Security Audit

A Comprehensive Guide to Web Application Penetration Testing

Updated on: June 27, 2022

A Comprehensive Guide to Web Application Penetration Testing

In this digital age when everything is being done online, web applications have become an integral part of all businesses. Since today’s web applications usually store or send out sensitive data, they attract malicious hackers and script kiddies, at an unprecedented level, to find and exploit vulnerabilities in them for their personal gain or just to have fun. This makes web application security a major concern for CTOs.

To secure your web application, security testing is the best way to identify security loopholes and misconfiguration flaws in your application before malicious hackers do. This is achieved by simulating attacks in order to find the potential vulnerabilities in your application, the process is known as web app pen test.

What is a Web Application Pentest?

Web application Pentest refers to the process of staging a hacker-style attack on your web app to detect and analyze security vulnerabilities that an attacker could exploit. The entire process of web app pentest is focused on helping you get a better understanding of your web app’s security posture – its strength and resilience against cyberattacks.

The usual process of a web app pentest involves a vulnerability scanner which is used to probe and detect loopholes in your security such as misconfiguration, unpatched software, SQLi, cross-site scripting, etc. Then manual pentesters enter your system to a) confirm the authenticity of the vulnerabilities found by the scanner and b) look for more complicated vulnerabilities like business logic errors, and payment gateway errors.

Once the testing and exploiting are done the pentesters prepare a pentest report containing the details of all the tests performed, vulnerabilities found, information about their severity, and probable solutions.

Why Is Web Application Pentest Important?

Web application penetration testing or web services pentest is essential as it helps in determining the security posture of the entire web application including the database, back-end network, etc. Moreover, it suggests ways to strengthen it. Here is the list of some common objectives for performing web applications penetration testing:

  • Identify security loopholes in web applications
  • Verify the effectiveness of the existing security policies and controls
  • Ensuring compliance such as PCI DSS, HIPAA, etc
  • Check configuration and strength of components exposed to the public including firewalls.
Importance of penetration testing
Image: Importance of Penetration Testing

What are the different types of Web Application Pentesting?

You can either conduct internal or external penetration testing or both depending on your business requirements.

1) External Penetration Testing

External Pentesting involves simulating attacks on the live website/web application. This kind of penetration testing runs on the Black Box testing methodology. 

During this, the pentester only gets the list of the organization’s IPs and domains and using just IP & domains the pentester tries to compromise the target just like the real-world behavior of malicious hackers. 

This kind of testing provides a comprehensive view of the effectiveness of your application’s security controls that are publicly exposed since it includes testing servers, firewalls, and IDS.

Also Read: Website Penetration Testing- A Complete Guide

2) Internal Pentesting

Sometimes the organization overlooks the need to pentest the web application internally. They feel that no one can attack from inside an organization.  However, this isn’t the case anymore. After the external breach, internal penetration testing is done on a web application to identify and track the lateral movement of the hacker from the inside.

Internal Pentesting is done for a web app that is hosted on the intranet. Thus, it helps in preventing attacks due to the exploitation of vulnerabilities existing within the corporate firewall.

Make your Website / Web Application the safest place on the Internet.

With our detailed and specially curated SaaS security checklist.

How to Perform a Web Application Pentest?

There are four ideal phases in which web application pentesting can be performed:

Phases of web application penetration testing
Image: Phases of Web Application Penetration Testing

1) Planning Phase

During the planning phase, a number of important decisions are made that directly impact other phases of penetration testing. It includes defining the scope, timeline, and people involved among other things.

Most importantly during defining the scope of the security assessment, there are various things that are considered before going to the next phase of testing. These may include application pages that need to be tested, deciding whether to perform internal or external testing, or both, to name a few.

It is also crucial to define the timeline for the whole process. This ensures that the assessment doesn’t drag out and timely security controls can be put into play to strengthen the defense for your application.

2) Pre-Attack Phase

In this phase, the reconnaissance is done which is important for paving the way for the next phase of testing. Especially, it includes looking for Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), or any other information available publicly that can be used against you.

We can perform port scanning, service identification, vulnerability assessment, etc in this phase of testing. To accomplish this you can use tools such as Nmap, Shodan, Google Dorks, dnsdumpster, etc.

As we all know, due to the growing adoption of social media among the organization’s employees, hackers can easily fool employees and extract or guess passwords they use for their social media, threat actors do this by carrying out social engineering attacks to target those organizations that have weak internal security posture implemented.

3) Attack Phase

During the attack phase, the pentester tries to exploit the vulnerabilities found in the last phase. They try to go one step further by identifying and mapping the attack vectors. 

In an attack phase, the pentester gets into a web application’s internal structure and tries to compromise the host. 

This may involve social engineering attacks, physical security breaching, web application exploits, phishing employees or CXOs of an organization, etc. 

4) Post-Attack Phase

After the penetration testing is complete, a full detailed report is generated. This report can vary from organization to organization or the type of application that is pen-tested. 

