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Penetration tests are ideal for your enterprise when you need to test the effectiveness of your security protocols.

By simulating real-life attacks, your IT team can identify vulnerabilities in systems, exploit them, and provide knowledge about addressing the pinpointed security areas of concern. If you’d like a comprehensive overview of the steps involved, here’s our guide on the stages of penetration testing.

Whether internal or external, a penetration test will simulate attack vectors. If it’s an external attack, you’re involving a remote attacker to figure out the information that’s accessible by outsiders. If it’s an internal one, it’s conducted after the external one and is about identifying what a hacker can accomplish with internal access to your system.

Based on the goals of the pen test, the tester may have some knowledge of the environment under test (or not). If the tester knows the system, it is a white box. In other cases, the penetration test may target applications, network services, social engineering, wireless, or even physical.

No matter the penetration test you choose, a good one will always uncover vulnerabilities and help consolidate the weak areas in your system. However, picking the right one for your organization can take time and effort, especially with multiple options to explore.

This article is a roundup of different types of penetration testing, explaining what each entails and when it would be best to use a particular one. And in the end, you’ll learn a few tips for selecting the best pen test for your organization’s needs.

Web Application Penetration Testing

This pen test aims to uncover susceptibilities spanning website and web applications like eCommerce systems, customer relationship managers, and content management systems.

By reviewing an application’s security, custom features, and core logic functionalities, this test unravels ways to eliminate breaches, financial losses, and identity theft. Before the testing, the tester is equipped with several applications to be tested, input fields to be screened, and a record of the static and dynamic pages for easy evaluation of the design and developmental flaws.

Common vulnerabilities in web applications are cross-site scripting (XSS), database injection, and broken authentication. To have an in-depth awareness of web security, you can check out the open web application security (OWAP), a good repository to read. It publishes information on the frequency and severity of web flaws from data collected from thousands of applications.

If your company has web assets, it’d be best to consider web pen tests. In many modern organization setups, web applications are invaluable for storing and transmitting information. For such operation models, there’s a need for web testing. Statistics have it that cybercrime has increased after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Network Penetration Testing

Network pen tests are security audits targeted at network infrastructure, whether you’re running on-premises or the cloud. By enacting a wide range of checks like encryption vulnerabilities, missing security patches, and insecure configurations, these tests assert the security of critical data in business.

In this case, you may have internal or external testing. When external, the tester has no prior knowledge of the system and leverages the Internet to acquire the know-how that hackers would use in attacks. If internal, the focus is on gaining access to your internal network. For instance, the tester can exploit vulnerabilities in internet-facing systems and try to access information or disrupt operations.

When performed, network pen tests protect your enterprise from common network attacks, such as firewall misconfiguration and bypass, router attacks, domain name system (DNS) level attacks, database attacks, and proxy server attacks. A network test will suit you if your company operations involve relaying vast amounts of data. Considering the criticality of network services to a business, it is best to perform network tests at least annually.

Mobile Application Penetration Testing

In mobile applications, pen tests examine applications on different operating systems (Android and iOS) and their interaction with APIs. Good tests decompile an application’s source code to acquire as much information as possible.

In this case, the focus is on application architecture – to decode it before performing manual tests to uncover insecure design and network communication – to examine how data travels, data storage, and privacy – to ensure compliance as most applications store critical data like passwords and API keys stored in string.xml files, authentication, and session management – where tests need to oversee session management processes like the end of the session, token validity, password updates, and misconfiguration in multi-factor authentication.

Suppose your company focuses heavily on developing mobile applications like gaming, financial services, and shopping. In that case, you can consider pen tests before releasing a product for public use or rolling out new updates.

Wireless Penetration Testing

Wireless testing targets your organization’s wireless network and the devices connected to them. Such devices include smartphones, tablets, computers, and other Internet-of-things (IoT) devices.

