks or hospitals, can benefit from external pentesting to identify vulnerabilities that could be exploited to steal or corrupt that data.
Smaller organizations may also benefit from external pentesting, as they may have limited resources to invest in security. External pentesting can help these organizations identify the most critical vulnerabilities and take the necessary steps to remediate them.
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