Web application penetration testing is the most popular testing approach for web applications. This type of test is essential because malicious hackers regularly scan thousands of web applications and websites, searching for exploitable vulnerabilities. Ethical hacking experts recommend closing these issues by conducting a simulated attack. This process is known as penetration testing.

Irrespective of your reason for conducting a penetration test, it is always advantageous to perform your own web application penetration test. This article serves as a guide to understand the need for penetration testing and how to pursue it as a career.

What Is Web Application Penetration Testing?

Web application penetration testing is an in-depth string of steps targeted at collecting information about the target system and locating weaknesses or flaws. It also involves analyzing the exploits that will overpower and compromise the web application due to pre-existing vulnerabilities.

Web application penetration testing is comparable to a typical penetration test, but it aims to detect and exploit any existing vulnerabilities in a web application.

The Need For Web Application Penetration Testing

Vulnerability is often the common buzzword when we talk about internet security. Most of the aspects of our modern lifestyle are dependent on the internet. Be it the pandemic or any other reason, a majority of our tasks have shifted online. Many of these digital exchanges are made possible through web applications.

However, the wide use of web applications has also presented new vectors of attack that perpetrators can leverage. There is an exponential increase in mobile internet usage, which has increased the chances of mobile attacks.

Standard Pentesting Methodology

A penetration testing methodology can help you maintain your reputation as a trustworthy and dependable organization. It is merely a string of security industry standards on the necessary procedure for testing. Given the data security in web applications, establishing an appropriate methodology is becoming more and more critical.

Each web app demands distinct tests, which means testers can design their methodologies after consulting the required standards. Nevertheless, some popular and acceptable security testing methodologies can be applied for testing, such as:

  • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)
  • Open Source Security Testing Methodology Manual (OSSTMM)
  • Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP)
  • Information Systems Security Assessment Framework (ISSAF)
  • Penetration Testing Framework (PTF)

Be sure of the type of website to be tested and the technique to guarantee maximum results before deciding the methodology.

Approach for Web Application Pentest

A typical web application pen test involves three steps:

Step 1: Active and Passive Reconnaissance

During the initial stage, the pen testers are supposed to detect and leverage vulnerabilities. To achieve this, one must gather enough information about the target (Reconnaissance).

Active reconnaissance involves gathering information online without affecting the target system.

Some methodologies employed for active reconnaissance are:

  • DNS forward and reverse lookup
  • Network Mapping
  • DNS zone transfer
  • Scanning devices connected to a network or internet
  • Data from error pages
  • Identify associated external sites
  • Analyze head and option requests
  • Inspecting the source code

Step 2: Attacks/Execution

Once the tester has the necessary information, they start running tests for users with different roles. Chances are that the system may act contrarily regarding users having additional privileges.

There are many tools for conducting penetration tests. The data gathered in the reconnaissance phase helps testers narrow down the tools to use. Popular penetration testing tools include:

  • Nmap
  • Metasploit
  • Netsparker
  • Wireshark
  • SQLmap
  • Nessus
  • John the Ripper
  • Burp Suite
  • Acunetix
  • W3af
  • Hydra

Step 3: Post Execution

After you’ve successfully exploited a vulnerability, the next step is to write a report about your findings. Generate a brief structure for your report and ensure that the data backs all the outcomes. Follow the strategy that works and give a comprehensive report.

However, before you can have a sound report for web application penetration testing, you must ensure that the vulnerability identified is a risk. Afterwards, you must get deeper access into the application, network, or system, introducing fresh opportunities for attack (pivoting). Typically, after you’ve gained a new level of access, you may have to restart the cycle.

Penetration Testing as a Career

As hackers continue to launch sophisticated and new forms of attack, organizations must take preventive control measures. It has become a must to hire an information security expert or cybersecurity professional with in-depth knowledge of penetration testing in the modern cyberspace.

Penetration testers are in demand from globally renowned companies. An entry-level penetration tester earns $68,000 p.a., and with their experience, they can go on to enjoy a package of $126,000 p.a.

There is no single career path for a penetration tester. Most professionals complete a formal degree in a penetration testing course that validates their knowledge. Those working in the role of Network Administrator, Systems or Software Developer, Network Engineer, etc., can also consider penetration testing certification if they are planning a career transition.

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