Through pen tests, you can grade the security levels of wireless security programs, discover and exploit vulnerabilities, understand threats presented at each access point, and generate data-driven strategies to address vulnerabilities.

Before testing, you should scope the engagement by establishing guest and wireless networks and service set identifiers (SSIDs) to be accessed. While the process is more hardware-based, it can be done using software tools in open-source operating systems like Kali Linux. For a good security culture, businesses can perform wireless tests twice yearly.

API Penetration Testing

API pen-testing (at times bundled with microservices) is used to identify API weaknesses. Currently, it’s increasing in popularity as many companies allow third parties to access some of their data and services.

Testing ratifies that GraphQL, REST, web services, and other APIs are secure and crosschecked against known vulnerabilities. When testing APIs, the process is similar to that of the web. This, in turn, allows the use of similar tools. However, new tools like Postman and Swagger may be introduced.

If you’d like to explore more, here’s our checklist of API development and testing tools. Often, these tools are fed with the blueprint of an API, and then skeleton API requests are modeled and fired toward the product.

If your business has web or mobile applications with an API backend, running frequent API tests can help uncover exposure or poor coding designs that could serve as entry points for attackers.

Social Engineering Penetration Testing

Unlike other techniques focused on technology flaws, social engineering taps into human psychology to breach your organization’s security.

The tests are beneficial because they identify vulnerabilities, measure security awareness, raise employee awareness, mitigate risks, improve incidence response, comply with regulations, build stakeholder confidence, and assure cost-effective risk management.

The most common attack methods include pretexting, phishing, media dropping/physical tactics, and tailgating. Social engineering tests rely on formation gathered at reconnaissance; open-source intelligence is used here.

The tester can build an accurate target picture to tailor the attack to appropriate methods. While it’s not common, like web tests, social engineering can be an excellent way to identify flaws in your operation models.

Physical Security Penetration Testing

Physical security testing entails gaining access to a facility’s physical space to validate the efficiency of existing protection measures and check for vulnerabilities. Unlike pen tests, these will work on physical security measures like alarm systems, access controls, and different sections with sensitive information.

To conduct this test, you can use techniques like physical bypass, tailgating, and social engineering. The results obtained from the test are then used to set the trajectory for addressing vulnerabilities and enhancing existing security measures.

If your organization or business has a physical presence, for instance, stores for data and other sensitive info, it’d be best to use pen tests to reinforce security. In this case, many teams benefit, such as banks and financial institutions, data centers, government services facilities, hospitals and healthcare programs, retail shops and shopping centers, manufacturing plants, and certification-holding organizations.

Cloud Penetration Testing

Cloud pen tests involve identifying and exploiting vulnerabilities in applications and infrastructure, for instance, SaaS, on cloud solutions like Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Google Cloud Platform.

Unlike other tests, cloud penetration requires a profound understanding of the cloud services. For instance, the SSRF weakness in AWS applications could compromise your whole cloud infrastructure.

With other cloud solutions, including Azure AD and AWS Cognito, you’ll encounter their issues and misconfiguration. Common cloud vulnerabilities include insecure APIs, weak credentials, server misconfiguration, outdated software, and insecure coding practices.  

Cloud penetration tests can enhance cloud security if your company provides cloud services. With most cloud employers opting for a shared responsibility model, cloud tests can address vulnerabilities in the platform, its networks, and data storage.

Container Penetration Testing

Containers are well known for their profiling of operating system visualizations. They can run microservices, software processes, and even large apps. Besides looking at containers from a hacker’s perspective, container pen tests allow you to deploy custom test environments.

When scanning for vulnerabilities, there are two options. First, static analysis scans for vulnerabilities in container images. Second, dynamic analysis examines container behavior at runtime. For better results, it’d be best to perform both.

Containers’ vulnerabilities span applications, configuration, network, and the image OS. If your DevOps revolves around Docker for penetration testing, you can customize your containers, enrich them with all required tools, reduce vulnerabilities, and streamline the overall functionality.

