The Ultimate Guide to Software Penetration Testing

Software Penetration Testing

Every business runs on software. The number of applications in use continues to grow as technology guides the modern world. However, in the cyber world, software can be a target for hackers to infiltrate your environment and steal confidential or protected information. With the threat of data breaches growing, companies should rely on software penetration testing.

These pen tests can serve functions for businesses that use SaaS (software-as-a-service) products and those that develop them. In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about these cybersecurity exercises.

The State of SaaS Cybersecurity

The modern world depends heavily on SaaS applications, and the number of applications in use is growing. Greater usage opens the door for more cyber risks. A recent report on SaaS cybersecurity revealed some key points that impact every organization.

  • 55% of organizations experienced a SaaS security incident, including data leakage, malicious apps, data breaches, ransomware, corporate espionage, and insider attacks.
  • 58% of respondents said they only have security solutions for half of their SaaS applications.

Another concerning statistic is that 88% of professional hackers can say they can infiltrate an organization in as little as 12 hours. With the expanding risks, software penetration testing is crucial.

What Is Software Penetration Testing?

Software pen tests describe simulated cyberattacks that seek to find vulnerabilities in applications and exploit them. The goal is to find these weaknesses before cybercriminals do. It’s a reliable way to evaluate the security of software.

Professional pen testers use the same techniques and strategies as real hackers do. The scope of a software pen test can vary depending on the goals of an organization and if they are users or developers.

Software Pen Tests for Those Using SaaS

Estimates reveal that most companies use 100 SaaS products or more. That’s many entry points into your network. You cannot ignore or leave security solely to the software provider or your cloud host.

Most businesses perform due diligence at the buying stage of SaaS. An initial audit is a good practice, but it often ends there. Not continuing to review the applications in use creates opportunities for hackers.

The regular performance of software pen tests continues vigilance related to what’s on your network.

Software Pen Tests for SaaS Companies

There are a few differences in pen testing for software users and providers. SaaS companies use them to ensure a product is secure by design before it hits the market. They must do this to ensure product delivery, establish trust with users, and prevent downtime. Additionally, SaaS organizations use pen tests to achieve SOC 2 Type 2 compliance.

SOC 2 Type 2 is a System and Organization Control (SOC) framework. Pen testing supports the report that a business needs to verify internal controls for data to ensure it’s secure, confidential, and available. While they are necessary for software companies, any organization that stores, uses, or transmits protected information should consider them.

With a SOC 2 Type 2 report, a SaaS company can ensure that:

  • Web applications have the appropriate security controls to prevent unauthorized access to data.
  • They can detect a security incident or anomaly within the software.
  • They can respond fast to fix any damage or restore functionality in the event of a breach or system failure.

How SaaS Pen Tests Work

Regardless of why you pen test, as a user or developer, the steps are the same. Here are the seven steps:

1. Testers Plan and Prep

In the first step, the pen testing team builds a plan to execute the exercise. They’ll collect information through available sources. The plan also depends on the access level they have, which includes:

  • Black Box Penetration Testing: Ethical hackers have no information or knowledge about the structure of the software. The testers attempt to find weaknesses and exploit them as a real hacker would.
  • Gray Box Penetration Testing: Testers have some information about the application. They may even have some user-level access or credentials. In this scenario, there are usually specific test cases to evaluate.
  • White Box Penetration Testing: The pen testers can access the system as an “administrator.” They may also have artifacts such as source code or containers and can “enter” servers that run the software.

Whatever they know or learn goes into the strategy. Testers may also leverage phishing and social engineering to gain more information. The initial step will cover the scope and objectives.

2. Testers Scan

Testers are now ready to attempt to breach your applications. They use both automated scanning tools and manual review. The scanning looks for open services, security issues, and open-source weaknesses. Testers are attempting to understand how a system will respond to an attack.

3. Testers Gain Access

Testers have built the foundation and now aim their attack to gain access. They employ techniques and tools and may use tactics like SQL injection, social engineering, malware, backdoors, or cross-site scripting. Ethical hackers are searching for exploitable vulnerabilities that would allow them to access, intercept, or compromise data.

4. Testers Attempt to Maintain Access

Once testers achieve access, they’ll work on keeping it with a persistent presence. If they can, they will delve deeper into the penetration of the application. They also want to gauge how long they can be there without detection so that it mimics what a real attack would be like.

5. Testers Clean Up

Once pen testers have used all their tricks to infiltrate, they’ll clean up the trail they’ve left behind. They leave the application and restore it to its former state.

6. Analysis and Remediation Results

You’ll receive a penetration testing report at the end of the test. It includes a comprehensive analysis of all the findings and provides remediation recommendations. The main things it covers include:

  • A complete listing of all the applications tested
  • The movements of testers during the pen test
  • The vulnerabilities discovered and how exploitable they were
  • How testers were able to exploit weaknesses
  • If they were successful in gaining access to sensitive data, as well as if they extracted or manipulated it
  • How long they were able to remain in the environment without detection
  • A remediation list to address all issues prioritized

This information lets you work with your pen testing firm and internal resources to act on all the remediation recommendations.

7. Continuous Retesting

Software penetration testing isn’t a one-time thing for users or developers. It must be ongoing to have true value and support compliance requirements. An immediate retest is a standard post-test step to ensure that all the fixes are accurate.

Pen testing plays a crucial role in the entire software cybersecurity landscape. For SaaS companies, it’s one component.

Software Pen Testing vs. Software Testing

There is a difference between a pen test for software and general functionality and security assessments. The pen test mimics what could happen if cybercriminals attempt to breach the application and steal data. On the other hand, software testing focuses more on overall security controls and user functionality. All these evaluations are necessary to deliver an exceptional user experience (UX) with the proper parameters and configurations that are part of being secure by design.

How and who does the testing is also different. You’ll always work with an outside firm specializing in software pen testing. You may choose to do most of the other testing internally, but you can always consult with cybersecurity experts at the beginning of the work to incorporate secure development practices from the start.

Software Penetration Testing FAQs

As a review of what the guide has provided, here are some frequently asked questions to remember:

1. Why are software pen tests important?

A pen test is beneficial to any organization. Pen test results are unique because they come from the perspective of a hack. You identify unknown vulnerabilities early so you can address them. Pen testing is also a requirement for some regulations. Additionally, they are your greatest insurance for stopping breaches and ransomware.

2. How often should you conduct a pen test on software?

At a minimum, you should undergo pen testing annually. You’ll want to do a quick retest after the initial one to ensure successful remediation efforts. Conducting them may also be appropriate when major changes occur within your network, applications, or infrastructure.

3. Who can be a pen tester?

Pen testers usually have credentials and specific experience. The certifications they may hold include the following:

  • CSSLP (Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional)
  • OSWE (Offensive Security Web Expert)
  • OSCP (Offensive Security Certified Professional)
  • CRTE (Certified Red Team Expert)
  • CBBH (Certified Bug Bounty Hunter)
  • CRTL (Certified Red Team Lead)
  • CARTP (Certified Azure Red Team Professional)

The firm you choose should have a strong reputation, be able to demonstrate their expertise and have a proven methodology for testing. The best pen testers use more than automation in scanning. They are also highly skilled in manual techniques.

4. How long does a software pen test take?

It depends on the scope of the test and if there are specific use cases. It can take anywhere from a few days to weeks. When engaging a firm, they can give you a range based on the complexity of the test.

Ready to Learn More About Software Penetration Testing?

Schedule a discovery call with our team to take the next step.

author avatar
Christian Espinosa

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