Security Audit

What is Penetration Testing: Types, Phases, Pros & Cons

Updated on: September 6, 2023

What is Penetration Testing: Types, Phases, Pros & Cons

Penetration testing aids in evaluating an application’s security through hacker-style exploitation to expose and assess security risks. Security risks can be present in various areas such as system configuration settings, and, login methods. 

It is also present in end-users’ risky behaviors which comes into play when a business gives the average end-user access to system-based processes. 

What is Penetration Testing (In Cyber Security)?

Penetration testing is the process of evaluating the security of an application and exploiting found vulnerabilities and security risks within an asset like websites, servers, databases, networks, or mobile applications to see the extent of severity they pose to the security.

In a pentest, a security engineer finds security vulnerabilities in the application, network, or system, and helps you fix them before attackers get wind of these issues and exploit them. Pentesting is a non-negotiable fundamental step for any application or business owner. 

Why Astra is the best in pentesting?

  • We’re the only company that combines automated & manual pentest to create a one-of-a-kind pentest platform
  • Vetted scans ensure zero false positives
  • Our intelligent vulnerability scanner emulates hacker behavior & evolves with every pentest
  • Astra’s scanner helps you shift left by integrating with your CI/CD
  • Our platform helps you uncover, manage & fix vulnerabilities in one place
  • Trusted by the brands you trust like Agora, Spicejet, Muthoot, Dream11, etc.

Importance Of Penetration Testing

The importance of information security penetration testing assets is the following: 

Identification of Vulnerabilities

Penetration testing helps identify vulnerabilities in computer systems, networks, and applications that can be exploited by attackers. This allows organizations to prioritize and fix these vulnerabilities before they can be exploited.

Enhanced Security

Penetration testing helps organizations to enhance their security posture by identifying potential security gaps and improving their security controls.

Meeting Compliance Requirements

Many regulatory and industry standards require regular penetration testing to ensure that organizations meet their security requirements. For example, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) requires regular penetration testing of networks and applications that process credit card data.


Penetration testing helps identify potential security threats in a cost-effective manner, as it allows organizations to identify and fix security issues before they become major security incidents.

These are just a few of the reasons that make penetration testing a valuable process in the continued maintenance of asset security.

Types of Penetration Testing in Cyber Security

Penetration testing can be done for applications and even content management systems as explained below. 

Cloud Penetration Testing

Cloud penetration tests analyze the cloud computing environment and platforms for vulnerabilities that could be exploited by hackers. Cloud pentesting forms an essential component of cloud security as it reveals any potential weaknesses in the currently implemented security controls. 

Such a pentest can be performed manually or through automated means and is often integrated into the cloud security strategy for optimal maintenance of security. Some of the commonly found vulnerabilities include 

  • Insecure APIs
  • Server Misconfigurations
  • Weak credentials
  • Outdated software
  • Insecure codes

Network Penetration Testing

The objective of a network penetration test is to find vulnerabilities in the network infrastructure, either on-premise or cloud environments such as Azure and AWS penetration testing. It is one of the basic tests, and a crucial one too to protect your data and the security of your application. In this test, a wide range of areas such as configurations, encryption, and outdated security patches, are tested and checked.

Below are some of the network penetration tests that are done: 

  • Testing routers
  • Firewall bypasses
  • DNS footprinting
  • Evasion of IPS/IDS
  • Scanning and testing open ports
  • SSH attacks 
  • Tests on proxy servers

Web Application Penetration Testing

Astra's pentest dashboard
Image: Astra’s Pentest Dashboard for Website

Web application pentesting must be conducted by organizations and individuals with web apps periodically to keep up with the latest attacks methodologies and security flaws. With the rise in web-based applications, huge amounts of data are stored and transmitted through them, making them attractive targets for cyber attackers. Some of the common vulnerabilities include:

API Penetration Testing

API penetration testing is the process that aims to find any vulnerabilities within the API for a web application by simulating the actions of a malicious user. 

An application Programming Interface is a set of standards that let applications communicate with each other. It enables developers to create customized experiences within a given application. 

