What is a Penetration Testing Framework?

Penetration testing services are performed by cybersecurity companies to help find weaknesses in an organization's network, internal systems, and show that organization how threat actors can exploit those vulnerabilities.

To conduct an effective penetration test, a penetration testing framework is necessary to ensure there is structure — and therefore reliability — in the testing process. Here, we’ll discuss the necessity of a pentest framework and what strategies are involved for effective and actionable results.


How Do Organizations Use Pentest Frameworks?

A pentest framework is a critical approach to structure a penetration test using a variety of tools that can best serve the pentesters during the engagement. Every organization is different and will utilize a customized pentesting framework to meet its unique needs, however, most frameworks are broken down into these phases:

  • Plan.
  • Assess.
  • Evaluate.
  • Report and Cleanup.

Although there are different types of penetration tests, most frameworks will be similar in structure. 

Tactic Categories Included in a Pentest Framework:

  • Execution.
  • Persistence.
  • Privilege Escalation.
  • Defense Evasion.
  • Credential Access.
  • Discovery.
  • Lateral Movement.
  • Collection.
  • Exfiltration.
  • Command and Control.

During the last phase of the penetration testing, the penetration testers will restore all exploitation points and compose a full pentest report including the log files from the tools used to carry out the threat actor tactics. 

In this way, the penetration frameworks act as a compilation of the methodology and tools used to successfully carry out the penetration test using methods that accurately simulate a real attack by threat actors.

Though there are a variety of pentest frameworks available for testing, these are the main frameworks utilized by organizations: 

Cobalt Strike Framework

Cobalt Strike is a collection of threat emulation tools provided by HelpSystems. The Cobalt Strike Framework is unique in that it provides an environment where attack tools can communicate directly with compromised hosts, giving attackers greater granularity than other toolsets in the marketplace. This allows testers to execute detailed tests and provide better results for their clients.

Metasploit Framework

The Metasploit Framework is a vulnerability assessment framework that provides a database containing vulnerabilities and exploits, a payload generator, and other useful modules. 

When you run a Metasploit Framework module on a target machine, it will try to identify any weaknesses in the system and, if found, allow you to exploit those weaknesses. The Metasploit Framework remains incredibly popular among penetration testers due to its effective design and customizable architecture.

When researchers encounter a new infection, they often find themselves looking at components that are part of the Metasploit Framework. 

Pentesting Standards and Methodologies

Open Source Security Testing Methodology Manual (OSSTMM)

Open Source Security Testing Methodology Manual (OSSTMM) provides a holistic approach to pentesting. This framework includes:

  • Proper attack procedures.
  • Error handling.
  • Rules of engagement.
  • Proper analysis.
  • Critical security thinking.
  • Trust metrics.

With the latest version, an algorithm is used to determine the protection rating of an organization’s cyber security measures. Pentesters can use this information to validate their recommendations and suggested mitigation strategies.

Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP)

The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) includes guidelines and security operations for running penetration testing and other services. OWASP addresses both private-sector and public-sector business security needs.

Penetration Testing Methodologies Execution Standard

The Penetration Testing Execution Standard (PTES) is similar to the OWASP support in that it offers set guidelines for penetration testing. The PTES specifically identifies the necessary sections of any penetration test as pre-engagement interactions, intelligence gathering, threat modeling, and more.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

As part of the US Department of Commerce, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides standards and scientific advancement opportunities for carrying out successful cybersecurity testing.  


Who Should Invest in Penetration Testing?

Unfortunately, 49% of US companies have dealt with data breaches, and many of those companies thought they had effective cybersecurity solutions. As cyber attacks grow increasingly apparent, the need for testing is a priority for companies of all sizes and industries.

However, there is no “one-size-fits-all” for choosing the right penetration testing framework. By talking with a cybersecurity professional, you can determine what type of testing would best suit your business. 


Protect Your Organization From Cyber Attacks

Penetration testing with the right framework is a key component of a great defense. An organization with a strong cybersecurity posture can feel confident about the ability of its network and systems to operate smoothly without the devastating results of cyberattacks on unprotected systems. 

Kevin Mitnick and The Global Ghost Team™ craft customized attacks and are fluent in the modalities to perform all types of penetration tests using frameworks that align with testing goals for a beneficial engagement every time.

Penetration testing can be just what your organization needs to keep your data protected and the threat actors at bay. Request pentesting info to get started.

Topics: pentest team, security penetration testing

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