Six steps to prepare your application security team for a penetration test

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Dave Randleman

Field CISO, Penetration Testing, Coalfire

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This blog post will show step-by-step how an application security team should prepare for a penetration test.

Key takeaways:

  • A common misstep in deploying a penetration test is a lack of preparation.
  • Developing appropriate scoping and objectives for the app security pen testing produces more valuable results.
  • Following up on results in a thoughtful strategic way to strengthen security posture and better protect critical assets.

What is penetration testing?

Penetration testing — or pen testing as it’s commonly known — is essential to any comprehensive application security program. It involves simulating a real-world cyber-attack to identify potential vulnerabilities in an application and provide organizations with actionable insights to strengthen their security posture.

Over the last decade, I have seen pen tests go up, down, sideways, and every which way. A lack of preparation is the common denominator in pen tests that don’t deliver value. When organizations don’t prepare properly, pen tests often fail to meet expectations. In this blog post, I will walk you through six essential steps to better prepare for a pen test and reap the benefits.

Step 1: Define the scope and objectives

The first step is to define the scope and objectives of the pen test. This includes identifying the applications to test, the methodologies to use, and the testing goals. A clear understanding of what needs to be tested and why will ensure that the testing is effective and efficient.

Step 2: Assemble the team

Once you have identified the scope of the test, the next step is to assemble an internal team to conduct the penetration test. The ideal team will include experienced security professionals with the skills and expertise to identify and exploit vulnerabilities. The team should also have a project manager to oversee the testing process and ensure all objectives are met.

Wait - I don’t have that kind of team at my organization!

Many organizations lack the necessary in-house expertise to perform an effective application security pen test. If that’s your organization, don’t worry – there are third-party companies to help you reach your goals. Use Step 2A if you need a partner to conduct application security pen testing.

Step 2A: Select the right pen testing partner

If application testing expertise is not available within your organization, choosing the right partner for the penetration test is crucial. A trusted, experienced third-party provider like Coalfire can provide the necessary expertise and guidance. Coalfire's team of certified ethical hackers and security experts can help identify vulnerabilities and provide recommendations for remediation.

Step 3: Prepare the environment

The environment must be prepared before penetration testing can begin. This includes setting up test accounts, creating a test plan, and identifying potential risks that may occur during the testing process. It is essential to have a contingency plan in case of unexpected issues or data breaches.

Step 4: Conduct the penetration test

The penetration testing process involves attempting to exploit identified vulnerabilities to gain access to data. It can be conducted manually or through automated tools. The testing results will help identify security gaps and weaknesses that need to be addressed.

Step 5: Analyze and report on the results

Once the testing is complete, the results need to be analyzed and reported. Coalfire provides a detailed report outlining the vulnerabilities found and recommendations for remediation. The report should be used to prioritize and address the identified issues to improve the organization's overall security posture.

Step 6: Follow-up and retest

Following the remediation efforts, it is essential to retest the applications to ensure the vulnerabilities have been adequately addressed. Regular retesting and follow-up with the third-party provider will help ensure that the organization's security program remains effective and relevant.

In conclusion, organizing a penetration test for an application security team is an essential step in identifying and addressing potential vulnerabilities. By defining the scope and objectives, selecting the right partner, preparing the environment, conducting the testing, analyzing and reporting on the results, and following up with retesting and follow-up, organizations can strengthen their security posture and protect their critical assets.