Due to the growing number of cyber threats, companies are constantly looking for new ways to protect their web apps. Penetration testing is one of those techniques, and it has already become an essential part of any solid protection strategy.
The popularity of penetration testing, also known as Pen Test or Pen Testing, is constantly growing. According to Markets and Markets, the pen testing market is expected to increase from $1.7 billion in 2020 to $4.5 billion by 2025. That’s why in this article, we suggest discovering what penetration testing for a web application is, why it is important, and what protective value it adds.
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A Pen Test, as the name suggests, is a test that focuses solely on a web application and not on a whole network or company. Penetration testing for web applications is carried out by initiating simulated attacks, both internally and externally, to get access to sensitive data.
A pen test allows us to determine any security weakness of the entire web application and across its components, including the source code, database, and back-end network). This helps the developer prioritize the pinpointed web app vulnerabilities and threats as well as come up with strategies to mitigate them.
E-commerce, online banking, healthcare, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Content Management Systems (CMS), billing, accounting, and payrolling software usually come in the form of a web app. Since these web applications stores and transfer sensitive data, it is crucial to keep these apps secure through the software development lifecycle, particularly those that are publicly exposed to the World Wide Web.
Web penetration testing, in turn, is important for the next reasons:
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You can pen-test web applications in two ways: by simulating an inside or an outside attack. Let’s look at how these different types of attacks are designed and carried out:
As the name implies, the internal penetration testing of web applications is performed within the organization via LAN (local area network), including testing web applications that are hosted on the intranet.
This facilitates the identification of any vulnerabilities that may exist within the corporate firewall. One of the greatest misconceptions is that attacks can only occur externally, so sometimes, one can undervalue the importance of internal Pentesting.
Some of the internal attacks that can happen include:
The pentest is done by trying to access the environment without valid credentials and determining the possible route of attacks.
Unlike internal pen tests, external pen testing focuses on attacks initiated from outside the organization to test web applications hosted on the Internet.
Testers, also called ethical hackers, do not have information about the internal system and the security layers implemented by the organization. They were simply given the IP address of the target system to simulate external attacks. No other information is given, and it is up to the testers to search public web pages to get more information about the target host, infiltrate it, and compromise it. External pen testing includes testing the organization’s firewalls, servers, and IDS.
Penetration testing methodology implies four phases which are cyclic. The testers repeat them until no vulnerabilities are found. Let’s discover them in brief.
Pen testing for web apps focuses on the environment and the setup process instead of the app itself to do it. This involves gathering information about the target web app, mapping out the network that hosts it, and investigating the possible points of injection or tampering attacks.
Here are the steps involved in web app penetration testing:
The first step in web app pen testing is the reconnaissance or information-gathering phase. This step provides the tester with information that can be used to identify and exploit vulnerabilities in the web app.
Passive reconnaissance means collecting information available on the internet without directly engaging with the target system. This is mostly done using Google, beginning with subdomains, links, previous versions, etc.
Active reconnaissance, on the other hand, means directly probing the target system to get an output. Here are some examples of methodologies used for active reconnaissance:
The next step is the actual exploitation step. In this phase, you implement the attacks based on the information you have gathered during the reconnaissance stage.
There are several tools you can use for the attacks, and this is where data gathering plays an important role. The information you collect will help you narrow down the tools that you need based on the research you’ve done so far.
After the data collection and exploitation processes, the next step is to write the web application pen testing report. At this point, a cybersecurity developer creates a concise structure for your report and makes sure that all findings are supported by data. Aside from writing down the successful exploits, the developers have to categorize them by criticality to deal with the more serious exploits first.
Web application penetration testing tools are a vital part of any organization’s security strategy. These tools simulate attacks on a web application in order to identify vulnerabilities and assess the effectiveness of the application’s defenses. Let’s look at the top penetration tools used for web applications in the industry today:
John the Ripper is a popular tool for penetration testing. It can be used to perform dictionary attacks on passwords, as well as brute-force attacks. It works by taking a text file containing usernames and passwords and then launching an attack on each one. It then tells you if the password was found or not and how many times it tried to crack it.
SQLmap is a tool for penetration testing that helps you execute SQL injection attacks. It’s a command line-based tool that automates the process of detecting and exploiting SQL injection flaws and was designed to be fast, efficient, and free. It can be used against any type of SQL injection vulnerability, including blind and error-based injection.
