Cyber Security Articles & News

What is a Pentest Framework?

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


How Do Organizations Use Penetration Test Frameworks? 

A pentest framework is a critical approach or way to structure a penetration test using a variety of tools which can best serve the pentesters during the engagement.

Although there are many frameworks that can be used, the two most common frameworks for penetration testing are the Metasploit Framework and the Cobalt Strike Framework. The Cobalt Strike framework is a collection of other tools that work independently of the Metasploit Framework.

Once an organization’s systems have already been exploited by a Red Team, the penetration testers imitate what real threat actors can do once inside the security perimeters. Pentest frameworks are designed to focus on threat actor tactics used within the post-exploit phases of control, execution, and maintenance. 

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 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. 

Cobalt Strike Framework

Cobalt Strike is a collection of threat emulation tools provided by HelpSystems. Once you purchase a Cobalt Strike license, you are free to download and use the Cobalt Strike virtual machine (VM). A local VM runs on your own computer, while a remote VM requires an internet connection in order to connect to the cloud-based Cobalt Strike platform.

Cobalt Strike, and other pentesting frameworks like it, are designed to help cybersecurity professionals understand how certain actions might be taken by threat actors. These tools within the framework simulate intrusions with utmost accuracy, to help give an organization the hard truths about its security posture.

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. This framework is a prime environment for developing and executing exploitations. The tools within the framework are designed with the aim of allowing penetration testers to find and exploit vulnerabilities.

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. This framework has been utilized since 2003 and is still going strong.


Who Needs a Pentest?

Unfortunately, 49% of US companies have dealt with data breaches, and many of those companies thought they had effective cybersecurity solutions. Penetration tests are strongly recommended for all organizations so that any weaknesses are found, and the extent of exploitation possible from those weaknesses is assessed.

However, there is no “one-size-fits-all” for pentests or their frameworks. Since there are six main types of pentests and more than one framework, an organization needs a consultation with cybersecurity professionals to determine which combinations work best for their organization.


Protect Your Organization

Although important, penetration testing with the right framework in place is only one aspect 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. 

Find out how to fully protect your organization against threat actors in 5 ½ easy steps by downloading our free guide today.  New call-to-action


Topics: pentest team, security penetration testing

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