As cybercrimes continue to surge, research into comprehending and forecasting malicious activities has gained prominence. According to a report by Forbes, cyber threats are so pervasive, that it is estimated to cost the world $10.5 trillion annually by 2025. Due to the ever-evolving nature of cybercrimes, there is a growing need for continuous updates in our understanding of hacker types and their motivations, accompanied by heightened awareness about cybersecurity.
Penetration testing, also known as ethical hacking, is the practice of checking the security weaknesses of application software, networks, computers and devices, wireless systems, and employee assets. A penetration test mimics real-world attackers to uncover security weaknesses in your business systems or applications. The objective is to identify vulnerabilities, and their exploitation capabilities, and assess the potential impact of successful attacks on your business. Before we explore ahead, know more about organizational best practices for penetration testing planning and documentation.
Out of the six different forms of pentesting, in this blog, we will discuss two very important types, that is, external and internal pen testing, their methodologies, challenges, and their respective benefits. We will also understand the differences between internal and external pen testing, and when to conduct both types of tests. So, let's get to it.
External Penetration Testing: Fortifying Your Cyber Defenses
External penetration testing is the most prevalent form of penetration testing, with as many as 77% of companies utilizing it to assess their security measures. In external penetration testing, the testing team works on hunting vulnerabilities to review the chances of being attacked by a remote attacker. Identifying and exploiting these system vulnerabilities helps businesses in assessing the organization's IT security and evaluate its ability to withstand external attacks, thus determining the effectiveness of existing security measures.
Performed by an external security team, this comprehensive assessment involves meticulous source code review and manual inspections. Alternatively, it may concentrate solely on the publicly accessible assets of an organization's system and network, tailored to specific requirements.
External Pentest Methodology
An External pentest methodology involves a series of steps that are designed to simulate a real-world attack to identify vulnerabilities in the external network. Here are some of the steps involved:
Planning and Reconnaissance: Gathering information about the target network, such as IP addresses, domain names, and email addresses.
Scanning: Using tools such as open ports, services, and applications to scan the network for vulnerabilities.
Enumeration: Identifying user accounts, passwords, and other sensitive information that could be used to gain access to the network.
Exploitation: Attempting to exploit the vulnerabilities found during the scanning and enumeration phases to gain access to the network.
Post Exploitation: Maintaining access to the network and escalating privileges to gain further access to sensitive information.
Reporting: Documenting the vulnerabilities found during the test and providing recommendations for remediation.
Benefits of External Penetration Testing
With external network penetration testing, you can gain insights into your organization's defenses from the perspective of a threat actor, without any actual risk. Here are some of other benefits:
Identifying Vulnerabilities: External pen testing helps identify vulnerabilities that an attacker with no prior knowledge of the target network could exploit, allowing organizations to address and mitigate these risks.
Compliance: It assists organizations in meeting regulatory requirements, such as those outlined in the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).
Real-World Simulation: External pen testing simulates a real-world attack, providing organizations with a view of their defenses from an attacker's perspective. This helps identify vulnerabilities that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.
Continuous Assessment: External network penetration testing can be conducted continuously to assess the organization's security posture and quickly identify new weaknesses.
Reassurance for Customers: This type of testing can reassure customers that the organization is taking its cybersecurity measures seriously and is taking further steps to protect their data from any breach.
Challenges of External Penetration Testing
External pen testing presents several challenges that organizations should be aware of, including:
Difficulty in Breaching the Network Perimeter: External pen testing involves testing perimeter systems from the perspective of an attacker who has no prior access to the network or systems. Perimeter systems are directly accessible over the iInternet and are most vulnerable to external attacks. However, breaching the network perimeter can be challenging, and testers might need to use advanced techniques to even gain access.
Scope and Rules of Engagement: Defining the scope of the test and establishing clear rules of engagement can be challenging. It is essential to ensure that the testing team understands the requirements for network/infrastructure assessment and defines the test scope.
Resource Constraints: Cybersecurity faces a severe shortage of skilled workers, and finding people with the necessary skill sets to fight against these threats can be challenging.
Despite these challenges, external network penetration testing is an integral part of a successful cybersecurity program. It helps businesses of all sizes identify and address vulnerabilities in their systems and networks, which may have otherwise gone unnoticed
Examples of where External Penetration Testing Tools can be used:
- Configuration & Deployment Management Testing
- Identity Management Testing
- Authentication Testing
- Authorization Testing
- Session Management Testing, Input Validation Testing
- Testing for weak Cryptography
- Business Logic Testing
- Client-Side Testing
- Testing for Error Handling.
Internal Penetration Testing: Strengthening In-House Defenses
Most businesses today are improving their defenses against outside threats, but they forget that 49% of cyber-attacks come from within the organization. Internal breaches can inflict greater damage, as businesses often don't anticipate harm from trusted individuals. This explains the increasing popularity of internal pen testing. Internal network penetration testing takes a distinct approach to handling attacks and comes into play following the completion of an external penetration test.
