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Top 5 Penetration Testing Methodologies and Standards

Penetration testing can deliver widely different results depending on which standards and methodologies they leverage. New and updated penetration testing standards provide an excellent, structured guide and methodology for companies and individuals who need to secure their systems, eliminate configuration mistakes and fix their cyber security vulnerabilities.

Here are five penetration testing methodologies and standards that will guarantee a return on your investment:

OSSTMM

The OSSTMM framework is one of the most recognised standards in the industry. The OSSTMM provides a scientific methodology for network penetration testing and vulnerability assessment and is the basis for most Penetration Tests at Hedgehog. The framework is a comprehensive guide for penetration testers that enables them to identify vulnerabilities within the components of a network from various potential angles of attack. The OSSTMM relies on the tester’s in-depth knowledge and experience to interpret vulnerabilities and assess their potential impact on the network.

Unlike most security manuals, the OSSTMM framework supports network development teams. Developers and IT teams may base their firewalls and networks on this manual and its guidelines. While the OSSTMM does not advocate for a particular network protocol or software, it highlights best practices and the steps to ensure the security and integrity of systems and networks.

The Open Source Security Testing Methodology Manual allows testers to customise their assessment to fit your company’s specific needs or the technological context. With this standard, you will obtain an accurate overview of your network’s Cyber Security and reliable solutions adapted to your technical context to help your stakeholders make the right decisions to secure your networks.

OWASP

For all application security matters, the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) is the most recognised standard in the industry. This methodology, powered by a well-versed community that stays on top of the latest technologies, has helped countless organisations curb application vulnerabilities.

The OWASP testing guide provides a methodology for web application penetration testing that can identify vulnerabilities commonly found within the web and mobile applications and complicated logic flaws that stem from unsafe development practices. The testing guide is regularly updated (Version 5 as of 2022) and provides comprehensive guidelines for each penetration testing method. There are over 66 controls within the guide, enabling pentesters to identify vulnerabilities, weaknesses and misconfigurations within modern applications and APIs.

With the OWASP testing guide, organisations and businesses can ensure the security of their web and mobile applications from common mistakes. Those mistakes can have a potentially crippling impact on a business. Organisations looking to develop new web and mobile applications should also consider incorporating these standards to avoid introducing common security flaws during their development phase.

It would help your Cyber Security journey if you used the OWASP standard during an application security assessment to ensure no vulnerabilities exist. Your organisation obtains realistic recommendations adapted to your applications’ specific features and technologies.

NIST

NIST offers specific guidelines for penetration testers that we have used to provide a solid backbone to our penetration testing methodology. The National Institute of Standards and Technology offers many manuals best suited to improve an organisation’s overall Cyber Security. The most recent version, 1.1, emphasises Critical Infrastructure Cyber Security. Using the NIST framework has become a regulatory requirement for various providers and business partners worldwide.

With the NIST framework setting its sight on guaranteeing information security in different industries, including telecommunications, banking, finance, and many national critical infrastructure systems, it is obvious why this is such an essential framework. Large and small businesses can tailor the standard to meet their specific needs.

To meet NIST’s standards, companies must perform annual (or more frequent) penetration tests on their applications and networks following the pre-established set of guidelines. The NIST security standard ensures that companies fulfil their cyber security control and assessment obligations, mitigating the risks of a cyberattack in every way possible.

Stakeholders from different sectors collaborate to popularise the Cybersecurity Framework and encourage firms to implement it. NIST significantly contributes to cybersecurity innovation in many global industries with exceptional standards and technology.

PTES

The Penetration Testing Methodologies and Standards framework started as a collaborative project between many penetration testers. The PTES highlights the most recommended approach to structure a penetration test. This standard guides penetration testers on various steps of a penetration test, including initial communication, gathering information, and the threat modelling phases.

By using the Penetration Testing Execute Standard, testers must familiarise themselves with the organisation and technological worlds of the client as much as possible before they focus on exploiting the potentially vulnerable areas. Doing this allows the tester to identify the most advanced scenarios of attacks. The pentesters are also provided with guidelines to perform post-exploitation testing where appropriate, allowing them to validate the status of previously identified vulnerabilities. The seven phases in this standard guarantee a successful penetration test that will provide practical recommendations in an easily understood report that the management team can rely on to make their decisions.

ISSAF

The Information System Security Assessment Framework contains an even more structured and specialised approach to penetration testing than the previous standard. If your organisation’s unique situation requires an advanced methodology entirely personalised to its context, this manual should prove helpful for the specialists in charge of your penetration test.

The ISSAF enables a pentester to meticulously plan and document every step of the penetration testing process, from the planning and assessment to reporting and the final destroying artefacts. This standard caters for all stages of the process. Pentesters who use different tools find ISSAF especially crucial as they can tie each step to a particular tool.

The more detailed assessment section of the framework governs a considerable part of the procedure. For every vulnerable area of your system, the ISSAF offers complementary information, various vectors of attack, and possible exploitation results. In some instances, pentesters may additionally find detailed information on the tools that criminals use. This information is beneficial in the planning and execution of the penetration test, particularly in more advanced attack scenarios, which guarantees a great return on investment for a company looking to secure its systems from cyber attacks.

In conclusion

As threats and hacking technologies continue to evolve in various industries, companies need to improve their cybersecurity testing approach to stay up to date with the latest technologies and potential attack scenarios. Installing and implementing up-to-date cybersecurity frameworks is one step in that direction. These penetration testing standards and methodologies provide an excellent benchmark to assess your Cyber Security and offer recommendations adapted to your specific context to keep you protected from hackers.