Security Audit

Website Penetration Testing- A Complete Guide

Updated on: July 3, 2022

Website Penetration Testing- A Complete Guide

Article Summary

Website Penetration Testing is a hacker-style simulated attack to test the security posture of an organization. Learn more regarding online pen testing.

Businesses have learned the hard way that vulnerabilities & security loopholes can cost them money and more. Statistics show that as many as 99.7% of businesses have at least one undiscovered vulnerability. These security issues are nothing but a ticking bomb waiting to blow up. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to cybersecurity. You have to identify and patch these security loopholes at the earliest to protect your website. Hence we talk about Web penetration testing in this article. 

Some common vulnerabilities such as SQL injection, Cross-site scripting (XSS), and Cross-site Request Forgery (CSRF) can easily be exploited by cybercriminals, through which they can steal sensitive data present on your website or even get complete control over your website. To avoid this, it is always good to take preventative measures such as having web pentest done for your website in order to identify and fix vulnerabilities before malicious actors take advantage of it.

So, let’s talk more about Website Penetration Testing sometimes referred to as a website security audit.

What is Website Penetration Testing or Pentesting?

Penetration Testing is a simulated hacker-style attack on an application aimed at gauging the gravity of the existing vulnerabilities. This is to say, Penetration Testing focuses more on how each of these vulnerabilities could be exploited as opposed to Vulnerability Assessment, which merely identifies and lists all existing vulnerabilities in your website.

For example, consider a thief trying to enter your house to rob you and you want to take security measures so that the thief won’t be able to enter your house. Here, vulnerability assessment is similar to making sure you have all your house windows and doors closed. And penetration testing is similar to checking the strength or any weaknesses of your windows or doors. So that even if a thief tries to enter they will not find any entry points to enter your house and you can have a peaceful sleep.

Basically, vulnerability assessment is an initial step in the whole process. Whereas, Online Website Security Testing or pentesting uses the findings (the list of vulnerabilities) and exploits them to work out the degree of risk attached to it. Vulnerability assessment can use both automated & manual scans. Whereas, penetration testing is generally a manual process done by experienced security engineers.

Also Read: SaaS Security Management- A Complete Guide To 6 Best Security Practices

Website Penetration Testing by Astra
Image: Vulnerability Assessment & Website Penetration Testing by Astra

While both Vulnerability Assessment & Penetration Testing concerns the same area, they are not quite the same. And have been wrongly used interchangeably in the past. This confusion has led to web owners asking for Vulnerability Assessment when they really need Penetration Testing and vice versa.

Now, I am sure, you can spot the differences between the above two.

Further in this article we will go deeper into penetration testing and take a closer look at the complete methodology involved in VAPT (tools + checklist).

Also Read- Pentest Related FAQs

Why Do You Need Website Penetration Testing?

It is crucial to identify your site’s security loopholes so that you are never caught off guard. VAPT lets you anticipate possible mishaps that could take place. This invariably contributes to better risk management for your website.

I have seen website owners often ask things like, “Mine is just a small website, do I need a Vulnerability Assessment & Penetration Testing?“.

The answer is yes. Research has it that nearly 60% of cyberattacks target small businesses. So, there’s a good chance of your website being targeted, if left untended.

In a nutshell, online penetration testing can help you in the following ways:

  • To identify and fix security flaws in your website.
  • It gives you a holistic view of misconfigured integrations implemented within a site.
  • Penetration testing emulates real-life attack scenarios and helps in mitigating risks.
  • It can help you in achieving certain compliance requirements such as GDPR, ISO 27001, PCI-DSS, HIPAA, and more.
  • It enables you to uncover potential vulnerabilities in your site.
  • It can save you from legal consequences and hefty penalties under data security policies.
  • It helps in preparing your security team to cope with a real-life cyber attack.

Methodology for Website Penetration Testing (Tools Included)

Web services pentest is done primarily in 3 phases:

  1. Information Gathering: In information gathering, the pentester tries to find fingerprints in the backend of the website. It usually includes Server OS, CMS version, etc.
  2. Discovery: The second step is where automatic tools are deployed to uncover any known security flaws or CVEs in the respective services.  Here, a manual security scan by engineers is also required in order to discover business logic vulnerabilities because these kinds of flaws are often missed by the scan made with automated tools.
  3. Exploitation: In the final step of exploitation, the goal is to leverage any vulnerabilities discovered in the second phase. This is often done manually to weed out false positives. The exploitation part is also used to exfiltrate information from the target and to maintain persistence.

