What Is Pen Testing and Why Is It Important?

October 2, 2019

Pen Testing, also known as penetration testing, is the method of planning attacks against security infrastructure or computer programs to find security vulnerabilities that need to be patched. Pen testing comes in many forms and contains different specialities.

So, what exactly is penetration testing and why is it important?

What Exactly Does Pen Testing Entail?

The National Cyber Security Centre defines penetration testing as, “A method for gaining assurance in the security of an IT system by attempting to breach some or all of that system’s security, using the same tools and techniques as an adversary might.” Pen testing can entail the use of multiple software tools or even brand new ones that the test may create for the specific application.

Testing generally includes the following process:

  1. Reconnaissance: The act of gathering important information on a target system.
  2. Scanning: The use of technical tools to further the knowledge of the system.
  3. Gaining Access: Using the gathered data to make a payload to exploit the whole system, or a certain part of a system.
  4. Maintaining Access: Continuing to be within the target environment, maybe by evaluating the attackers own permissions.
  5. Covering Tracks: Clearing any trace of the attackers’ actions on the target system, which generally includes deleting logs and removing all data gathered.

There are many penetration testing operating system that are made to aid in testing. Some notable ones are Kali Linux, BlackArch Linux, and BackBox Linux. Each of these comes with a whole suite of penetration testing software built in and ready to use.

Why Is Pen Testing Important?

Zero-day vulnerabilities are vulnerabilities that are generally unknown to the owner of the computer system. These can lead to extreme consequences, as they could be exploited before a patch is possible, becoming zero-day exploits. These are exploits that are exploited before a patch becomes available from the developers/creators and and can compromise a computer system with sensitive information.

Pen testing can also give security personnel experience in dealing with attackers. It can help these personnel discover ways to effectively and quickly remove attackers from the system before they can do any damage. Also, testing can give developers/creators insight into their systems. They can be shown if their application is vulnerable in a certain way, if an exploit was created for that vulnerability, and how it could be fixed or at a minimum mitigated.

Penetration Testing, or pen testing for short, is simply the process by which professional ethical hackers attack systems in order to find or even exploit security vulnerabilities that may be present. Upon discovery, the developers/creators of the system can begin to work on a patch to close the vulnerability.


About the Author

Gregory Manley is a freshman at Colorado School of Mines where he is majoring in Computer Science and Computer Engineering. He is currently the owner of iTech News and a contributor for Section’s Engineering Education Content Program. His management of iTech News has led him to work with many brands on writing technology focus articles.