API Testing

Penetration Testing Best Practices for Every Stage of Testing

April 10, 2022
5 mins

Due to the ever-changing cyber threat landscape, it's more important than ever for businesses and governments around the world to recognize and protect themselves from potential cybersecurity risks.

Even if you think that your company's security measures are on point, there's always a chance they won't be enough to prevent an intrusion. 

Penetration tests uncover cybersecurity weaknesses in your systems and reveal how attackers could potentially exploit them before it becomes too late.

These tests are an essential security practice where you intentionally attack your applications, networks, APIs, and computer systems to find and exploit vulnerabilities. 

By following our best practices for effective results, you ensure that your organization gets the most out of its penetration testing initiative.

Pen Testing Best Practices

No matter what stage of the testing process you're in, we have aligned our best practices with your needs to provide the most helpful information.

Scope

1. Set Clear Objectives

The first step in developing a secure test is to plan it by setting your scope. This involves selecting specific objectives and conditions for your test that will affect the outcome. For example, you might want to cover an entire network, certain applications within that network, test the security of your APIs, or even specific users who work remotely from home offices.

The objectives and goals of a penetration test often vary greatly, from improving security to ensuring compliance with regulations. You'll need to clearly understand, "Why are we even doing a pen test?"

To avoid wasting time and resources on unimportant areas, focus on the high-risk vulnerabilities that are likely to be exploited first.

During this process, your team should clearly:

  • Evaluate the reasons for conducting pen testing
  • Define the target environment
  • Identify resourcing requirements
  • Establish and define liabilities
  • Determine the testing to be conducted
  • Discuss follow-up activities 

2. Establish your Budget

Your budget is one of the most important things to take into consideration when you're looking for a security solution. The price you pay for security depends on the value of your assets and what kind of objectives you are trying to achieve. 

Factors that affect your budget:

  • In-house testing versus hiring an external service provider
  • Type of testing you want to do (black, white, grey, or red teaming)
  • The amount of time needed to conduct the test
  • The scope and coverage focus

One way to keep your costs down is to use automated testing instead of manual testing. Another way to eliminate costs is by using white box testing, which gives the tester all the information they need to find vulnerabilities faster.

Remember, there is no one-fits-all solution because every organization has its own needs that translate into dollar figures—the more coverage you want, the more you pay. 

Expertise

3. Choose a Penetration Testing Methodologies

There are five common methods you can use for a penetration test, and the results will vary depending on which one is employed.

Pro Tip: External pen testers use varying methods. Make sure their methodology aligns with what's necessary for this test, and make it clear from day one which objectives need completion before they start testing.

4. Find the Right Pen Testers

When hiring pen testers, make sure you ask the right questions and find the right experts for your target domains: if it's API security, look no further than those who specialize in this field.

An expert will know how systems are built as well as their common weaknesses, so they'll help guarantee the success of any pen test by taking advantage from all possible angles.

Advantages of hiring external penetration testing providers:

  • They have experienced staff dedicated to conducting highly-effective tests.
  • They complete independent assessments that provide a comprehensive analysis of your security posture.
  • They conduct a wide variety of testing that satisfies any environment and objective.

5. Prepare for the Pen Test

In order to ensure your pen test yields maximum results, you'll need to: 

  • Request sample reports from your pen tester. If anything, in particular, catches your eye or interests you (for example, missing data points on important metrics or the findings don't include enough non-technical corrective actions), indicate this when making queries during regular meetings.
  • Clean up the test environment by restoring it back as close to its original state. Ideally, you want to test in a live environment, but many perform their tests in development test environments to avoid disruptions.
  • Make sure your team is ready for anything by identifying those who will review the test report and fix any issues that were discovered during testing.
  • Grant proper authorizations to conduct testing if needed.

Monitor

6. Establish Monitoring Solutions

Make sure that your security monitoring solutions are in place before starting a pen test. Not only will this help you oversee the testing performance, but you'll also be able to make sure appropriate actions are taken when necessary. To do this, we recommend: 

  • Implement logging: This is a vital component in security monitoring and investigation because it provides insights into pen tests' impacts on your systems as well as identifying potential vulnerabilities before they become threats.
  • Establish risk management processes: They should cover many areas, including tests that don't work as planned or problems caused by penetration testing gone wrong. Additionally, they should look for breaches in contract/codes for both company and individual policies regarding security vulnerabilities and provide ways for effective resolutions when needed.

Remediation

7. Prioritize Pen Test Results

Now that we have all of this data, it's time to take action!

Schedule a team meeting with your security leaders and specify which vulnerabilities need immediate attention. Your pen testers should provide you with: 

  • How the vulnerabilities were discovered
  • Potential outcomes if they are exploited
  • The risk level for each vulnerability
  • Remediation advice

The tester will use their technical expertise to determine the most pressing vulnerabilities. You should review their prioritization and decide which ones make the most critical impact on your business to tackle first. Ask yourself:

  • Should we fix this? 
  • What happens if I don't?
  • How will that affect my company?
  • If we can't fix the vulnerability, can we mitigate the damage if exploited?

Remember, defects may arise from mistakes made during design or implementation, new attack techniques that were unknown at the time of testing, or simply coding errors.

Your development team needs to identify areas where they can improve their process for them to have successful products.

Pro Tip: When selecting a pen tester, make sure their reports include both technical and non-technical terms so that your entire team has access to this information. If the report is too complex for audiences outside of tech-related fields, it may not provide enough information needed to justify adjustments within an organization's business practices.

8. Review Vulnerabilities and Adapt

After you've prioritized your results, you'll begin remediation. During this process, we recommend: 

  • Keep communication channels open by providing regular feedback and being available for quick meetings to provide clarity or address questions and concerns.
  • Assign a dedicated task force to handle any uncovered vulnerabilities, ensuring they have all the resources necessary and an appropriate amount of time and experience for this job.
  • Identify the root cause of the vulnerability and develop strategies to take corrective action for each one.
  • Re-evaluate your security measures after they have been fixed to ensure that any previously found vulnerabilities were indeed eliminated.

Maximize Your Security Posture 

While penetration tests are a great way to identify vulnerabilities, they have clear limitations. The main one is that it only captures a snapshot of a specific point in time.

To get the most out of your security processes, you need to pair it with a robust security partner that has the ability to test your system and processes continually.

APIsec offers a fully automated and continuous testing solution that runs comprehensive attacks on every endpoint in your network—giving you the most up-to-date information. 

Ready to start securing your APIs and networks? Reach out to one of our security specialists for more information.

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