Penetration Testing

A penetration test, occasionally pentest, is a method of evaluating the security of a computer system or network by simulating an attack from a malicious source, known as a Black Hat Hacker, or Cracker. The process involves an active analysis of the system for any potential vulnerabilities that could result from poor or improper system configuration, both known and unknown hardware or software flaws, or operational weaknesses in process or technical countermeasures. This analysis is carried out from the position of a potential attacker and can involve active exploitation of security vulnerabilities. Any security issues that are found will be presented to the system owner, together with an assessment of their impact, and often with a proposal for mitigation or a technical solution. The intent of a penetration test is to determine the feasibility of an attack and the amount of business impact of a successful exploit, if discovered. It is a component of a full security audit. For example, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), and security and auditing standard, requires both annual and ongoing penetration testing (after system changes).


Redsphere's Security Assessment and Penetration Testing consists of the following:

  • Information Reconnaissance
  • Network Mapping
  • System and Network Vulnerability Identificaion
  • Vulnerability Validation and Exploitation
  • Wireless Penetration Testing
  • Web Application Penetration Testing
  • Social Engineering
  • Findings Reporting


 Black box vs. White box

Penetration tests can be conducted in several ways. The most common difference is the amount of knowledge of the implementation details of the system being tested that are available to the testers. Black box testing assumes no prior knowledge of the infrastructure to be tested. The testers must first determine the location and extent of the systems before commencing their analysis. At the other end of the spectrum, white box testing provides the testers with complete knowledge of the infrastructure to be tested, often including network diagrams, source code, and IP addressing information. There are also several variations in between, often known as grey box tests. Penetration tests can also be described as "full disclosure" (white box), "partial disclosure" (grey box), or "blind" (black box) tests based on the amount of information provided to the testing party.

The relative merits of these approaches are debated. Black box testing simulates an attack from someone who is unfamiliar with the system. White box testing simulates what might happen during an "inside job" or after a "leak" of sensitive information, where the attacker has access to source code, network layouts, and possibly even some passwords.

The services offered by penetration testing firms span a similar range, from a simple scan of an organization's IP address space for open ports and identification banners to a full audit of source code for an application.



A penetration test should be carried out on any computer system that is to be deployed in a hostile environment, in particular any Internet facing site, before it is deployed. This provides a level of practical assurance that any malicious user will not be able to penetrate the system.

Black box penetration testing is useful in the cases where the tester assumes the role of an outside hacker and tries to intrude into the system without adequate knowledge of it.



Penetration testing can be an invaluable technique to any organization's information security program. Basic white box penetration testing is often done as a fully automated inexpensive process. However, black box penetration testing is a labor-intensive activity and requires expertise to minimize the risk to targeted systems. At a minimum, it may slow the organization's networks response time due to network scanning and vulnerability scanning. Furthermore, the possibility exists that systems may be damaged in the course of penetration testing and may be rendered inoperable, even though the organization benefits in knowing that the system could have been rendered inoperable by an intruder. Although this risk is mitigated by the use of experienced penetration testers, it can never be fully eliminated.