Top 5 Penetration Testing Methodologies and Standards | Vumetric

Top 5 Penetration Testing Methodologies and Standards

Penetration Testing Methodology
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Penetration tests can deliver widely different results depending on which standards and methodologies they leverage. Updated penetration testing standards and methodologies provide a viable option for companies who need to secure their systems and fix their cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

Here are 5 penetration testing methodologies and standards that will guarantee a return on your investment:

1. OSSTMM

The OSSTMM framework, one of the most recognized standards in the industry, provides a scientific methodology for network penetration testing and vulnerability assessment. This framework contains a comprehensive guide for testers to identify security vulnerabilities within a network (and its components) from various potential angles of attack. This methodology relies on the tester’s in-depth knowledge and experience, as well as human intelligence to interpret the identified vulnerabilities and their potential impact within the network.

Unlike the majority of security manuals, this framework was also created to support network development teams. A majority of developers and IT teams base their firewalls and networks on this manual and the guidelines it provides. While this manual does not advocate for a particular network protocol or software, it highlights the best practices and the steps that should be taken to ensure the security of your networks.

The OSSTMM methodology (Open Source Security Testing Methodology Manual) allows testers to customize their assessment to fit the specific needs or the technological context of your company. With this set of standards, you will obtain an accurate overview of your network’s cybersecurity, as well as reliable solutions adapted to your technological context to help your stakeholders make the right decisions to secure your networks.

2. OWASP

For all matters of application security, the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) is the most recognized standard in the industry. This methodology, powered by a very well-versed community that stays on top of the latest technologies, has helped countless organizations to curb application vulnerabilities.

This framework provides a methodology for application penetration testing that can not only identify vulnerabilities commonly found within web and mobile applications but also complicated logic flaws that stem from unsafe development practices. The updated guide provides comprehensive guidelines for each penetration testing method, with over 66 controls to assess in total, allowing testers to identify vulnerabilities within a wide variety of functionalities found in modern applications today.

With the help of this methodology, organizations are better equipped to secure their applications – web and mobile alike – from common mistakes that can have a potentially critical impact on their business. Organizations looking to develop new web and mobile applications should also consider incorporating these standards during their development phase to avoid introducing common security flaws.

During an application security assessment, you should expect the OWASP standard to be leveraged to ensure that no vulnerabilities have been left behind and that your organization obtains realistic recommendations adapted to the specific features and technologies used in your applications.

3. NIST

Unlike other information security manuals, NIST offers more specific guidelines for penetration testers to follow.  The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides a manual that is best suited to improve the overall Cybersecurity of an organization. The most recent version, 1.1, places more emphasis on the Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity. Complying with the NIST framework is often a regulatory requirement for various American providers and business partners.

With this framework, NIST set its sight on guaranteeing information security in different industries, including banking, communications, and energy. Large and small firms alike can tailor the standards to meet their specific needs.

In order to meet the standards that NIST has set, companies most perform penetration tests on their applications and networks following a pre-established set of guidelines. This American information tech security standard ensures that companies fulfill their cybersecurity control and assessment obligations, mitigating risks of a cyberattack in every way possible.

Stakeholders from different sectors collaborate to popularize and encourage firms to implement the Cybersecurity Framework. With exceptional standards and technology, NIST significantly contributes to cybersecurity innovation in a host of American industries.

4. PTES

The PTES Framework (Penetration Testing Methodologies and Standards) highlights the most recommended approach to structure a penetration test. This standard guides testers on various steps of a penetration test including initial communication, gathering information, as well as the threat modeling phases.

Following this penetration testing standard, testers acquaint themselves with the organization and their technological context as much as possible before they focus on exploiting the potentially vulnerable areas, allowing them to identify the most advanced scenarios of attacks that could be attempted. The testers are also provided with guidelines to perform post-exploitation testing if necessary, allowing them to validate that the previously identified vulnerabilities have been successfully fixed. The seven phases provided in this standard guarantee a successful penetration test offering practical recommendations that your management team can rely on to make their decisions.

