One of the key tenets of cybersecurity is identifying vulnerabilities before hackers do. Organizations use many different tools and strategies to accomplish this. A big part of being proactive is assessing networks and applications with penetration tests. These tests simulate attacks to understand the competence and resilience of the target’s cybersecurity practices. There are three main types of pen tests, and we will focus on Black Box Penetration Tests, reviewing the pros and cons of this method.
What Is Black Box Penetration Testing?
A Black Box Penetration Test, also called an unauthenticated test, is typically an external penetration test against a business’ internet-facing systems. Those can include:
- Web servers
- VPN connectors
- Proxy servers
- DNS servers
- Email (SMTP servers)
- Custom application servers
- Cloud services
- Embedded systems and LRUs (Line Replaceable Units), including medical devices, commercial aircraft, vehicles, and offshore drilling platforms
Ethical hackers that you hire to conduct the penetration test emulate an attacker’s moves and use techniques to execute reconnaissance to gather sensitive information, find vulnerabilities, and breach a system. This process verifies the exploitable vulnerabilities and demonstrates how a cybercriminal would likely launch an attack.
The “box” reference in pen testing describes the level of knowledge and access testers have. In the black box, they have no previous knowledge of the internal structure of the target system. As a result, it’s the most realistic hacker simulation, typically conducted from outside your network.
What Threats Does Black Box Penetration Testing Cover?
The scope of a Black Box Penetration Test begins with a tester attempting to enter and gain access to the network via external means. If they get in, they’ll continue to test behind the firewall.
Typically, there are three threats ethical hackers imitate with Black Box Penetration Testing:
- External attacker: In this scenario, the tester tries to find a way into your environment through your Internet-facing systems.
- Rogue devices: Testers may plant these in the environment to intercept traffic and send it through a cellular network or covert tunnel. Rogue devices can also often provide a “pivot point” to launch attacks from the outside.
- Internal intruder: In this scenario, the hacker accesses your internal environment and scans the network seeking to exploit a device connected to it. This can be done in person or through a rogue device implant.
Here are some example use cases:
- Fuzzing: This tests web interfaces or “input fields” for missing input checks. The tester would inject random data called a noise injection. The objective is to find unusual program behavior and determine if proper checks are in the software.
- Syntax testing: This situation tests the data input format within a system. Ethical hackers would add input that’s missing elements or garbage to understand the outcome of input deviations.
- Exploratory testing: This test has no plan and looks to the outcomes of others to guide the process.
- Data analysis: This is the review of data generated by the target system and helps the tester learn more about its internal functions.
- Test scaffolding: This technique automates tests with tools to discern critical program behavior that may not be possible with manual attempts. Common tools are debugging, performance monitoring, and test management.
Black Box Penetration Testing offers you a complete view of how hackers see your system and all the things they would try to breach it. It’s a popular cybersecurity strategy for many industries, including healthcare, banking, SaaS, manufacturing, and more.
Why Do Organizations Conduct Black Box Penetration Testing?
Penetration testing is a hallmark of a stable and robust cybersecurity program. Most organizations have heightened their security posture in such a volatile cyber world where millions of attacks happen daily. Highly regulated industries like healthcare and banking perform pen testing to ensure compliance and audit requirements for HIPAA, FISMA, PCI DSS, and SOC 2.
Organizations also include Black Box Penetration Testing to evaluate their incident response, disaster recovery plans, and digital forensics capabilities.
The urgency to conduct these tests comes from the strategy to know the vulnerabilities of a system before hackers do. It provides a unique view of your environment from the perspective of a threat actor. As a result, you can prioritize your strategies and efforts to reduce risk and the likelihood of a breach. You can derive many benefits from this testing to support a culture of security.
Penetration testing contributes to your organization’s cybersecurity posture and maturity. But is black box the best method for your company? Let’s go through the pros and cons of Black Box Penetration Testing.
Pros and Cons of Black Box Penetration Testing
Before you decide if this type of pen test is the best option for your organization, you’ll want to review the pros and cons.
