Guide to Web Application Penetration Testing

Published on : 25 Mar 2021

Guide To Web Application Penetration Testing

We have covered the process of Penetration Testing in other articles, today we are taking a deeper look at an important type of Penetration testing which is Web Application Penetration Testing. Right from what it is to the steps and methods to perform it, here is your complete guide to Web Application Penetration Testing.

What Is Web Application Penetration Testing?

Web Application Penetration Testing is a type of ethical hacking engagement which is designed to test the security, architecture, design and configuration of web applications. This process to the  web application or the underlying web server / database identifies Cyber Security threats that could lead to unauthorized users gaining low-level access leading to confidential information being leaked.

Traditionally, Web Application Penetration Testing methodology involves a series of steps geared towards gathering information,  finding vulnerabilities, exploiting vulnerabilities, maintaining access into the system for as long as possible and providing the organization with a detailed report with steps to mitigate the threat.

Why Are Web Application Pen Tests Performed?

Everything is done through the internet these days, right from shopping to entertainment to banking and everyday transactions. While this may bring in a lot of convenience to consumers, it also leaves them open to threats and unauthorized access to their personal information. Since web applications usually store sensitive data, it is crucial to keep these apps secure at all times.

Web Penetration Testing is simply a preventive control measure designed to analyze the overall security of a system. To understand more about the test, let us take a closer look at the process of Web Pen Tests to learn how they help keep your data secure.

Web Pen Test Steps and Methods

Experts recommend that Web Pen Tests should be performed regularly to maintain secure software code development throughout the web application’s lifecycle. This test mainly consists of four main steps which are explained below. 


Step 1: Information Gathering

Step one which is gathering information is also known as the reconnaissance phase. This phase could easily be termed as the most important step in any Penetration Testing process as it provides Pen Testers with a wealth of information to identify vulnerabilities and exploit them later such as IP addresses in use, NATted IPs in use, OS version, Web server version, Database version, etc. Imagine this phase as the foundation of a pyramid, as long as the base is solid, the structure will remain standing. There are two types of reconnaissance methods depending on the type of interaction you want to achieve with the target system:

a .Passive Reconnaissance –

Extracting information from public resources without engaging directly with the target system is called passive reconnaissance. The research in this phase is done through various websites and search engines like Google. This often involves using Google syntax, enumerating website subdomains, links and much more.

b. Active Reconnaissance –

Unlike passive reconnaissance, active reconnaissance directly probes the target system to retrieve an output. Examples of this method of probing include fingerprinting the web application using tools such as NMAP or Shodan network scanner, performing a DNS forward and reverse lookup, a DNZ zone transfer, and more.

Step 2: Identifying and Exploiting vulnerabilities

The next step is to find vulnerabilities and exploit them in the most efficient manner to an optimum level. Ethical hackers have a huge cache of security tools at their disposal when it comes to performing Web App Pen Tests.

These open-source applications can allow you to capture and analyze network traffic, steal individual user information and can even be used to gain and maintain access to an organization’s servers. The goal here is to exploit the identified vulnerabilities, gain access, escalate privileges, and maintain a persistent presence in the exploited system for as long as possible to simply understand the level of damage that they can cause. 

Step 3: Reporting And Recommendations

Web App Pen Testing reports are just like any other Penetration Testing Report. The report should be clear and concise and be supported by an adequate amount of data to support the findings. Aside from writing down the successful exploits, the Pen Tester must categorize their findings according to their degree of criticality.

This helps developers focus on dealing with more serious exploits first. Some organizations request reports that can be read by both the IT staff and the management staff so everyone has a clear understanding of the amount of risk exposure.

Step 4: Retesting

The final step is what we at VISTA InfoSec and many experts all around the world would most often recommend organizations. The recommendation is to conduct re-tests to verify whether or not the vulnerabilities found in the previous test were successfully mitigated.

Some organizations provide re-testing as part of their contract and will work closely with your Security and IT teams to resolve all vulnerabilities that were found after the first testing was done. This is an industry best practice as it identifies vulnerabilities that were identified but not fixed appropriately as a part of the “Closure cycle”

Also Read:- Difference Between Vulnerability Assessment & Penetration Testing

Summing up

While web applications provide ease and convenience to users, they also carry vulnerabilities that malicious hackers could exploit. If the application handles credit card data, personal information or even health records, it would be in the company’s best interest to perform annual or bi-annual Web Application Penetration Tests.

This helps companies meet regulatory compliance standards, ensures the security of systems and also assures customers and stakeholders. It is a test recommended for all companies of any size or industry to secure their business-critical assets against any threats or vulnerabilities.

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Narendra Sahoo
Narendra Sahoo

Narendra Sahoo (PCI QPA, PCI QSA, PCI SSF ASSESSOR, CISSP, CISA, CRISC, 27001 LA) is the Founder and Director of VISTA InfoSec, a global Information Security Consulting firm, based in the US, Singapore & India. Mr. Sahoo holds more than 25 years of experience in the IT Industry, with expertise in Information Risk Consulting, Assessment, & Compliance services. VISTA InfoSec specializes in Information Security audit, consulting and certification services which include GDPR, HIPAA, CCPA, NESA, MAS-TRM, PCI DSS Compliance & Audit, PCI PIN, SOC2 Compliance & Audit, PDPA, PDPB to name a few. The company has for years (since 2004) worked with organizations across the globe to address the Regulatory and Information Security challenges in their industry. VISTA InfoSec has been instrumental in helping top multinational companies achieve compliance and secure their IT infrastructure.