5. ISSAF

The ISSAF standard (Information System Security Assessment Framework) contains an even more structured and specialized approach to penetration testing than the previous standard. If your organization’s unique situation requires an advanced methodology entirely personalized to its context, then this manual should prove useful for the specialists in charge of your penetration test.

These sets of standards enable a tester to meticulously plan and document every step of the penetration testing procedure, from planning, assessment, to reporting and destroying artefacts. This standard caters for all steps of the process. Pentesters who use a combination of different tools find ISSAF especially crucial as they can tie each step to a particular tool.

The assessment section, which is more detailed, governs a considerable part of the procedure. For each vulnerable area of your system, ISSAF offers some complementary information, various vectors of attack, as well as possible results when a vulnerability is exploited. In some instances, testers may also find information on tools that real attackers commonly use to target these areas. All this information proves worthwhile to plan and carry out particularly advanced attack scenarios, which guarantees a great return on investment for a company looking to secure their systems from cyberattacks.

In conclusion

As threats and hacking technologies continue to evolve in various industries, companies need to improve their cybersecurity testing approach to ensure that they stay up to date with the latest technologies and potential attack scenarios. Installing and implementing up-to-date cybersecurity frameworks is one step in that direction. These penetration testing standards and methodologies provide an excellent benchmark to assess your cybersecurity and offer recommendations adapted to your specific context so you can be well protected from hackers.

Have any questions concerning these penetration testing methodologies and standards? Want to learn more about what cybersecurity services can do for your organization? Reach out to an expert to learn more about our services which leverage these aforementioned standards and methodologies.

 

A penetration test is a simulated hacking attempt that identifies opportunities for real hackers to break through your defences and perform various malicious acts. It generally leverages tools used by hackers and various professional methodologies to replicate the steps that modern hackers would take to intrude into your IT systems.


A pentest attempts to exploit your vulnerabilities to determine their potential impact, should they be used in a real hacking scenario. They provide a list of vulnerabilities with their respective level of severity, as well as technical recommendations to help your team apply corrective measures and focus on the most critical vulnerabilities.


These services allow your organization to answer the following questions, among several others:

  • Can a hacker gain access to any sensitive information?
  • Can a hacker hijack my technologies for any malicious acts?
  • Could a malware infection spread through the network?
  • Can an attacker escalate access to an administrative user?

Learn more about penetration testing →

There are many contexts in which a penetration test should be performed.

Here are some common use cases for a pentest:
  • As part of the development cycle of an application. (To test the security of a new feature/app)
  • To comply with security requirements. (3rd-parties, PCI, ISO27001, etc.)
  • To secure sensitive data from exfiltration.
  • To prevent infections by malware. (Ransomware, spyware, etc.)
  • To prevent disruptive cyberattacks. (Such as denial of service)
  • As part of a cybersecurity risk management strategy.
All businesses are advised to conduct a penetration test at least once a year, as well as after any significant upgrades or modifications to the company network. Given the rapid rate at which new exploits are discovered, we generally recommend that quarterly tests are performed.

The time required to successfully execute a penetration test depends on the scope and type of test. Most penetration tests can be performed within a couple of days, but some can span over several weeks, sometimes even months depending on the complexity of the project.

Various steps are taken over the course of the project to prevent the potential impact of our tests on the stability of your technological environment and the continuity of your business operations.

For this reason, a communication plan will be put in place at the beginning of the project to prevent and mitigate any potential impact. A representative of your organization will be identified to act as the main point of contact to ensure rapid communication in the event of a situation directly impacting the conduct of your daily operations, or if any critical vulnerabilities are identified, for which  corrective measures need to be implemented quickly.

While we use a simple 4 levels risk rating approach (Critical, High, Moderate, Low), our risk assessment is actually based on the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) standard. Two main criteria are considered when  assessing the risk level of each vulnerability:

  • Potential impact: The potential impact of an attack based on a vulnerability, combined with its  potential effect on the availability of the system, as well as the confidentiality and integrity of  the data.
  • Exploitability: The potential exploitability of a vulnerability; a vulnerability that is easier to  exploit increases the number of potential attackers and thus the likelihood of an attack.  Different factors are considered when evaluating the exploitability potential of a vulnerability  (e.g.: access vector, authentication, operational complexity, etc.)

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