Some of the major security issues tested for during an API pentest are: 

  • Broken authentication flaws in identification measures. 
  • Broken authorization due to exposed endpoints. 
  • Exposure of data.
  • Misconfigurations. 
  • Injection flaws such as SQL, command injections, and more. 

Mobile Penetration Testing

Mobile application penetration testing are done by expert penetration testers to find security vulnerabilities which can then be reported to the developers. Mobile penetration testing isn’t just applicable to Android applications, but also to iOS, Native, and Hybrid applications. 

Mobile application penetration is done to gain access to sensitive data or disrupt the application’s functioning. Some of the major security issues in mobile apps include: 

  • Lack of transport layer protection
  • Insecure Communication
  • Insecure Authentication
  • Weak Encryption
  • Lack of Binary Protection

Smart Contract Penetration Testing

Smart contract penetration testing is a process of evaluating a smart contract for security vulnerabilities and compliance with best practices. These are essential to safeguard the money put into them. 

Because all transactions on the blockchain are permanent, stolen money cannot be recovered if it is stolen. Major security issues in smart contracts include: 

  • DoS attacks
  • Smart contract with no upgrade options
  • Visibility of functions by default
  • Unencrypted files on blockchain

Social Engineering Testing

Unlike the above tests, where the technical aspect of the application is put under scrutiny, in social engineering, human psychology comes under the scanner. Testers leverage and exploit human nature to break into a system in social engineering pen-testing. Through manipulation, the tester will coax the individual to reveal sensitive information which will be used to penetrate the system and plan further attacks.

Some of the common methods of attack are:

  • Phishing attacks
  • Masquerading as colleagues, contractors, or vendors
  • Tailgating
  • Dumpster diving
  • Eavesdropping
  • Bluesnarfing

Even though social engineering pentest is not widely done, it is necessary to get a complete picture of your application’s security standards.

3 Different Approaches To Penetration Testing

approaches to penetration testing

There are three approaches adopted by testers in regard to penetration testing, based on the information available and the type of weakness to be found:

White Box Penetration Testing

In a white box test, the testers have complete knowledge of the system and complete access. The objective of this approach is to conduct in-depth testing of the system and gather as much information as possible. The advantage, in this case, is that since the tester has unbridled access and knowledge of the system, including code quality and internal designs, the Pentest can identify even remotely located vulnerabilities, thus giving a nearly complete picture of the security.

Black Box Penetration Testing

As you have guessed correctly, in black box penetration testing the tester has no knowledge of the system and designs the test as an uninformed attacker. Black box penetration testing by a third-party is the closest to a real-world attack and involves a high degree of technical skills. This approach has the longest duration and costs more than the white-box approach.

Gray Box Penetration Testing

As the name suggests, this approach stands midway between white and black box testing. The tester has only limited knowledge of the system in gray-box pentesting. The advantage of this approach is that with the limited amount of knowledge, the tester has a more focused area of attack and thus avoids any trial-and-error method of attack.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Pen Testing?

Pros of penetration testing include: 

  • Identification of vulnerabilities

Timely identification of vulnerabilities can help in the immediate remediation of these flaws before it affects the security of systems resulting in a data breach. 

  • Enhanced Security

Pentesting helps in enhancing the existing security measures by fixing any flaws found within. Thus reducing the chances of exploitation causing a breach or theft of data. 

  • Compliance Maintenance

Most compliances state penetration tests as criteria for meeting and achieving compliance. This includes PCI-DSS, ISO27001, SOC2, HIPAA, and GDPR. Conducting pentest helps companies abide by the concerning regulatory standards and avoid heavy litigations and fines. 

  • Awareness of Security 

Regular penetration testing raises awareness in employees about the importance of good security practices in their daily work life. Identification of potential risks and their subsequent consequences increases awareness and promotes a proactive security mindset. 

The cons of a penetration test are the following: 

  • Time-Consuming

Penetration tests can take a lot of time from deciding to set the scope to even remediation of vulnerabilities. This in turn can affect the company’s normal functioning if proper time hasn’t been allocated. 

