What Are the Penetration Testing Steps?

by Tori Thurmond / July 18th, 2023

If your organization or technology hasn’t gone through a penetration test or security testing before, you may not know what to expect. Even if you have, maybe you’re wondering what KirkpatrickPrice’s methodology and stages of penetration testing are. Once you know what to expect, you can reap the benefits of the more in-depth process with additional analysis by certified ethical hackers.

At KirkpatrickPrice, there are seven stages of penetration testing. Let’s discuss each one so your organization can be prepared for this type of security testing.

What is penetration testing?

Penetration testing, or pen testing, is a security exercise performed by ethical hackers known as pen testers. During a pen test, the pen tester simulates an attack on a network to help identify any weaknesses or vulnerabilities that are present in the network. Two types of penetration tests are internal and external. An internal penetration test simulates an attack from the perspective of either an internal bad actor, like a disgruntled employee, or from a network that has been unknowingly compromised. An external penetration test takes place from outside the network from the perspective of a hacker who wants to gain access to the environment.

Why should you get a penetration test?

We all worry about missing something. Whether we are worried about missing a typo in an important email or forgetting to lock the door when we leave the house. There’s always so much to remember, and it can be hard to make sure all of our bases are cover all of the time. The same can be said about network security. Are you sure that your organization’s network is secure? Are you 100% positive that there are no vulnerabilities hiding that you don’t know about?

While we can never be 100% certain that our security posture is perfect, we can take steps to make sure we are doing everything we can to make our organizations as secure as possible, and one of those steps is going through a penetration test. Penetration testing will help you identify where your vulnerabilities lie, so you can better protect your organization’s assets.

7 Steps and Phases of Penetration Testing

Our internal pentest checklist includes the following 7 phases of penetration testing:

  1. Information Gathering
  2. Reconnaissance
  3. Discovery and Scanning
  4. Vulnerability Assessment
  5. Exploitation
  6. Final Analysis and Review
  7. Utilize the Testing Results

1. Information Gathering

The first of the seven stages of penetration testing is information gathering. The organization being tested will provide the penetration tester with general information about in-scope targets. Open-source intelligence (OSINT) is also used in this step of the penetration test as it pertains to the in-scope environment.

2. Reconnaissance

KirkpatrickPrice uses the information gathered to collect additional details from publicly accessible sources.

The reconnaissance stage is crucial to thorough security testing because penetration testers can identify additional information that may have been overlooked, unknown, or not provided. This step is especially helpful in internal and/or external network penetration testing, however, we don’t typically perform this reconnaissance in web application, mobile application, or API penetration testing.

3. Discovery and Scanning

Discovery scanning is a way to test for perimeter vulnerabilities. The information gathered is used to perform discovery activities to determine things like ports and services that were available for targeted hosts, or subdomains, available for web applications. From there, our pen testers analyze the scan results and make a plan to exploit them. Many organizations stop their penetration tests with the discovery scan results, but without manual analysis and exploitation, the full scope of your attack surface will not be realized.

4. Vulnerability Assessment

A vulnerability assessment is conducted in order to gain initial knowledge and identify any potential security weaknesses that could allow an outside attacker to gain access to the environment or technology being tested. A vulnerability assessment is never a replacement for a penetration test, though.

5. Exploitation

This is where the action happens!

After interpreting the results from the vulnerability assessment, our expert penetration testers will use manual techniques, human intuition, and their backgrounds to validate, attack, and exploit those vulnerabilities. Automation and machine learning can’t do what an expert pen tester can. An expert penetration tester is able to exploit vulnerabilities that automation could easily miss.

6. Final Analysis and Review

When you work with KirkpatrickPrice on security testing, we deliver our findings in a report format.

This comprehensive report includes narratives of where we started the testing, how we found vulnerabilities, and how we exploited them. It also includes the scope of the security testing, testing methodologies, findings, and recommendations for corrections.

Where applicable, it will also state the penetration tester’s opinion of whether or not your penetration test adheres to applicable framework requirements.

7. Utilize the Testing Results

The last of the seven stages of penetration testing is so important. The organization being tested must actually use the findings from the security testing to risk rank vulnerabilities, analyze the potential impact of vulnerabilities found, determine remediation strategies, and inform decision-making moving forward.

KirkpatrickPrice security testing methodologies are unique and efficient because they do not rely on static techniques and assessment methods. We follow the Penetration Testing Execution Standard (PTES) suggestions in our pen testing process, but every penetration test we perform is different because every organization’s needs are different. We provide custom pen tests so organizations can better protect against the specific threats that they are up against. Effective penetration testing requires a diligent effort to find enterprise weaknesses, just like a malicious individual would. We’ve developed these seven stages of penetration testing because we’ve proven that they prepare organizations for attacks and offer guidance on vulnerability remediation.

Start Your Pen Testing Journey Today

Penetration testing can seem intimidating. You have to trust someone to pick apart your network to make sure you don’t have any vulnerabilities that could lead to a breach and damage to your organization. That’s why it’s so important to work with experts who know what they’re doing and care about the well being of your organization. If you want to avoid the consequences of compromised technology while working with an expert ethical hacker, connect with one of our experts today.

More Penetration Testing Resources

7 Reasons Why You Need a Manual Penetration Test

Not All Penetration Tests Are Created Equal

Components of a Quality Penetration Test

About the Author

Tori Thurmond

Tori Thurmond has degrees in both professional and creative writing. She's has over five years of copywriting experience and enjoys making difficult topics, like cybersecurity compliance, accessible to all. Since starting at KirkpatrickPrice in 2022, she's earned her CC certification from (ISC)2 which has aided her ability to contribute to the company culture of educating, empowering, and inspiring KirkpatrickPrice's clients and team members.