A Guide to Web Application Penetration Testing Service Methodology in 2022

Web application security is a key component of any web-based business. The global nature of the internet exposes the web applications to attacks from different locations at varying scales and levels of complexity. Failure to protect against such dangers can harm an organization’s reputation, the only way out is to put in place strong web application penetration testing measures. To guarantee that these threats are mitigated and breaches are avoided, enterprises must make sure to engage the best-in-class web application penetration testing service team.

The increased adoption of digital technologies among companies and individuals has led to the widespread adoption of web applications in place of the traditional models to cloud-based and grid models. Web applications allow businesses to improve their operations, make online purchases more convenient, and provide greater access to information for individuals, all while functioning across different platforms and reaching a wider audience independent of location or server. Thus to protect the web applications, it is vital to leverage secure web application penetration testing practices and implement security safeguards at every stage of the software development process (SDLC).

Web application penetration testing service utilizes a risk-based approach to manually identify critical application-centric security flaws in all in-scope applications. Web app pen testing combines the results of top scanning technologies with manual testing to enumerate and confirm vulnerabilities, configuration issues, and business logic defects, as well as in-depth manual application testing to identify what scanners frequently miss.

Comprehensive web application pen testing covers the classes of vulnerabilities outlined in the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) such as:

  •       Broken Authentication
  •       Injection
  •       Sensitive Data Exposure
  •       XML External Entities (XXE)
  •       Broken Access Control
  •       Security Misconfiguration
  •       Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)
  •       Insecure Deserialization
  •       Using Components with Known Vulnerabilities
  •       Insufficient Logging & Monitoring

Web Application Penetration Testing Stages

The steps and methodologies used in Pen testing can be broken down into five stages.

1. Information Gathering

  • Use discovery tools to passively uncover information about the application
  • Identify entry points into the application, such as the administration portals or backdoors
  • Perform application fingerprinting to identify the underlying development language and components
  • Send fuzzing requests to be used in the analysis of error codes that may disclose valuable information that could be used to launch a more targeted cyber attack
  • Actively scan for open services and develop a test plan for the latter phases in the security assessment

2. Threat Modeling

With the information collected from the previous step, the testing process transitions to identifying security issues in the application. This typically begins with automated scans initially but quickly morphs into manual testing techniques using more pointed and direct tools. During the threat modeling step, assets are identified and categorized into threat categories. These may involve sensitive information, trade secrets, financial documents, etc.

In this phase,

  • Use open-source, commercial, and internally developed tools to identify and confirm well-known vulnerabilities
  • Spider the in-scope application(s) to effectively build a map of each of the features, components, and areas of interest
  • Use discovered sections, features, and capabilities to establish threat categories to be used for more manual/rigorous testing (i.e., file uploads, admin backdoors, web services, editors)
  • Send fuzzing requests to be used to analyze error codes that may disclose valuable information that could be used to launch a more targeted attack
  • Build the application’s threat model using the information gathered in this and the previous phase to be used as a plan of attack for later phases of the penetration test
  • Upload vulnerability information to the customer portal for those vulnerabilities that exist but will not be exploited due to time constraints or risk to devices

3.  Vulnerability Analysis

Vulnerability analysis involves documenting and analyzing vulnerabilities discovered from information gathering and threat modeling. 

During the vulnerability analysis phase,

  •   Compile a list of areas of interest and develop a plan for exploitation
  •   Search and gather known exploits from various sources
  •   Analyze the impact and likelihood for each potentially exploitable vulnerability
  •   Select the best methods and tools for properly exploiting each of the suspected exploitable vulnerabilities

4. Exploitation

Exploitation involves establishing access to the application or connected components by bypassing security controls and exploiting vulnerabilities to determine their real-world risk.  Unlike vulnerability assessment, penetration tests take the additional step of exploitation. In this step, we perform several manual tests simulating real-world exploits incapable of being performed through automated means. During a web application penetration test, the exploitation phase consists of heavy manual testing tactics and is often the most time-intensive phase.

As part of the exploitation phase,

  • Attempt to manually exploit the vulnerabilities identified in the previous phases to determine the level of risk and level of exploitation possible
  • Capture and log evidence to provide proof of exploitation (images, screenshots, configs, etc.)
  • Notify the client of any Critical findings upon discovery
  • Upload validated exploits and their corresponding evidence/information to the project portal for client review

5. Reporting

This step is intended to compile, document, and risk rate findings and generate a clear and actionable report, complete with evidence, for the project stakeholders. The report will be delivered through the customer portal.  And if customer requests, a presentation of findings will occur via an online meeting.

During this phase, we can perform the following:

  • Ensure all findings have been uploaded to the project portal for client review
  • Create the web application penetration test report, along with evidence which will go through an internal review process and is then uploaded to the client portal for review
  • Additional meetings may take place to ensure the client understands the findings and recommendations for mitigation or remediation

Tools used for Web App Pen Testing

To perform a comprehensive real-world assessment, we employ commercial tools, internally developed tools, and some hacker-style tools to conduct a full real-world assessment. We assess and analyze the systems by simulating a real-world attack and leverage the tools at our disposal to effectively carry out the task.

Automated vs. Manual Testing

Our approach consists of about 70% manual testing and about 30% automated testing; actual results may vary slightly. While automated testing enables efficiency, it effectively provides areas of interest to further explore through manual testing.  We believe that an effective and comprehensive penetration test can only be realized through rigorous manual testing techniques and experience.

Free Remediation Retesting

If there are items you choose to remediate after you received your Web Application Pen Test Report, Our team is available to retest that remediation and will issue an updated report. Once you have completed that remediation, we will then schedule your retest.  

Web Application Pen Testing – Our process

The best way to see how our team works is to watch how our testing exercise unfolds. The various steps in our typical process include:

  • An organization will agree with their (whether in-house or externally contracted) on the goal for the exercise. For instance, this goal might be the extraction of sensitive information from a particular server.
  • The team will perform reconnaissance on the target. This will result in a map of the target systems, including web apps, and employee portals
  • Vulnerabilities will then be found in a target system, and these will typically be leveraged by using phishing techniques or XSS
  • Once valid access tokens are secured, our team will use their access to probe for further vulnerabilities
  • If further vulnerabilities are found, our team will seek to escalate their level of access to the required level to access the target
  • Once this is executed, the target data or asset is achieved

In reality, an experienced employee will use a huge variety of techniques to go through each of these steps. The key takeaway from the sample attack plan above is that when chained together small vulnerabilities in systems can build into catastrophic failures.

As new technologies emerge and change the IT ecosystem, organizations need to deal with newer set of security challenges. In order to take up such challenges and address them, expert testing teams with robust tools are to be in place. 

Penetration testing can be an eye-opening exercise to improve your overall security poster. Imagine having the peace of mind of knowing exactly where your weaknesses are and how to address them. Our highly recommended team can carry out in-depth analysis to address all your threats and secure your organization from vulnerabilities. 

Secure your systems from vulnerabilities with our software security testing solutions.

While you fly high in business, let us take care of your security!

AUTHOR

Chandu R

Senior Engineer - QA

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