Network penetration testing checklist
In a technology-oriented world where every company, organization, and individual is cementing its digital presence to access and benefit from numerous opportunities available, the matter of cybersecurity comes to the first plan. Unfortunately, frequent cyber-attacks and data leakage have become the norm, pushing companies to make solid network security and data management efforts. Today, we constantly witness many network outages and security breaches, primarily due to attacks targeting organizations’ networks or vulnerabilities in software products.
That’s why correctly planned and implemented security measures have become a must for most organizations to avoid troublesome and harmful consequences in a safety aspect. And a comprehensive network pen test is one of the most efficient methods the industry experts recommend for securing networks and data infrastructure.
So, if you are also from the group of people wondering how to explore the potential vulnerabilities existing in your network or applications, then continue reading to find out the core steps for a productive network penetration testing checklist and methodology.
What is Network Penetration Testing?
With an increasingly growing number of cyber threats associated with networks, web apps, servers, and operating systems, the need and importance of constant security revisions become imperative. And this is precisely where the network penetration testing comes to light bringing various solutions like simulated attacks and ethical hacking for discovering security gaps and vulnerabilities impacting the target system.
In this context, a network pen test is a tool of significant importance that you can use to detect security misconfigurations and potential exposure of vulnerabilities that risk harming the company’s networks, applications, and data security when exploited by malicious hackers.
However, organizations that have put their security systems through vulnerability assessment tools somehow doubt the effectiveness of pen tests since both processes have the same goal. But, it’s undoubtedly not the case, as network penetration tests generally happen after vulnerability assessments. Also, unlike vulnerability scanning, which uses automated tests to conduct security checks, the penetration test puts forward ethical attacks.
After thoroughly performing network penetration testing you can get various benefits:
- A network penetration test will enable you to identify all the vulnerabilities and security flaws currently existing in your system and protect sensitive data.
- After comprehensive penetration testing, you’ll be able to outline the level of security risk that your company is running.
- The final reports presented by a network pentester will help you map a proper plan to solve and remedy the problems.
Network Penetration Testing Steps
As we have already ensured the mandatory nature of a penetration test, now let’s move and get into the network pentest checklist. Here we gathered a step-by-step guide you can follow while running a network penetration test for your company’s system. So, without further ado, let’s dig in.
#1 Information Gathering
The primary goal of the discovery phase in the network penetration testing checklist is to collect as much information and materials about the target network as possible.
It covers target network hosts and endpoints like IP Addresses, DNS Records, Host Names, etc. After getting IP addresses and URLs, technicians can use various tools such as Nmap and Metasploit framework to specify IP, DNS records, and certain server software versions.
Open Ports Information
Another piece of crucial information required is the open port’s availability. These are the most typically used openings for hackers to obtain unauthorized or backdoor access into a company’s network to install malicious scripts. Here, a pen tester generally uses porting tools to detect all open ports in the entire system.
System Names and Shares
You can gather these details via Network Information System and NetBIOS enumeration searches. Both of them are generally implemented in internal penetration tests.
Employees Contact Information
Core details about employees and personnel, including personally identifiable information, can be gained via directory servers and web searches.
#2 Threat Modeling
After gathering all the necessary information, it’s time to use it for running tests on the target system and searching for obvious security vulnerabilities. At this stage, penetration testers enlist the known vulnerabilities on the network without necessarily getting ahead to attack them.
Here you can use automated scans to test for network system vulnerabilities or choose the option of manual tests to perform a thorough penetration test with live technicians.
#3 Vulnerability Analysis
When the vulnerability reports are ready, you need to categorize and prioritize the security flaws and identify suitable targets according to their severity, as not all vulnerabilities are worth exploiting. In addition, it helps formulate a proper attack plan for exploiting the real-world attack vectors.
Furthermore, the pentesters can create a network diagram that helps them understand the logical network connection path.
After noting the typical targets for exploitation, it’s time to decide the most appropriate attack vectors for the vulnerabilities identified.
The critical phase of the entire penetration testing is exploitation. It is the process of probing the networks’ flaws and obvious vulnerabilities to determine whether they are exploitable or not. Due to this step, the companies can discover the most dangerous defects and problems that need to be resolved quickly. A penetration tester uses testing and password cracking tools such as Burp Suite, Metasploit, and Wireshark for exploitation.
Moreover, this network penetration testing phase might also include other complex and heavy manual testing tasks that generally are very complicated. Such vulnerability exploitation covers password cracking, SQL Injection, OS commands, buffer overflow, and even social engineering.
#5 Reporting and Presentation
The delivery and reporting phase is the final and most crucial step of executing network penetration testing. Generally, a detailed network pentest report covers the review of the entire penetration testing process and also the most critical network vulnerabilities that require a solution – in order of urgency.
Some reports will also include the screenshots of exploit attempts, a summary of security risk and vulnerability statistics, and a plan of further activity, including appropriate remediation solutions.
If in a few words, the main goal of a network pentesting is to discover and exploit vulnerabilities and potential weak spots in a company’s operating system that malicious hackers can exploit.
The main distinguishing feature between a vulnerability scanning and a network penetration test is their way of performing a test. In the case of a vulnerability test, the process is executed through automated tools while a team of security experts performs a penetration test.
Here are a few security tools you can consider to conduct network pentests for your network.
– Nessus – It’s a vulnerability scanning tool meant for the vulnerability assessment process and software security. Nessus is an excellent option for finding software bugs and flaws.
– Wireshark – It’s a pentesting tool designed for audit and packet sniffing to monitor entire network traffic.
– Hydra – You can use it for gaining unauthorized access and brute-forcing login.
– NetCat – It’s a port scanning tool used to write and read in a network.
The average salary of a pen tester is around $90.000 annually. This number can differ depending on the location, company, and job specifics.