Penetration testing can be the best way to gain an understanding of your network’s security position, resilience, and resistance to cyberattack. There are three different methodologies of penetration testing—also known as pentesting—and each delivers a specific benefit to your business.
All three forms of penetration testing involve cybersecurity professionals conducting what is essentially a simulated cyberattack in a safe environment. Pentesters use various methodologies to expose vulnerabilities from three different points of view. The three approaches are designed to combat attacks from criminal hackers with varying degrees of information about your network. Appropriately, they are described as black-box, gray-box, and white-box pentesting.
Black-box testing is designed to expose vulnerabilities that might be exploited by a hacker who has no information about your network. Black-box pentesters do not have diagrams of your architecture, and they are not given any source code that is not publicly already available. They’re not even told what kind of operating system you run. In other words, the black-box pentester is in the same position as an average hacker.
The main benefit of black-box pentesting is that it can quickly tell you the overall security of your network’s perimeter. The black-box pentester employs the same kinds of automated tools and cyberweapons that today’s sophisticated cybercriminals use to expose vulnerabilities on your networks and applications. Because a black-box penetration test takes place on run time, it can detect implementation and configuration issues. Black-box pentesting can find old or missing modules and files, and even detect security issues relating to your internal team by employing social engineering techniques such as phishing.
A gray-box penetration test examines your system from the inside. Gray-box pentesters are equipped with the same knowledge and access as your users, often those with elevated privileges. In addition to an internal account, they are also often provided with some design and architecture documentation.
The benefit of gray-box pentesting is that it provides a more thorough assessment of your network’s security than a black-box test. Armed with inside information, the gray-box pentester determines which of your systems are of the highest value and face the greatest risk, and focuses their attention on those targets.
White-box penetration testing is sometimes called clear-box because, in this instance, the pentester is given a perfectly clear picture of their target system. Where gray-box testers have the same access and knowledge as users with privileges, the white box pentester has the same access and knowledge as your CTO.
You need white-box penetration testing when it comes to testing devices that are involved with your most critical infrastructure. This includes systems that store, process, or transmit sensitive information.
White-box pentesters put themselves in the position of a sophisticated malicious hacker who has penetrated your periphery and gained complete access to your system. Often, white-box testers will work directly with your developers to gain total knowledge of your system.
With this type of penetration test you receive a comprehensive assessment of the internal and external vulnerabilities and misconfigurations within your infrastructure, source code, design, logic, security settings, and more. The ultimate benefit is providing total code coverage for your most valuable IT assets.
A Trusted Third Party
While some businesses have their internal teams run penetration tests, this is one case where you almost certainly want to contract with a trusted cybersecurity services provider. Your security team is too familiar with your network’s internal architecture to easily replicate the actions of an outside attacker. Though they may not intend to give you biased findings, they are less likely to identify vulnerabilities than an independent penetration-testing partner.
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