Penetration testing in agile testing

What is penetration testing?

Penetration testing – or pen testing – is the practice of testing a computer system, network, or web application to find security vulnerabilities that can be exploited by an attacker. Penetration testing can either be automated with software applications or performed manually. It involves gathering information about the target before the test, identifying possible entry points, attempting to break in, and reporting back the findings.

Penetration testing can also be called ‘white hat’ attacks as it is the ‘good guys’ who are trying to break in.

The goal of pen testing is to find security weaknesses, but also to examine the organization’s security policy – including the compliance requirements and the security awareness of the organization to respond to incidents.

The reports created by a penetration test provide the necessary feedback for an organization to prioritize its security investments. It can also help application developers create more secure apps, by understanding how the hacker broke into the apps. That way, developers won’t make the same mistakes.

How can penetration testing improve the security of agile testing?

The key to Agile development testing is the quick delivery of quality, working software. For this to be effective, security needs to be taken into account from the very start of the development process as well as consider all the risks associated with security. Some development projects might require frequent security testing during development while others might only need one or two tests during the process.

By considering the risks from the very start, testers will be more aware of the types of testing needed, how often they need to do them and at what stage the security checks can be put in place.

Moreover, it is better to use a mix of automated scanning and manual checks. By doing so, testers will be maximizing the security return on investment. To get the balance right between automated and manual testing, the organization needs to highlight the key areas of development that require testing. Lower-risk areas might only need vulnerability scanning. However, high-risk areas will need to run a vulnerability scan then manually validate the remediation efforts to ensure they are as strong as possible.

Testing providers will also need to report those vulnerabilities as quickly as they can so development project leaders can be aware of them and the team can work on them as soon as possible. Depending on the importance of the vulnerability, it can either be fixed immediately into the workflow or stored in the backlog for the future.

In addition to ongoing security testing during development, it is also required to conduct a final test before the release of the software. Penetration testing can then be conducted quickly if, and only if, there had been testing during development. Penetration testing can be run whenever an organization adds new network infrastructure or applications, makes important upgrades or modifications to its applications or infrastructure, changes location, applies security patches, or modifies end-user policies.

Pen testers often use automated tools to uncover vulnerabilities. These tools scan code to find malicious code in apps that can result in a security breach. They examine data encryption techniques and identify hard-coded values, such as usernames and passwords, to verify security vulnerabilities in the system. Most of the penetration testing tools are free or open-source software, allowing pen testers to modify and adapt the code for their needs.

Penetration testing programs are able to define the scope within which the pen testers must operate, thus helping them to determine what systems, locations, techniques, and tools that can be used in a penetration test. There are many existing pen testing programs and strategies and using the right one helps to focus on the desired systems and gain insight into the types of attacks that are the most threatening.

Therefore, penetration testing should be adapted to the individual organization as well as the industry it operates in. It also should include follow-up and evaluation tasks so that the vulnerabilities found in the latest pen test are reported in the following tests. Pen testing reinforces the security of the app that has been established throughout the development process and limits the risks and breaches.

By having a strong approach to security during the agile development process – including running penetration testing at least once a year -, and by teaming up with a testing company experienced in agile testing; it will reinforce the efficiency and security of the application.