There’s no such thing as an entirely secure system. Penetration testing, abbreviated as pentesting, is a specialized testing procedure that entails scanning, evaluating, and strengthening all of an information system’s building blocks against potential cyber assaults. Corporations use bug bounty sites to uncover security flaws in their systems. Cybersecurity specialists who are experts in penetration testing uncover and disclose organizational flaws lawfully with bug bounty systems. So how does this process work?
1. Passive Information Gathering and Tracking
In the first phase of a bug bounty and penetration test, the tester has to gather information about the target system. Because there are quite a lot of attack and test methods, the penetration tester must prioritize based on the information gathered to determine the most appropriate test method.
This step involves extracting valuable details about the target system’s infrastructure, such as domain names, network blocks, routers, and IP addresses within its scope. Additionally, any relevant information that could enhance the success of the attack, such as employee data and phone numbers, should be collected.
The data obtained from open sources during this phase can surprisingly yield critical details. To achieve this, the ethical hacker must leverage various sources, with particular emphasis on the target institution’s website and social media platforms. By meticulously gathering this intelligence, the tester lays the groundwork for a successful bug bounty endeavor.
However, most organizations impose various rules on the penetration tester during the bug bounty. It is essential from a legal point of view not to deviate from these rules.
2. Active Information Collection and Scanning
The penetration tester detects which active and passive devices are operating within the IP range, typically done by passive collection during the bug bounty. With the help of the information obtained during this passive collection, the pentester needs to determine a path—they need to prioritize and determine exactly which tests are needed.
During this stage, it’s inevitable that the hacker obtains info on the operating system (OS), open ports, and services and their version information on live systems.
In addition, if the organization requesting the bug bounty legally allows the penetration tester to monitor network traffic, critical information about the system infrastructure can be collected, at least as much as possible. However, most organizations do not want to grant this permission. In such a situation, the penetration tester must not go beyond the rules.
3. Analyzing and Testing Step
At this stage, the penetration tester, after figuring out how the target application will respond to various intrusion attempts, tries to establish active connections with the systems it detects to be alive and tries to make direct inquiries. In other words, this is the stage where the ethical hacker interacts with the target system by effectively using services such as FTP, Netcat, and Telnet.
Although it fails at this stage, the main purpose here is to test the data obtained in the information-gathering steps and take notes on it.
4. Manipulation and Exploitation Attempt
The penetration tester gathers all of the data gathered in the preceding processes for one objective: attempting to obtain access to the target system in the same way that a genuine, malicious hacker would. This is why this step is so critical. Because while designing a bug bounty, penetration testers should think like hostile hackers.
At this stage, the pentester tries to infiltrate the system, using the OS running on the target system, the open ports and the services serving on these ports, and the exploitation methods that can be applied in the light of their versions. Since web-based portals and applications consist of so much code and so many libraries, there’s a greater surface area for a malicious hacker to attack. In this respect, a good penetration tester should consider all possibilities and implement all possible attack vectors allowed within the rules.
It requires serious expertise and experience to be able to use the existing exploitation methods successfully and flexibly, without damaging the system, and without leaving any traces, during the process of taking over the system. This stage of the penetration test is, therefore, the most critical step. For forensic computing teams to intervene during a possible attack, the cyberattacker must follow the traces left behind.
5. Privilege Elevation Attempt
A system is only as strong as its weakest link. If an ethical hacker manages to access a system, they usually log into the system as a low-authority user. At this stage, the penetration tester should need administrator-level authority, exploiting vulnerabilities in the operating system or environment.
Then, they should aim to seize other devices in the network environment with these additional privileges they’ve gained, and ultimately the highest level user privileges such as Domain Administrator or Database Administrator.
6. Reporting and Presenting
When the penetration test and bug bounty steps are completed, the penetration tester or bug hunter has to present the security vulnerabilities they detected in the target system, the steps followed, and how they were able to exploit these vulnerabilities to the organization with a detailed report. This should include information such as screenshots, sample codes, attack stages, and what this vulnerability can cause.
The final report should also include a solution proposal on how to close each security gap. The sensitivity and independence of penetration tests should remain a mystery. The ethical hacker should never share confidential information obtained at this stage and should never abuse this information by providing misinformation, as that’s generally illegal.
Why Is the Penetration Test Important?
The ultimate goal of penetration testing is to reveal how secure the system infrastructure is from the perspective of an attacker and to close any vulnerabilities. In addition to identifying weak points in an organization’s security posture, it also measures the relevance of its security policy, testing staff awareness of security issues, and determining the extent to which the business has implemented cybersecurity principles.
Penetration tests are becoming more important. To analyze the security in the infrastructure of corporate structures and personal applications, it is essential to gain support from certified ethical penetration testers.