Here is Astra’s Penetration testing pricing for you.

1. Information Gathering

The first phase is information gathering in which, the pentester tries to find fingerprint the backend services of the website i.e. Server OS, CMS version, etc.

Here is a list of tools you can use to use in the information gathering phase:

Network Mapper a.k.a. NMAP

Nmap has been the absolute favorite recon tool of website pentester for a long time and there is a solid reason for that. The abilities of Nmap are:

  • It can discover open ports on the server.
  • Fingerprinting the server OS.
  • Bypassing the firewall to scan the target stealthily.
  • Uncovering services running on those ports.
  • Its NSE scripts can automate tasks including certain vulnerabilities detection.

Related blog – Penetration testing Company

To see more options, fire your Kali in the command line terminal and type ‘nmap‘. Also, users can try Zenmap which is the GUI version of Nmap.

The Harvester

While tools like NMAP does a black box information gathering, there are certain tools like The Harvester which collect Open Source Intelligence (OSINT). OSINT is the information present in the public domain regarding your target i.e. Whois registration info, company emails, etc. This info comes in handy while online penetration testing. It is spread out on sites like Google, Whois, etc. So, the harvester compiles it from all sources and gives you a one-stop solution.

2. Discovery

The second step is Discovery in which automatic tools are deployed to uncover any known flaws or known CVEs in the respective services.

Nikto

Nikto is a tool specifically designed to scan vulnerabilities in around 270 types of servers. It can extensively search for 6700 server misconfiguration.

However, the limitation of Nikto is that it is very noisy and can often generate false positives. Moreover, the firewall evasion techniques of Nikto are very poor. However, when combined with another Inundator (to evade IDS) of Kali, it can be effective.

Therefore, before using Nikto for website penetration testing, make sure to turn off your firewall or IDS for better results.

To scan a target using Nikto, simply open the terminal in Kali and type: nikto -h 'your-target‘

Burp Suite

Burp Suite is a website pentesting framework built on java. It has a built-in proxy that intercepts traffic between your browser and the website pentesting target. This proxy can be then used to manipulate requests or for fuzzing to discover vulnerabilities in a website.

While manipulation of requests can help in finding vulnerabilities, fuzzing can uncover error messages and application behavior too. This tool has become almost an industry standard and is a must-have for website penetration testing.

Related blog – Web Application Security Testing

Open Vas

OpenVAS is a vulnerability scanner that can perform a complete vulnerability scan of the network infrastructure. It can be easily scaled as per your needs and can perform a wide variety of tests. This tool is owned by Greenbone and the paid solution is called Greenbone Security feed while the free one is called Greenbone Community feed. The prime difference between both the editions is the NVTs (Network Vulnerability Scanner test).

3. Exploitation

Metasploit

Metasploit framework is almost an industry standard when it comes to the exploitation of the target. Metasploit can also perform recon using Nmap. If you find any vulnerabilities, there are a plethora of exploits to choose from. Finally, pair your exploit with a suitable payload and you are good to go. Metasploit even has a great choice of post-exploitation tools. Metasploit is owned by Rapid 7 and is written in ruby. Almost all proof of concepts of popular zero-day flaws are updated as Metasploit modules.

To launch Metasploit, open the terminal in your Kali Linux and type: ‘msfconsole‘

SQLMAP

Sqlmap is a one-stop solution to find any SQL injection vulnerabilities on your website and exploit them. Sqlmap can fuzz the target parameters in the URL and even data fields on the page to find any SQL injection points. Sqlmap can thereafter exploit them to provide you a pseudo SQL shell or cmd shell from the target machine.

To see more options, open the terminal in your Kali and type: sqlmap -h

Xsser

Xsser is a small and lightweight tool to find and exploit XSS bugs during website penetration testing. XSS bugs are fairly common and there is a lot you can uncover with this small tool.

