The Point of Penetration Testing

I’m glad to see that the community starts to acknowledge what penetration testing really means. We never encountered the empty hands issue as we never sold the let’s-see-if-we-can-hack-it kind of a penetration test. We carry out vulnerability assessments based on whichever information we can get about a system or product, the more the better, and use testing as a means of getting more, or clarifying information. The point of a penetration test is not to find and demonstrate one or a handful of arbitrary attacks, the point of a penetraion test is to identify vulnerabilities that need attention. Sure, it is fun to give an uberhacker demo after the test, and we do that, too, if we’ve found gaping security holes. But more important in a penetration test is good coverage of the potential vulnerabilities, and a sound assessment of their importance, relative to the purpose and risk profile of a system. I even remember pentesting projects where we found only a few relatively minor issues in a low-risk website – and made our clients happy by telling them just that. There is really no need to be disappointed if a penetration test ends without a root shell. There is no point in withholding information from testers, reducing their efficiency. And there is no point in testing just the infrastructure but not the applications.


About Sven Türpe

Sven Türpe is a computer scientist. His current research focus is on security engineering methods, techniques, and tools. All opinions expressed in this blog are his own.