  • Point in Time

Penetration tests are carried out to analyze the security of a system at a point in time. This means that there is a chance of vulnerability raising after the penetration test is complete which wouldn’t be detected by it. 

  • Limited Scope

If not conducted properly, a pentest can have a very limited scope which would yield inaccurate results that would not be beneficial to the company. It is important to set a scope that is detailed as possible. 

  • Disruption of Systems

Penetration tests can often cause disruption of systems where the tests are being carried out. This can effect the company’s workflow and revenue. Therefore it is important to plan a pentest well in advance to avoid this. 

8 Phases of Penetration Testing: How It Is Performed

Phases to penetration testing

Rigorous and detailed planning for penetration security testing is required to successfully conduct one.

There are 8 steps of penetration testing in cyber security:

Step 1: Pre-Engagement Analysis

Before even planning a test, it’s imperative that you along with your security provider discuss topics such as the scope of the test, budget, objectives, etc. Without these, there won’t be a clear enough direction for the test, and will result in a lot of wasted effort

Step 2: Information gathering

Before commencing the pentest, the tester will attempt to find all publicly available information about the system and anything that would help in breaking in. These would assist in creating a plan of action as well as reveal potential targets.

Step 3: Vulnerability assessment

Astra's pentest dashboard video
Astra’s pentest dashboard

In this stage, your application is checked for security vulnerabilities by analyzing your security infrastructure and configuration. The tester searches for any opening or security gaps that can be exploited to break into the system.

Step 4: Exploitation

Once the tester is armed with the knowledge of vulnerabilities present in the system, they will start exploiting them. This will help in identifying the nature of the security gaps and the effort required to exploit them.

Step 5: Post-exploitation

The main objective of a pentest is to simulate a real-world attack without actually causing any real damage. Thus, once the tester can enter the system, they will use all available means to escalate their privileges.

Step 6: Reporting

Everything done during this security penetration testing is documented in a detailed manner along with steps and suggestions to fix the flaws in the security. Since the nature of the report is highly sensitive, it is ensured that it is safely delivered to authorized personnel. Testers often have meetings and debrief with executives and technical teams to help them understand the report. 

Step 7: Resolution

Once the target organization obtains the detailed report upon the scan completion of its assets and its security, it is used to rectify and remedy the vulnerabilities found. This helps avoid any breaches and threats to security.

Step 8: Rescanning

Upon the completion of patching of vulnerabilities based on the penetration testing report provided, a rescan is conducted to scan the new patches to test their air tightness.  The application is rescanned to find any additional or new vulnerabilities that could have risen from the patching. 

Once this final step is completed and no vulnerabilities have been detected, the organization or asset is said to be secure and is provided with a penetration test certificate that is publicly verifiable and adds visible authenticity.

Methodologies In Penetration Testing in Cyber Security

Here are some of the methodologies that can be opted for carrying out pentest that are more customized to the needs of your organization’s security. 

NIST Penetration Testing Methodology

NIST or the National Institute of Standards and Technology is a regulatory agency with the mission to promote industrial innovation and competitiveness. NIST penetration testing refers to conducting a pentest using the NIST framework to find out the compliance status of an organization with respect to the framework.

The NIST framework is built on five basic components which include Identification, Protection, Detection Response, and Recovery. This helps businesses operate securely using their own critical infrastructure. 

OWASP Penetration Testing Methodology

OWASP or Open Web Application Security Project is an online community that was developed to help the internet fight against vulnerabilities and subsequent cyberattacks. OWASP puts out a list of the top 10 vulnerabilities and attacks for various systems and applications like cloud, networks, web, and mobile applications. 

OWASP penetration testing refers to the testing of systems for these specific vulnerabilities and attacks.

How Often Should Pentests Be Conducted? 

Penetration tests should be conducted at a minimum of annually or bi-annually or after a major application update. If the company deals with extra-sensitive data, it might be required to carry out pentests on a quarterly basis. 

Testing too frequently will not provide enough time to fix the issues, while too infrequent testing leaves the application vulnerable to newer attack methodologies. 

