5 Types of Penetration Testing and How to Apply Them

Wednesday, December 8, 2021| By Shannon Flynn


Penetration testing, or pen testing, happens when a cybersecurity professional uses their knowledge and specialized tools to intentionally attack a network or app and assess a client’s existing safeguards. While doing this, they’ll also look for misconfigurations or other vulnerabilities that raise the risk of malicious parties wreaking havoc.

Here are five of the most commonly applied types of penetration tests and what they entail.


1. Cloud

The increasing popularity of cloud computing makes this kind of pen test continually relevant. Improved security is one of the factors decision makers frequently cite when discussing why they moved to the cloud. However, a more secure environment is not a guarantee.

Incorrect settings, excessive access given to too many parties, weak credentials and outdated software are some of the numerous things that can elevate cloud security risks. Pen testing in the cloud helps clients strengthen their cyberattack defenses, helping them make the most of what the cloud offers.

However, most leading cloud providers have specific rules about how people can perform pen testing for clients who use those services. For example, AWS and Microsoft Azure forbid simulated denial of service (DoS) and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks from penetration testers.

2. On-Premises Networks

These types of pen tests were the traditionally performed options before cloud computing became more widespread. However, they’re still necessary since many companies have both cloud-based and on-premises resources.

When assessing on-premises networks, the pen tester may assume the role of an outsider with no knowledge of a company’s infrastructure and source code. Alternatively, their client may decide it’s more beneficial for them to know something about the organization’s setup, as a disgruntled insider likely would.

Checking the security of on-premises networks may also involve social engineering aspects. For example, how easy is it for someone to pose as a person who legitimately needs access to the server room? Once organizations get their pen tests results, taking action to remedy the issues is an excellent way to maximize their investment.

3. Web Apps

This penetration test category examines the design, architecture and configurations of web apps. There’s some crossover between web app pen testing and cloud pen testing since many applications capture data and send it offsite. In any case, these examinations look at the app’s cookie usage, credential encryption, web forms and other critical aspects.

Globalization Partners reports that 75% of the workforce will clock in remotely at least five days per month by 2025. Such team members may use web apps to log their time spent on certain projects, ask questions of their colleagues and more. Organizations often have customized web apps built after decision makers realize that the products on the market don’t quite meet their needs.

Web app pen testing is also critical for industries that rely on apps to securely send private information. For example, the banking and health care sectors use such applications to increase convenience.

4. Wireless Networks

These pen tests determine the cybersecurity of a company’s wireless network and its associated protocols. Testers will learn how easily an unauthorized outside party could monitor a network’s traffic.

A common misconception is that pen testing and threat hunting are the same things. However, a penetration tester seeks to find how a future attacker might access a wireless network. Threat hunting involves identifying attackers who have already broken through a company’s defenses.

So, pen testing for wireless networks examines the various encryption methods used on the networks. It also documents all the devices connected to the wireless networks. As more people use a company’s wireless networks and often bring devices to work with them, it becomes increasingly challenging to pinpoint unauthorized device usage.

5. IoT/Embedded Devices

The penetration tests in this group check for flaws in a piece of connected hardware or products with embedded devices. Internet of things (IoT) devices such as security cameras and smart speakers fall into this category.

The goal is to look for weaknesses in the product’s existing measures to keep security high. For example, it was penetration testers who hacked a Jeep, taking over the vehicle’s brakes, engine, and other essential components.

Unfortunately, many smart device manufacturers treat security as an afterthought rather than prioritizing it from the start. The primary goal is to get a product on the market as quickly as possible. However, ethical hackers often uncover issues and warn product makers about them. Performing pen tests before a product reaches the market prevents those situations.

Penetration Tests Help Maintain Strong Cybersecurity

These are some of the main types of penetration tests you’ll likely get asked to do during your cybersecurity career. You may also build ongoing relationships with clients. That’s because a pen test is not a one-and-done kind of engagement. Ongoing pen tests are required as major code changes or code updates occur. Many organizations now at least partially automate the process. That option does not replace humans, but it can supplement their efforts.

If you’re ready to stand out from peers and prove yourself a well-equipped pen tester, consider getting CompTIA PenTest+. It’s the market’s most comprehensive exam that covers all penetration test stages, including those referenced in this article. The content encompasses both knowledge and performance-based assessments. Brush up your skills with the full suite of CompTIA PenTest+ training solutions and then get certified, proving you have expertise in safeguarding against common attacks.

Ready to get started? Download the CompTIA PenTest+ exam objectives for free to see what's covered.

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