Wireshark is one of the most popular network protocol analyzers right now, facilitating deep inspection of protocols, as well as live-traffic capture and offline analysis of a captured file. The data can be exported using XML, PostScript, CSV, or plain text format for documentation and further analysis.
This vulnerability scanner helps testers identify vulnerabilities, configuration problems, and even the presence of malware on web applications. This tool, however, is not designed for executing exploitations but offers great help when doing reconnaissance.
Nmap or Network Mapper is more than a scanning and reconnaissance tool. It is used for both network discovery and security auditing purposes. Aside from providing basic information on the target website, it also includes a scripting module that can be used for vulnerability and backdoor detection and execution of exploitations.
Metasploit stands out among other penetration testing tools for web applications. The reason is that this is actually a framework and not a specific application. You can use it to create custom tools for particular tasks. You can use Metasploit to:
Aircrack-ng is a wireless LAN tool that can be used to recover WEP/WPA/WPA2 keys. It’s one of the most popular wireless hacking tools, and it has been around since 2002. It’s used by penetration testers to test the security of wireless networks and find weaknesses, but it also comes with a few other use cases, including:
We’ve mentioned Burp Suite a couple of times earlier, and this is because this tool is an all-in-one platform for testing the security of web applications. It has several tools that can be used for every phase of the testing process, including Intercepting proxy, Application-aware spider, Advanced web application scanner, Intruder tool, Repeater tool, and Sequencer tool.
Although the concept of penetration testing seems simple at first glance, building a career in this field requires specific certifications. Let’s review them in brief.
CEH is a vendor-neutral, professional certification demonstrating a candidate’s ability to analyze and test computer networks for security weaknesses. The CEH credential requires candidates to pass an exam that tests their knowledge of network security, scanning, and testing. The certification also requires candidates to demonstrate their ability to use hacking tools in an ethical manner.
GIAC Exploit Researcher and Advanced Penetration Tester (GXPN) is an advanced certification that focuses on the core skill set of a penetration tester. The GXPN certification validates the tester’s ability to perform advanced penetration tests, research exploits, and develop custom exploits.
The GIAC Penetration Tester (GPEN) certification is a globally recognized credential that proves a tester has the skills to perform advanced penetration testing. The GPEN certification tests your ability to analyze and interpret data; perform vulnerability analysis; identify risks associated with vulnerabilities; create test plans and execute them; implement security measures to protect against attacks; and use common tools and techniques.
The Licensed Penetration Tester Master (LPT) Certification is a rigorous, two-year program that will teach you everything you need to know about penetration testing. This certification is designed to give a tester the skills and knowledge necessary to perform an in-depth analysis of networks and systems, as well as develop strategies for protecting valuable data and assets.
Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) is a professional certification in the field of penetration testing. It was created by Offensive Security and offers a comprehensive course for security professionals to prepare for the OSCP certification exam. The OSCP certification is aimed at penetration testers who are looking to gain the skills needed to perform advanced penetration tests and operate in high-risk environments.
Automated and manual pen testing are two different approaches to conducting a penetration test.
Automated pen testing involves using specialized software tools to scan a system for vulnerabilities and perform attacks. This approach is fast and efficient, and it can cover a large number of vulnerabilities in a short amount of time. However, it can also produce false positives (i.e., reporting vulnerabilities that do not actually exist) and may not be able to identify all vulnerabilities, especially those that require a human touch to discover.
Manual pen testing, on the other hand, involves a skilled security professional manually testing a system for vulnerabilities and exploiting them. This approach is slower and requires more human effort, but it can be more thorough and accurate. Manual pen testing can uncover vulnerabilities that automated tools might miss, and it allows the tester to think creatively and adapt to unexpected situations.
While both approaches have pros and cons, they can be used together successfully to create a more thorough test. In fact, some companies find that combining the two approaches gives them the best possible results by bringing together the strengths of each method.
Read our guides on how to hire a cybersecurity developer and site reliability engineer.
Web applications are convenient, cost-effective, and value-adding. However, most systems are publicly exposed to the Internet, and the data can become easily available to those who are willing to do a bit of research. What’s more, even the most advanced web applications are prone to vulnerabilities, in both design and configuration, that hackers might find and exploit. Because of this, web application security should be a priority, especially if they handle sensitive information.
Relevant has helped more than 200 companies with setting up teams of remote developers and site reliability engineers with industry-specific expertise and a product-oriented mindset. Our cybersecurity developers would also be glad to help you run a web application penetration test and get an insightful look into the possible vulnerabilities.
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