The frequency of these tests depends on several factors including budget, size of the environment, and how dynamic the environment is. To identify the sweet spot, you’ll need to factor in all the variables.

Why does an organization need frequent pentesting?

The cyber threat landscape is in a constant state of flux. New vulnerabilities are discovered and exploited regularly, some of them are publicly recognized, and some are not. Being alert is the best thing you can do.

Pentest goes beyond just detecting common vulnerabilities with the help of automated tools and finds out more complex security issues like business logic errors like issues related to payment gateways, Excessive Trust in Client-Side Controls, Flawed Assumptions About User behavior, etc. It helps you get a clearer picture of your organization’s security posture and fix the issues to harden your security.

The primary purpose of IT penetration testing performed on cybersecurity is:

  • Keeping up with the changing cyber threat landscape
  • Detecting and mitigating business logic errors
  • Preparing for compliance audits
  • Protecting your business’s reputation by stopping security breaches. 

Who Performs Pentests?

Pentests are performed experts in the field with relevant certifications in cybersecurity and with relevant experience. Certifications that cement pentesting qualifications are:

  • eLearnSecurity Junior Penetration Tester (eJPT)
  • GIAC Penetration Tester
  • Offensive Security Certified Professional

Penetration Testing Cost

Generally, the cost of penetration tests varies from $400 to $5000. A lot of factors influence the prices, namely: 

  • Application or system which is to be tested – Cloud, network, API, web, or mobile applications.
  • Size of the company and scalability of the solution you’re considering.
  • Scoping the number of assets that are to be tested. 
  • Experience and reputation of the pentesting solutions under consideration.
  • The customizability of their prices and features provided.

Here are the penetration testing packages available with Astra: 

  • Scanner: $1,999/year
  • Pentest: $4,999/year
  • Enterprise: $6,999/year 

How does Penetration Testing differ from Vulnerability Assessment?

Penetration testing and vulnerability assessment in IT and cybersecurity are often used interchangeably. However, they are not one and the same. While penetration testing plays a huge role in the process of vulnerability assessment, they are two processes with some stark differences.

Vulnerability AssessmentPenetration Testing
Vulnerability assessment is focused on detecting and categorizing vulnerabilities in a system.Penetration testing involves exploiting vulnerabilities to draw insights about them.
It is a mostly automated process involving vulnerability scanning tools.Penetration testing requires manual intervention on top of automated scanning.
It is almost impossible to achieve zero false positives with an automated vulnerability assessment.Manual penetration testers can ensure zero false positives.
Vulnerability assessment often misses critical and complex vulnerabilities.Thanks to the human element of penetration testing, it detects business logic errors that remain undetected in a vulnerability scan.
Automated vulnerability assessment takes significantly less time and money than pen testing. Penetration testing is a consuming and expensive procedure and for good reason.

Both these processes are complementary in nature and are usually performed together, in a combined process called VAPT, or Security Audit.


This article is a one-stop destination to clear all your penetration testing-related queries and doubts. From its definition to various approaches, types, and tools available, this article has given a detailed overview of what a penetration test entails along with its steps.


What is the purpose of penetration testing?

Penetration testing aids in the detection and identification of vulnerabilities that may be plaguing your security system. Subsequently, it also helps in increasing and updating the existing security measures.

Will a Pentest be disruptive to our application? Should we expect a system crash?

A well-planned and coordinated penetration testing will not be disruptive to the system. It is important to ensure that all stakeholders are aware of the timeline and that relevant teams are kept informed. With proper expertise and a focused approach, you would not face any likely system crash.

How much time is required for Penetration Testing?

The overall time depends on factors such as the size of the environment, size of the testing team, type of test, etc. Reserve adequate time for the test and assign extra time for reporting. A good estimate would be 4 to 6 weeks, including the planning and reporting stage. The actual test takes around 2 to 3 weeks, depending on the complexity and size of the environment.

How much access is given to pen testers?