To run the GUI version, open the terminal in Kali and type: xsser –gtk

Reading Guide: Top 6 Web Pentest Tools

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

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How Penetration Testing Can Help You Achieve Compliance?

PCI-DSS

Today’s e-commerce sites often deal with sensitive user payment information in their daily operations. And to protect this sensitive customer data there should be a standard security practice on every website.

This is ensured by the Payment Card Industry which has almost all organizations dealing with debit and credit cards participating in securing payment data and transactions. Therefore, PCI Data Service Standards (DSS) is a set of 12 security protocols that every business dealing with credit card info has to comply with. These protocols were developed by the PCI security standard council. In case there is a failure to comply with these protocols, PCI may impose a fine or terminate the credit card processing privileges of that particular organization.

The following are 12 requirements to be PCI-DSS compliant are as follows:

Network and Systems Security

Requirement #1: Install and maintain a WAF to protect the data of cardholders.

Requirement #2: Default and hard-coded passwords provided by the vendor should not be used.

Data Protection

Requirement #3: Protect the data stored by the cardholder from cyber attacks.

Requirement #4: The transmission of cardholder data should be encrypted over open networks.

Regular Vulnerability Management

Requirement #5: Keep the antivirus solution updated and ensure proper mechanism against malware.

Requirement #6: Develop a secure application and maintain secure systems.

Proper Access Control Measures

Requirement #7: Restrict access to cardholder data by implementing role-based access control.

Requirement #8: Identify and authenticate access to system components.

Requirement #9: Set constraints to physical access to cardholder data.

Network Monitoring and Testing

Requirement #10: Regularly monitor all access to network resources and cardholder data

Requirement #11: Run frequent tests on all the security systems and processes.

Information Security Policy

Requirement #12: Implement a policy that covers all personnel for information security.

HIPAA

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a set of regulations designed to protect the privacy and security of patient health information. HIPAA compliance is mandatory for any organization that handles protected health information (PHI).

There are two main components to HIPAA compliance:

• the Privacy Rule, which sets standards for how PHI can be used and disclosed; and

• the Security Rule, which establishes safeguards to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of PHI.

To comply with the Privacy Rule, businesses must develop policies and procedures for handling PHI.

Some of the requirements for HIPAA compliance include:

• Developing policies and procedures for handling PHI

• Training employees on how to handle PHI

• Restricting access to PHI to only those who need it

• Securing physical, electronic, and technical safeguards to protect PHI

SOC II

SOC-II compliance is a set of standards that businesses must meet in order to ensure the security and confidentiality of customer data. SOC-II compliance is required by many organizations, such as banks and healthcare providers.

There are four main components to SOC-II compliance:

• the Security principle, which requires businesses to have controls in place to protect customer data from unauthorized access;

• the Availability principle, which requires businesses to have controls in place to ensure customer data is always available when needed;

• the Processing Integrity principle, which requires businesses to have controls in place to prevent unauthorized changes to customer data; and

• the Confidentiality principle, requires businesses to have controls in place to protect customer data from being disclosed to unauthorized individuals.

To comply with SOC-II standards, businesses must develop policies and procedures for handling customer data. They must also train employees on how to handle customer data and implement physical, electronic, and technical safeguards to protect it.

ISO 27001

ISO 27001 compliance is a set of standards that businesses must meet in order to ensure the security of their information. ISO 27001 compliance is required by many organizations, such as banks and healthcare providers.

The main requirements for ISO 27001 compliance are:

• Developing and implementing an information security management system (ISMS)

• Identifying and assessing risks to the security of information

• Implementing controls to mitigate those risks

• Monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of the ISMS on a regular basis

To comply with ISO 27001 standards, businesses must develop and implement an ISMS. They must also identify and assess risks to the security of information, implement controls to mitigate those risks and monitor and review the effectiveness of the ISMS on a regular basis.

Regular website penetration testing helps you ensure that your organization nails the audits for the said compliances.

Website Penetration Testing Checklist

Information Gathering

  • Port Scanning
  • Web Server, CMS Version, and OS fingerprinting.
  • HTTP Methods
  • Cookie Attributes

Discovery

  • Finding alternative content i.e. directory/files brute force.
  • Finding default configurations or misconfigurations.
  • Login Fuzzing.
  • Testing Session Tokens.
  • Injections: SQL, XSS, XML, Template, OS Command.
  • Open Redirection.
  • LFI & RFI attacks.
  • Business Logic Flaws.
  • Denial of Service.
  • Testing REST and SOAP web services.

