The 5 Penetration Testing Phases

An audit or penetration test (pentesting) consists of offensive tests against the existing defense mechanisms in the environment being analyzed. These tests range from exploring the victim’s devices to studying the human factor using social engineering. But…

Why Is It Essential to Perform a Penetration Test?

There are many cases where organizations suffer incidents that could have been avoided if the protection mechanisms had been reinforced at the time. Incidents include events such as information leakage, unauthorized access, or data loss, among many others. The analysis of the protection mechanisms must be a proactive task allowing the pentester (person who carries out the audit) to find their vulnerabilities and provide a solution before a cybercriminal takes advantage of this weakness.

These processes let companies save the money and time required to solve future problems due to application vulnerabilities.

Penetration test graphical representation

Pentest Steps Process

The Penetration Testing Process begins long before a simulated attack. This will allow ethical hackers to study the system, explore its strengths and weaknesses, and identify the right strategies and tools to break into the system. The penetration testing process typically goes through five phases: Planning and reconnaissance, scanning, gaining system access, persistent access, and the final analysis/report.

Steps to Run a Penetration Testing

Phase 1: Planning and Reconnaissance

The first penetration step involves planning to simulate a malicious attack – the attack is designed in a way that helps to gather as much information on the system as possible.

This is possibly one of the most time-consuming stages as ethical hackers inspect the system, note the vulnerabilities, and how the organization’s tech stack reacts to system breaches. The information searched ranges from names and email addresses of the company’s employees to network topology, IP addresses, among others. It should be noted that the type of information or the depth of the investigation will depend on the objectives set for the audit. Some gathering methodologies include social engineering, dumpster diving, network scanning, and domain registration information retrieval.

Phase 2: Scanning

Based on the finding of the planning phase, penetration testers use scanning tools to explore the system and network weaknesses. This pentest phase identifies the system weaknesses that are potentially exploited for targeted attacks. It is essential to obtain all this information correctly, as it will define the success of the following phases. 

Phase 3:Gaining System Access

Having understood the system’s vulnerabilities, pen testers then infiltrate the infrastructure by exploiting security weaknesses. Next, they attempt to exploit the system further by escalating privileges to demonstrate how deep into the target environments they can go.

Phase 4: Persistent Access

This pentest step identifies the potential impact of a vulnerability exploit by leveraging access privileges. Once they have a foothold in a system, penetration testers should maintain access and hold the simulated attack long enough to accomplish and replicate malicious hackers’ goals. Therefore, in this pentest phase, we try to obtain the maximum level of privileges, network information, and access to as many systems as possible by identifying which data and/or services are available to us.

This is the phase in which we have to demonstrate what this security breach could mean for the customer. Gaining access to an old computer that is not even part of the domain is not the same as gaining direct access to passwords or compromised data.

Phase 5: Analysis and Reporting

This is the result of a penetration test. As part of the last stage, the security team prepares a detailed report describing the entire penetration testing process. Some information or detail that should appear are:

  • The seriousness of the risks emanating from the vulnerabilities discovered
  • The tools that can successfully penetrate the system
  • Highlighting those points where security had been implemented correctly 
  • Those vulnerabilities that need to be corrected and how to prevent future attacks (remediation recommendations)

This phase is possibly the most important for both parties. As this report is likely to be read by both IT staff and non-technical managers, it is advisable to separate the report into a general explanation part and a more technical aspect, i.e., the executive report and the technical report.

5 Penetration Testing Phases Video Explanation

5 phases of penetration testing explained in a video


Finally, it is crucial to take the necessary precautions to avoid suffering attacks and incidents in the future. This is mainly because there has been an exponential increase in attacks in recent years, and that doesn’t seem to stop soon (2020 has been considered a New Record in a Year for cyber-attacks).

Companies are the number one target of cyber attackers because of the valuable information that can be extracted. Sometimes they may even demand a ransom for the info.

Likewise, security must be managed to contemplate the need to run pentest regularly. For this reason, Crashtest Security has developed software that allows you to automate the pentest efficiently with a user-friendly interface and reports and scans scheduled by your necessities.

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