The access given to pentesters varies depending on the methodology of the pentest opted. In the case of black box pentesting, no access is given whereas with gray and white box pentesting, partial and complete access is given respectively.

This post is part of a series on penetration testing, you can also check out other articles below.

Chapter 1. What is Penetration Testing
Chapter 2. Different Types of Penetration Testing?
Chapter 3. Top 5 Penetration Testing Methodology to Follow in 2023
Chapter 4. Ten Best Penetration Testing Companies and Providers
Chapter 5. Best Penetration Testing Tools Pros Use – Top List
Chapter 6. A Super Easy Guide on Penetration Testing Compliance
Chapter 7. Average Penetration Testing Cost in 2023
Chapter 8. Penetration Testing Services – Top Rated
Chapter 9. Penetration Testing Report

Was this post helpful?

Jinson Varghese

Jinson Varghese Behanan is an Information Security Analyst at Astra. Passionate about Cybersecurity from a young age, Jinson completed his Bachelor's degree in Computer Security from Northumbria University. When he isn’t glued to a computer screen, he spends his time reading InfoSec materials, playing basketball, learning French and traveling. You can follow him on Medium or visit his Website for more stories about the various Security Audits he does and the crazy vulnerabilities he finds.
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Mick Bose
Mick Bose
1 year ago

Thorough, informative, and truly helpful post. Delivers what it promises in the title. Great work.

Sruti Chowdhury
Sruti Chowdhury
1 year ago

Does Penetration testing ensure PCI-DSS compliance?

Saumick Basu
1 year ago

It doesn’t. There are other procedures involved in the PCI-DSS compliance process than the pentest. Getting a pentest does improve your chances of nailing the PCI-DSS compliance audit for sure.

Kingshuk M
Kingshuk M
1 year ago

So, if I get a pentest today, how long will it be valid?

Saumick Basu
1 year ago
Reply to  Kingshuk M

Usually, we recommend quarterly Penetration Testing. However, any major update on your software within that time will invalidate the pentest report.

Niharika Sahoo
Niharika Sahoo
1 year ago

This was helpful. However, I was looking for more detailed coverage of the Vulnerability Assessment part.

Saumick Basu
1 year ago
Reply to  Niharika Sahoo

Thanks. We might actually have something for you. You’ll find a more detailed take on vulnerability assessment here.

Mark Laroque
Mark Laroque
1 year ago

How is this any different from ethical hacking?

Saumick Basu
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Laroque

Penetration testing is a focused procedure with a predefined scope. That means the security experts work under strict guidelines from the client organization and test only certain systems or certain areas of the business. Ethical hackers enjoy more freedom in terms of choosing the attack vectors as well as the techniques they apply. They usually take a broader approach to security testing where they employ every invasive and noninvasive tactic in their arsenal to try and exploit security loopholes.

Navin Sharma
Navin Sharma
1 year ago

Do you reckon that cyber security engineers will be replaced by AI?

Saumick Basu
1 year ago
Reply to  Navin Sharma

Not in the foreseeable future. While the use of machine learning augments the security testing processes like vulnerability assessment and pentesting, it cannot yet cover for human instinct in terms of finding security errors.

Ira S
Ira S
1 year ago

Is it possible to automate the entire process of pentest?

Saumick Basu
1 year ago
Reply to  Ira S

Well, it really depends on what exactly you mean by pentest, and what you want to get out of it. If you are looking at a vulnerability scan, which is often passed as an automated pentest, then sure, you can schedule the scans, automate it, even integrate the scanner with your CI/CD to perform continuous scanning for new updates. But there will be false positives, and the scanner will miss some vulnerabilities, including business logic errors. If you want to find all vulnerabilities, with zero false positives and detailed guidelines to fix the vulnerabilities, you will have to go for… Read more »

Psst! Hi there. We’re Astra.

We make security simple and hassle-free for thousands
of websites and businesses worldwide.

Our suite of security products include a vulnerability scanner, firewall, malware scanner and pentests to protect your site from the evil forces on the internet, even when you sleep.

earth spiders cards bugs spiders

Made with ❤️ in USA France India Germany