Encryption Flaws

  • Heartbleed
  • Poodle
  • HTTPS strip
  • Oracle Padding Attack
  • Weak Cryptography or Poor implementation

Exploitation:

  • Browser hijacking using XSS.
  • Data Exfiltration using various injections.
  • Authentication Bypass.
  • Offline password cracking.
  • Cross-Site Request Forgery.

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

With our detailed and specially curated SaaS security checklist.

Final Thoughts on Website Pen Testing

The crux of this article is that website penetration testing is important for everyone operating online, be its small blogs or large corporations. Moreover, there are plenty of tools available freely to conduct online penetration testing.

The three steps of the web pen test (Information gathering, discovery & exploitation) will guide and organize the whole process. So get started today and audit the security of your website.

Related blog – Detailed Sample Penetration Testing Report

However, if you feel that you are new to this field or find this task cumbersome, worry not Astra is always there to help you. Our community of experienced security experts will pentest your website and report any vulnerabilities in a detailed and easy-to-understand manner. They will also provide you with the fixation steps and even promise to help you or your developer in patching it.

Want to know more or have a quick question? Talk with our engineers!

We are always online! 😊

Website Penetration Testing Infographic

FAQs

How much does website penetration testing cost?

Website penetration testing costs between $349 and $1499 per scan depending on the number of scans and the plan you are on. Check out Astra’s pricing.

What is the timeline for Website Penetration Testing?

The timeline for website Pentesting is 7-10 days. You start seeing the vulnerabilities from the 3rd day on your dashboard. The timeline may differ a little depending upon the scope of the test.

Why choose Astra Pentest?

1250+ tests, adherence to global security standards, an intuitive dashboard with dynamic visualization of vulnerabilities and their severity, security audit with simultaneous remediation assistance, and multiple rescans, are the features that give Astra an edge over all competitors. Check Astra’s Pentest features here.

Mine is just a small website, do I need a Vulnerability Assessment & Website Penetration Testing?

Yes. Research has it that nearly 60% of cyberattacks target small businesses. So, there’s a good chance of your website being targeted, if left untended.

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Ananda Krishna

Ananda Krishna is the co-founder & CTO of Astra Security, a SaaS suite that secures businesses from cyber threats. He has been acknowledged by the Indian Navy, Microsoft, United Airlines, etc. for finding critical security vulnerabilities in their systems. Winner of the Best Security Product at Global Conference on Cyberspace 2017 (awarded by Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India) & French Tech Ticket, Paris (awarded by François Hollande, former President of France). At Astra he's building an intelligent security ecosystem - web application firewall (WAF), malware detection & analysis, large scale SaaS applications, APIs & more. He's actively involved in the cybersecurity community and shared his knowledge at various forums & invited talks.
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8 Comments
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Amit Pramar
2 years ago

Thanks for explaining the things. There are many-things which clears my doubt regarding penetration testing.

Naman Rastogi
2 years ago
Reply to  Amit Pramar

Thank you, Amit

Cyril
Cyril
1 year ago

This is really a nice and informative article.

Amrutha V Kumar
Amrutha V Kumar
8 months ago

wonderful writeup in a common man language. Thnak you for not bombing jargons!

Aisley
Aisley
1 month ago

Are website penetration testing and online pentesting the same?

Nivedita James
Editor
Nivedita James
1 month ago
Reply to  Aisley

Hey Aisley, website penetration testing and online penetration testing are interchangeable terms referring to the penetration testing done to find vulnerabilities within a website before any harm or breach occurs, hope this helps you.

Jessica
Jessica
1 month ago

Why should we use online pentesting platforms?

Nivedita James
Editor
Nivedita James
26 days ago
Reply to  Jessica

Hey Jessica, opting for online penetration testing platforms helps ensure the security of a system through the identification of vulnerabilities and their subsequent exploitation to understand the extent of possible damage. This can help in placing appropriate security patches to ensure that the system stays safe from any malicious attacks.

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.

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