Pros of Black Box Penetration Testing
What can you expect from a Black Box Penetration Test? You can realize these benefits:
- Testers employ various techniques to break into applications, so the simulation mimics what would likely happen in the real world.
- The test thoroughly checks out key elements with common vulnerabilities, such as XSS (cross-site scripting), SQL injection, and CSRF (cross-site request forgery).
- The simulation reviews server configurations to see if any are incorrect and creating risk.
- The test can detect implementation issues or incorrect product builds that may be missing files or have ones that need updating.
- Black Box Penetration Testing can also test the human component in cyber risk if ethical hackers use social engineering techniques to trick users into divulging sensitive information.
- The test can discover security problems resulting from interactions with the underlying environment (e.g., files with improper configurations and unhardened operating systems).
- Testing can identify input/output validation errors or information disclosures in error messages.
- Black Box Penetration Testing is often less expensive than White or Gray Box Penetration Testing.
Cons of Black Box Penetration Testing
Are there drawbacks to Black Box Penetration Testing? These are some cons to using this framework:
- Black Box typically doesn’t involve internal testing, so it may seem falsely secure if ethical hackers don’t identify any external vulnerabilities. However, it may not be the case so it may deliver limited insights. For best results, both an External and Internal Black Box Penetration Test should be performed.
- This testing method may not provide a 360-degree view of the target system.
- Ethical hackers perform the tests through a lot of guesswork and trial and error.
- The time to complete a test can vary. It may be a short period if the testing environment isn’t too complex, or it could take much longer.
Along with these pros and cons, it’s also a good idea to compare Black Box Penetrating Testing with its cohorts, Gray and White Box.
Black Box vs. Gray Box vs. White Box
Gray Box and White Box are two other types of pen tests. With Gray Box, testers have some information about the systems and network. They may also have credentials to facilitate the simulation. White Box provides the most access to ethical hackers by allowing entrance into systems, artifacts, or servers. It’s an internal attack method.
Here is a comparison of all three methodologies:
- Testers have little intel on the target system.
- It primarily tests the external environment.
- It may not test internally.
- Ethical hackers use automation and manual testing techniques.
- Timing can be unpredictable.
- This option is usually the most cost-efficient.
- Testers have partial intel on the target system.
- Testing exposes vulnerabilities in outer systems and those hidden in internal systems.
- It offers a broader picture of the system’s security.
- Ethical hackers rarely use guesswork in the approach.
- Most testing is manual, but some automation is possible for repetitive things like scanning.
- The timeframe is more predictable, from a few days to a few weeks.
- Cost-wise, it’s between Black Box and White Box.
- Testers have complete intelligence regarding the target system.
- It tests all assets—internal, external, and code.
- This test delivers the most comprehensive picture of the system’s security.
- Ethical hackers don’t need to use guesswork.
- Most of the testing is manual, but some automation is practical for repetitive tasks.
- It can take up to months to complete.
- This method is the costliest.
By reviewing and comparing all types of pen tests, you can make the best decision for your organization. No matter what pen test you decide on, you’ll want to evaluate all the options before choosing a partner.
Evaluating Black Box Penetration Testing Providers
Pen testing requires an outside firm to conduct it. Many cybersecurity firms offer these services, but not all are the same. Consider these things when assessing your options:
- Experience and credentials: Get the details on how long they’ve been doing pen tests and their acumen regarding cybersecurity. Inquire about the training and certifications the testers hold to validate their experience.
- Expertise: Some pen testers have specific qualifications for industries like healthcare, which are often more complex than testing for other verticals.
- Methodology: Find out about their methods and how they refine and improve them.
- Reporting: A pen test’s outcomes are detailed in reports, which can be overwhelming and unclear. Request a sample to see how they present findings.
- Manual vs. automated: Some providers use only automated testing tactics, which aren’t suitable for pen testing. Automated tools often give out false positives, while manual is more accurate.
These points are critical to making the best choice of testers. At Blue Goat Cyber, we excel at all these and deliver effective Black Box Penetration Tests. If you’d like to learn more, get in touch with us today.