Penetration Testing - Method

Penetration testing is a combination of techniques that considers various issues of the systems and tests, analyzes, and gives solutions. It is based on a structured procedure that performs penetration testing step-by-step.

This chapter describes various steps or phases of penetration testing method.

Steps of Penetration Testing Method

The following are the seven steps of penetration testing −

Penetration Testing Method

Planning & Preparation

Planning and preparation starts with defining the goals and objectives of the penetration testing.

The client and the tester jointly define the goals so that both the parties have the same objectives and understanding. The common objectives of penetration testing are −

  • To identify the vulnerability and improve the security of the technical systems.
  • Have IT security confirmed by an external third party.
  • Increase the security of the organizational/personnel infrastructure.


Reconnaissance includes an analysis of the preliminary information. Many times, a tester doesn’t have much information other than the preliminary information, i.e., an IP address or IP address block. The tester starts by analyzing the available information and, if required, requests for more information such as system descriptions, network plans, etc. from the client. This step is the passive penetration test, a sort of. The sole objective is to obtain a complete and detailed information of the systems.


In this step, a penetration tester will most likely use the automated tools to scan target assets for discovering vulnerabilities. These tools normally have their own databases giving the details of the latest vulnerabilities. However, tester discover

  • Network Discovery − Such as discovery of additional systems, servers, and other devices.

  • Host Discovery − It determines open ports on these devices.

  • Service Interrogation − It interrogates ports to discover actual services which are running on them.

Analyzing Information and Risks

In this step, tester analyzes and assesses the information gathered before the test steps for dynamically penetrating the system. Because of larger number of systems and size of infrastructure, it is extremely time consuming. While analyzing, the tester considers the following elements −

  • The defined goals of the penetration test.

  • The potential risks to the system.

  • The estimated time required for evaluating potential security flaws for the subsequent active penetration testing.

However, from the list of identified systems, the tester may choose to test only those which contain potential vulnerabilities.

Active Intrusion Attempts

This is the most important step that has to be performed with due care. This step entails the extent to which the potential vulnerabilities that was identified in the discovery step which possess the actual risks. This step must be performed when a verification of potential vulnerabilities is needed. For those systems having very high integrity requirements, the potential vulnerability and risk needs to be carefully considered before conducting critical clean up procedures.

Final Analysis

This step primarily considers all the steps conducted (discussed above) till that time and an evaluation of the vulnerabilities present in the form of potential risks. Further, the tester recommends to eliminate the vulnerabilities and risks. Above all, the tester must assure the transparency of the tests and the vulnerabilities that it disclosed.

Report Preparation

Report preparation must start with overall testing procedures, followed by an analysis of vulnerabilities and risks. The high risks and critical vulnerabilities must have priorities and then followed by the lower order.

However, while documenting the final report, the following points needs to be considered −

  • Overall summary of penetration testing.
  • Details of each step and the information gathered during the pen testing.
  • Details of all the vulnerabilities and risks discovered.
  • Details of cleaning and fixing the systems.
  • Suggestions for future security.