But generally, the penetration testing report includes a list of vulnerabilities, an analysis of the finding, proposed remediations, and a conclusion. Apart from that, the pentester is also responsible for restoring the systems and network configurations to their original states in the post-attack phase.

Which are the Top Tools used for Web Application Pentest?

You can perform web application penetration testing either manually or automated or both. Automated pentesting helps in bringing up speed, and efficiency increases coverage, and several other benefits. On the other hand, manual pentesting helps in finding the vulnerabilities related to Business Logic. It helps in removing false positives generated from the automated scanning. Therefore, it is always good to perform both of them to bring out the best of both worlds. You can use tools like:

  • Astra Security Scan
  • Acunetix
  • HackerOne
  • Burp Suite
  • Browser’s Developer Tools
  • NMap
  • Zenmap
  • ReconDog
  • Nikto

Related Read: Top 6 Web Pentest Tools

Astra’s Pentest for Web Application Pentest

The dashboard

Astra’s Pentest comes with an interactive penetration testing dashboard that allows you to monitor vulnerabilities as they are found, view analytical data on them, communicate with Astra’s security experts, and assign vulnerabilities to your team of developers.

The integrations

However, you can bypass the dashboard altogether by using the various integrations offered by Astra’s pentest tool. You can integrate it with Slack and Jira, so as to make communication regarding the pentest results and remediation simpler. You can use the CI/CD integration feature to automate vulnerability scans whenever new code is pushed into your web app. This feature is called continuous scanning, and you can well imagine the benefits.

Manual web application penetration testing

Now, if we talk about manual web app pentesting, Astra security’s team of pentesters is having an incredible run across industries. They bring the right amount of domain knowledge combined with technical acumen to conduct a thorough, foolproof penetration test. The manual pentesters ensure that there are zero false positives. They create video PoCs to help your developers reproduce and fix the vulnerabilities.

Once your web app is scanned, tested, fixed, and rescanned, you get a publicly verifiable certificate. This certification holds credence across the world and it will help you attract more customers.

Pentest compliance

Almost forgot to mention Astra’s pentest compliance feature. It is common knowledge that compliance is granted after an audit by vendors or people authorized by the regulatory body. With the pentest compliance feature, you can monitor the status of your compliance mission while a vulnerability scan takes place.

Suppose, you need to comply with the regulations of ‘A’ and according to the regulations your organization cannot have the issues ‘B’, ‘C’, and ‘D’ in order to comply. Now, if the issue ‘D’ is found in your systems during a vulnerability scan with Astra’s Pentest tool, the compliance feature will show you that you are missing compliance with ‘A’ because of the issue ‘D’.

Wrapping Up

Web application penetration testing plays an essential role in the Secure Software Development Lifecycle (SSDLC), helping in developing a secure and flaws-free web application. It ensures that the end-users are safe from cyber attacks like data theft and exposure of sensitive information. 

It is one small security loophole v/s your entire website or web application

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It is always best to perform a comprehensive vulnerability assessment and penetration testing (VAPT) for your web application before or after pushing it into production in order to identify the direct threats to your website/web application and ultimately to your business. Additionally, doing the VAPT scans for your web application on regular basis is a best practice to protect it from emerging cyber threats and possible zero-day exploits and attacks. 

Web application pentest- FAQs

1. What is the timeline for web app pentesting?

Web app penetration testing takes between 7-10 days. The vulnerabilities start showing up in Astra’s pentest dashboard from the 3rd day so that you can get a head start with the remediation. The timeline may vary with the pentest scope.

2. How much does web application pentest cost?

It costs $700 to $4999 per scan to perform web application penetration testing depending on your choice of plan.

3. Why trust Astra for web app pentesting?

With 1250+ tests according to global security standards Astra ensures that all security loopholes are identified. The VAPT dashboard offers dynamic visualization of the impact and severity of threats. It helps you prioritize the remediation. Astra assists you in fixing the vulnerabilities and certifies your web app.

4. Do I also get rescans after a vulnerability is fixed?

Yes, you get 2-3 rescans depending on the plan you are on. You can use the rescans within a period of 30 days from initial scan completion even after a vulnerability is fixed.

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Kanishk Tagade

Kanishk Tagade is a B2B SaaS marketer. He is also corporate contributor at many technology magazines. Editor-in-Chief at "QuickCyber.news", his work is published in more than 50+ news platforms. Also, he is a social micro-influencer for the latest cybersecurity, digital transformation, AI/ML and IoT products.
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Sean Peapell
Sean Peapell
4 months ago

Very well written article that covers everything both newbies and advanced users could possibly need to know about web application penetration testing. This could come in handy for those wishing to learn in order to pursue a career in penetration testing.

Jack
Jack
1 month ago

What is the difference between normal pen test and web application pen test?

Nivedita James
Editor
Nivedita James
1 month ago
Reply to  Jack

Pentesting is an umbrella term for all kinds of hacker-style penetration tests done on mobile applications, APIs, cloud infrastructure, and network systems to find vulnerabilities. When such a pentest is conducted on a website or a web application, it comes to be termed as a web application pentest. Hope this cleared up your doubt.

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