Database Penetration Testing

Databases are invaluable in businesses. Holding sensitive data like payment details, customer info, and product and pricing data, databases put enterprises at risk if compromised. To assert adequate security, tests are enacted before going live with a new product database and regularly for existing ones.

By attempting to access the database, like a hacker, using the best industry practices, database tests point you toward how to handle actual attacks.

Common database threats include SQL injections, unrestrained privileges, poor audit trails, exposed backups, misconfiguration, denial of service (DoS), and poor data management. Tests uncover vulnerabilities in your database and ensure that all sensitive information is secured from intruders. It’s why businesses should invest in database security.

IoT Penetration Testing

The Internet of Things comprises an interconnection of web devices communicating and exchanging data through the Internet. These devices include physical objects, vehicles, and buildings while embedded with software, sensors, electronics, and network connections.

With IoT penetration, the focus is examining the Internet of Things network and devices to uncover flaws. Additionally, security tests go beyond the devices to include its communication network, for instance, cloud computing platforms.

Dominant security flaws in IoT devices are unencrypted data, insecure firmware, weak passwords, and poor authentication/access control. As organizations embrace more IoT devices, IoT audits reinforce asset, performance, and risk management and meet compliance needs.

White Box Penetration Testing

For white-box tests, you have an in-depth knowledge of the target system, including application architecture, source codes, credentials, whitelisting, diverse account roles, and documentation.

By taking this approach, the white box saves on the cost of engagements. The white box works well with complex systems requiring high-security levels, like financial enterprises and governments. By enacting full code coverage, you’re able to enumerate internal errors.

If you are under a breach, white box tests would be the best to examine applications’ security, network state, physical security, and wireless security. In other cases, you may consider a white box test in the early stages of the software and before going to production.

Black Box Penetration Testing

With black box tests, you do not know the system and are taking a hacker’s approach. Since you cannot access the source code or architecture diagram, you’re taking an outsider’s approach to exploit the network. This implies that the test relies on the dynamic analysis of systems and executing programs in the target network.

To succeed, you must be well-versed with automated scanning tools and manual penetration testing methods. You’ll also have to create your target map based on your observations. It’s a quick way to run tests, and the time taken is based on your ability to find and exploit vulnerabilities. However, if you can’t breach the system, vulnerabilities remain undiscovered.

Despite being among the most challenging tests, it provides the best way to evaluate the overall security of your system. At times, it’s referred to as “trial and error”. But it requires a high level of technical expertise.

Red Team Test

Red teaming looks similar to pen tests. But it goes further, takes the form of a real-life hacker, and has no time limitations. You combine tools, tactics, and techniques for these tests to access a target system or data.

All other pen tests are geared toward exposing vulnerabilities. Red tests, however, evaluate the ability of defenders to detect threats and respond. The detection could be based on indicators of compromised monitoring systems, physical assessment tests, or even social engineering. You can consider red tests as extensive, unlike pen tests.

On the downside, red tests do not offer the breadth of penetration tests. They are focused on accessing a system or data. Once their objective is hit, they do not seek other weaknesses. For pen tests, you’re on identifying all vulnerabilities.

Choosing The Right Pen Test

It would be best if you were well-versed with all existing models to pick the right penetration test for your organization. With this knowledge, you can pair your organization with the enterprise that suits it best based on your workflow.

If you run web applications, web tests would be the best. API tests are a suitable option if you offer APIs and backend development. And the list continues, with cloud tests for cloud providers.

The list above should be a good starting point. It should help you differentiate all penetration tests, enlighten you about them, and end with the best use case for each. Expand your knowledge with these and others as well.

Next, check out premium penetration testing software for web applications.

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  • John Walter
    John Walter is an Electrical and Electronics Engineer with deep passion for software development, and blockchain technology. He loves to learn new technologies and educate the online community about them. He is also a classical organist.

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