OWASP Penetration Testing: The Essential Guide

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Penetration testing is a method of assessing the security of an application, network, or system. It's also called "ethical hacking," and it can be used to improve existing policies, procedures, and controls. Penetration testers are not there to cause damage but instead look for vulnerabilities in systems that could be exploited by malicious hackers.

This post will provide an introduction to OWASP penetration testing so you know how it works, what tools are involved and why ethical hacking is essential when assessing your company's data security.

What is OWASP Penetration Testing?

OWASP is an acronym for Open Web Application Security Project. This organization's goal is to improve security across the world, and they do this by providing tools, processes, and documentation within the industry.

Penetration testing (aka ethical hacking) encompasses all efforts made to find vulnerabilities in a system or application software that can be exploited through malicious means. The tester will use various methods of penetration to access information that should otherwise not be available; however, these are performed under authorized terms with permission from an individual who has authority over the system/application being tested.

Penetration testers typically work on behalf of companies wanting assurance about their existing defenses against online attacks as well as those trying to meet compliance requirements such as PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard).

OWASP penetration testing is done to test any application defenses against the OWASP Top 10 vulnerabilities or risks.

The OWASP Top 10 (2021) include:

  1. Broken Access Control
  2. Cryptographic Failures
  3. Injection
  4. Insecure Design
  5. Security Misconfiguration
  6. Vulnerable and Outdated Components
  7. Identification and Authentication Failures
  8. Software and Data Integrity Failures
  9. Security Logging and Monitoring Failures
  10. Server-Side Request Forgery

When penetration testing is carried out, it must be done with the correct tools. These are used during the process of assessing how to secure applications or systems are against potential threats and usually require little user intervention once they're configured effectively for use.

The Method of OWASP Penetration Testing

OWASP pen-testing follows a method that includes the following steps:

  • Reconnaissance - This involves using tools to identify hosts, open ports, and running services on these devices. These are then categorized into servers or other types of systems that may be accessible by hackers over the internet if not properly protected with security controls such as firewalls. Reconnaissance is also known as footprint analysis.
  • Scanning - Scanners provide further information about potential vulnerabilities in specific host machines including operating system versions, server roles where applicable, and installed applications or software packages (i.e., web servers). Vulnerability scanners can be used at this stage for checking whether patches have been applied and identifying weaknesses within any default configurations particularly those related to poorly written code/applications.
  • Exploitation - This is when vulnerabilities are tested against the vulnerability scanner results to see if there's a match. If there is, it means that hackers can potentially exploit these bugs or weaknesses to access information on the device/system without permission. Alternatively, they could cause the host machine to crash which would also be considered exploitation for purposes of penetration testing.
  • Post-Exploitation - At this stage, testers will use post-exploit tools and techniques such as privilege escalation, creating backdoors, and planting rootkits (tools used by attackers once inside a system) so they have ongoing access beyond one attack session. Privilege Escalation occurs when someone gains unauthorized administrative privileges after compromising lower-level user accounts during an IT security attack.
  • Report Preparation - After testing has been completed, it's necessary to write detailed reports containing all relevant information about any discovered weaknesses or vulnerabilities including recommendations for fixing them in the shortest time possible before hackers can exploit these bugs/weaknesses against your device(s). The report must be presented with good visual representations of findings but should also include recommended solutions so others can more easily follow these steps to reduce risk.

Tools Used in the Process of OWASP penetration testing

The following are the top OWASP penetration testing tools:

  • Zed Attack Proxy (ZAP) - This is a web application security testing that's used to find vulnerabilities either in your web applications or third-party ones. It uses an intuitive GUI with some nice features including an intercepting proxy for manipulating requests and responses as well as being able to launch automated attacks against URLs entered into its dashboard.
  • Metasploit - Metasploit contains more than 500 exploits so it can be used by anyone wanting to carry out extensive hacking activities whether they're legitimate pen-testers performing ethical hacks, IT professionals doing vulnerability assessments on systems/devices within their environment, hackers trying to infiltrate client networks or even just curious individuals wanting to learn more about cyber security.
  • Wireshark - This is an extremely popular network protocol analyzer tool that can be used for analyzing the data of individual packets to identify potential issues, analyze captured traffic and prevent any unauthorized activity on your networks/systems when running through wireless or wired infrastructure.
  • Burp Suite - Burp Suite contains various tools which are designed specifically for carrying out penetration testing including web scanners (for finding vulnerabilities),
  • Astra Pentest - A very powerful automated testing tool (used for vulnerability scanning). The Astra Pentest allows you to run more than 2500 tests.
  • Kali Linux - This is an open-source penetration testing distro created by Offensive Security based on Debian and it's widely used as a hacking/pen-testing OS across the world. It includes around 600+ pre-installed tools so you can use these from word go to carry out your security assessments without having to install any other software packages etc.
  • OWASP Zed Attack Proxy (ZAP) - As mentioned above, ZAP is a web application security scanner that’s used to find vulnerabilities either in your web applications or third-party ones. It uses an intuitive GUI with some nice features including an intercepting proxy for manipulating requests and responses as well as being able to launch automated attacks against URLs entered into its dashboard.

Conclusion: OWASP penetration testing is an important area of cybersecurity that should be considered for every business. The importance of this type of cyber security can't be overstated, so it's worth taking the time to understand what OWASP penetration tests are and how they work.

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