Phases of Penetration Testing

Penetration testing is performed to exploit vulnerabilities in the IT system. An IT system refers to the collection of different servers, firewalls, routers, and other network devices that form one computer network. It is similar to hacking; the only difference is you have all permissions to do so. Target organization hires you to identify vulnerabilities and check the exploitability of the system. Here, both parties generally signed legal papers not to share test results with anyone.  Pentest helps an organization secure the sensitive data of customers and identify attacks that may be possible. It also helps an organization avoid embarrassment and loss of reputation in case of disclosure of sensitive information in the public domain on account of security breaches or hacking.

It can be divided into 5 phases:

  1. Reconnaissance: This is the first phase of the pen test. In this phase, the security researcher collects information about the target. It can be done actively (means you are collecting information by sending a request directly to the target and interpreting it) or passively (means you are collecting information without contacting the target), or both. It helps security firms gather information about the target system, network components, active machines, open ports and access points, operating system details, etc. This activity can be performed by using information available in the public domain and using different tools.
  2. Scanning: This phase is more tool-oriented rather than performed manually. Pentester runs one or more scanner tools to gather more information about the target. By using various scanners such as war dialers (computer programs used to identify the phone numbers), port scanners, network mappers (used for network discovery and security auditing), and vulnerability scanners (identifies problems in the system), pen tester collects as many vulnerabilities which help in turn to attack a target in a more sophisticated way.
  3. Gaining Access: In this phase, the pen tester tries to establish a connection with the target and exploit the vulnerabilities found in the previous phase. Exploitation may be a buffer overflow attack, denial of service (DoS) attack, session hijacking, and many more. Basically, a pentester extracts information and sensitive data from servers by gaining access using different tools.
  4. Maintaining Access: In this phase, the pentester tries to create a backdoor for him. It helps Pentester to identify hidden vulnerabilities in the system.
  5. Covering Tracks: In this phase, the pen tester tries to remove all logs and footprints, which helps the administrator identify his presence. This helps Pentester to think like a hacker and perform corrective actions to mitigate those activities.


Penetration Testing is broadly classified into 5 phases - Reconnaissance, Scanning, Gaining Access, Maintaining Access, and Covering Tracks. It is a skill that you gain as you experienced this activity.

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Disclaimer: This tutorial is for educational purpose only. Individual is solely responsible for any illegal act.

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