Network Penetration testing is the process of exploiting one’s system from within to flag the weaknesses present in the system. The purpose here is to protect the system from a cybercriminal who already has access to it.
Internal pen-testing is done by a team of security experts who have access to the network from the start. They act out an attack from someone on the inside to see how bad the systemic bugs are as it wants to find security holes before an attacker closes them up. Also, the best thing about an internal pentest is that it gives you a regular way to keep an eye on your system.
Protecting vital internal systems solely from the outside is unrealistic and if the internal network is not well protected, an insider can quickly gain administrative access once they have access.
As a result, preventing malevolent users from gaining unauthorized access to protected data requires regularly checking the strength of network defenses using internal penetration testing tools and methodologies.
When an organization is attacked from within, the effects are much more devastating and can go unnoticed for much longer. By doing an internal pen test, you can find out what assets of the organization are most susceptible to attack, see what would happen if those vulnerabilities are subject to exploitation, and get clear recommendations for how to fix the problems. Unless you are a service provider, in which case you must perform internal penetration tests every six months, PCI DSS mandates that you perform annual network penetration tests and network segmentation testing.
A pen test and an actual attack are almost identical. A hacker gains access to the systems and makes an effort to either reach a specific target or gain control of as many assets as they can. The greater the authenticity—or how closely it resembles the techniques of an actual malicious hack—the more profound the insights it can offer. Hence, for the hacking to be successful, it must be as realistic as possible.
Before you start, however, it is crucial to establish ground rules and expectations because ethical hacking is still hacking.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)'s publication SP 800-115: Technical Guide to Information Security Testing and Assessment outlines recommended practices for all pen tests.
NIST recommends four steps for pen testing:
A constant feedback loop exists between the second and third levels. Attacking permits discovery, which encourages additional research, which in turn encourages and diversifies additional attacks. Yet, these procedures are adaptable and serve more as guides than as rules.
Stage I: Planning
This is the stage at which all legal and regulatory expectations are established. During the initial phase, the organization and the contracted hacker agree on rules and parameters such as:
This is where the exact specifications of baseline information and starting positions are established for internal pen tests. The organization may give the hacker a general idea of the types of vulnerabilities it is most interested in analyzing. In addition, the hacker may indicate a specific attack strategy. Alternatively, both parties may prefer to disclose less information at the outset to maximize potential discovery.
Stage II: Discovery
This stage is all about analyzing your defenses. The attacker will exploit discovered weaknesses using the information provided. The following is actionable information:
After gathering information, the attacker will analyze it to identify active and potential vulnerabilities. To that end, they will make use of resources such as the National Vulnerability Database (NVD) and proprietary tools.
This stage is more robust with external tests because the hacker is attempting to gather as much information as possible. Internal testing starts with a foundation of information. However, the hacker may still conduct additional discovery to fill in any gaps or uncover additional vulnerabilities that go beyond what was initially provided.
Stage III: Attack
This is the main focus and purpose of a pen test. The hacker conducts the actual attack on your systems before attempting to gain access and seize control. They are documenting the entire process from start to finish.
This stage of an external pen test is all about breaking into your systems. To accomplish this, the hacker will proceed systematically through the list of vulnerabilities generated during the discovery phase. This is a trial-and-error process, and the hacker will keep track of the success of each exploit:
Alternatively, even after a successful attempt, the hacker may try another exploit.
This stage of an internal pen test is about gaining complete control of all systems or meeting another predetermined goal as quickly as possible. Similarly, the hacker will proceed through the list of internal security vulnerabilities. Depending on the specifications negotiated, the analysis may concentrate on factors such as:
In any type of pen testing, a hacker may also install backdoor measures to facilitate future attacks.
Stage IV: Reporting
The reporting phase is the pen test's conclusion. Depending on the terms agreed upon by the hacker and the organization, it may include a combination of the following:
Common methodologies for internal network penetration testing are as follows:
It is believed that 47% of the time, the cybercriminal is someone inside the company. An internal penetration test finds out what an attacker could do if they were able to get into the system in the first place. An internal network pen test can show threats from the inside, like employees who do something bad on purpose or by accident.