Internal penetration testing is a type of ethical hacking in which testers with initial access to a network attempt to compromise it from the inside to intrude and gain further access. The insider or tester with network access simulates the actions of a real attack. It primarily focuses on identifying the potential exploits that an attacker with internal network access could achieve.
Internal Pentest Methodology
The internal pentest methodology involves a series of steps that are designed to simulate an insider threat and identify vulnerabilities in the internal network. Here are some of the steps involved:
Scoping: Defining the scope of the test, including the systems, networks, and assets to be assessed. It involves testing the security of internal systems and applications, such as databases, file servers, email servers, internal web applications, and more.
Reconnaissance: Gathering intelligence and information about the target network, such as IP addresses, network topology, and operating systems. This helps the tester identify potential vulnerabilities and attack vectors.
Vulnerability Scanning: Conducting automated scans to identify known vulnerabilities in the internal network.
Exploitation and Post Exploitation: This involves attempting to exploit the identified vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access and escalate privileges within the network. This helps the tester assess the potential impact of a breach.
Reporting: Documenting the findings, including the vulnerabilities discovered, the impact of the exploits, and recommendations for remediation.
Benefits of Internal Penetration Testing
Internal penetration testing uncovers the extent of lateral movement an attacker can make within a network after an external breach. This type of testing provides several benefits, including:
Identifying Vulnerabilities: Internal penetration testing helps identify vulnerabilities that an attacker with internal access could exploit, allowing organizations to address and mitigate these risks internally.
Testing Security Controls: Internal pen testing helps evaluate the effectiveness of security controls, such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and access controls, within the internal network.
Authentic Simulation: Internal penetration testing is true-to-life in the way it is designed, providing an authentic simulation of how an insider threat could exploit vulnerabilities within the network.
Different Perspective: Internal network penetration testing can give a company a different perspective on the vulnerabilities and potential areas where a hacker could have easy access to their data.
Challenges of Internal Penetration Testing
Some challenges may arise while going through Internal pen testing, including:
Scope and Rules of Engagement: Defining the scope of the test and establishing clear rules of engagement can be challenging. The testing team needs to be clear on the requirements of the network/infrastructure assessment and the test scope.
Limited Visibility: Internal penetration testing focuses only on the internal network, which means that it may not identify vulnerabilities that an external attacker could exploit.
False Positives and False Negatives: The testing process may generate false positives, identifying vulnerabilities that do not actually exist, or any missing vulnerabilities that may be present within the network.
Access Control: Conducting internal penetration testing requires proper authorization and access to the internal network, which can be challenging to obtain.
Despite these challenges, internal pen testing is necessary and an essential part of any cybersecurity program. It helps organizations evaluate the effectiveness of security controls within the internal network and also meet regulatory requirements.
Examples of where Internal Penetration Testing Tools can be used:
- Access Points
- WiFi Networks
- Local Servers
Unveiling the Differences: Internal vs. External Penetration Testing
Internal and external penetration testing differ in several ways, including:
Scope: Internal penetration testing is limited to the internal network, while external penetration testing is limited to the external network.
Goal: Internal penetration testing aims to identify vulnerabilities that an attacker with access to the internal network could exploit, while external penetration testing aims to identify vulnerabilities that an attacker with no prior knowledge of the target network could exploit.
Methodology: Internal and external penetration testing follow similar methodologies but with different objectives. Internal pentest identifies vulnerabilities that could be exploited by malicious insiders while external pentest does so for attackers who gain unauthorized access from outside the network of the organization.
Tools: Internal and external penetration testing use similar tools, but with different configurations and settings. For example, a combination of manual and automated tools can be used to identify weaknesses in both internal and external pen test methods.
When to use internal and external penetration testing depends on the organization's security needs and goals. Both internal and external penetration testing are important components, and each type focuses on different aspects of an organization's network and systems. So, conducting both can provide a more thorough evaluation of vulnerabilities and coverage of the organization's security posture.
Defenses Inside and Out: Cloud4C's Approach to Cybersecurity:
In an article, security adviser Roger Grimes presented the notion that "To beat hackers, you have to think like them". This is what Pen testing is all about! Penetration testing is a crucial aspect of cybersecurity that helps organizations identify vulnerabilities and protect themselves from cyber-attacks. Both external and internal penetration testing play distinct yet complementary roles in evaluating your organization's security posture and helping you stay one step ahead of who we call “Black Hat” hackers.
How Cloud4C comes into the picture?
What we do is - offer our managed security services, including vulnerability assessment and penetration testing (VAPT) services for a more complete and effective penetration testing for your business. Our services are designed to help you completely secure your systems and data, as we ensure a 360-degree threat and vulnerability analysis, penetration or intrusion testing, proactive patching and remediation of any gaps found.
To know more about our range of internal and external penetration testing tools, sign up for a FREE Cybersecurity Assessment with our cyber defense experts.