Penetration TestJan Kahmen8 min read

Test Methods: White-, Black- and Grey-Box - Which one is right for me?

Regarding the level of knowledge and access granted, the pentest is classified into white box, black box and grey box.

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With the increasing digitization, IT security is becoming more and more in the focus of companies. One of the most important testing methods is the penetration test. It provides information about how secure your system is and where there are gaps that you should close.

Detect Security Vulnerabilities in Time via Penetration Test

Regardless of what industry you are in, the progress of digitalization is clearly noticeable. It does not even stop at small and medium-sized companies. Processes are being digitized and systems are being connected. As a result, data from critical business applications is being successfully moved to the cloud. This technical change impresses with its increasing flexibility, but also increases the risk of encountering cybercriminals. This makes testing methods like penetration testing an important part of your IT security. After all, cyberattacks present companies with challenges that you should not underestimate. Regular security analysis helps you keep your existing IT infrastructure secure. That means you provide criminals with less attack surface and clear out potential vulnerabilities before they cause problems. No matter how small or large your company is, testing methods such as the penetration test should be performed regularly. This will ensure that your sensitive data is protected in the long run.

Cyberattack and Security Analysis

Critical business apps you use online or on mobile devices pose an increased security risk. That doesn't mean you have to do without them. What is important, on the other hand, is that you take appropriate precautions. Through targeted security analysis, it's possible to intercept cyberattacks or keep them to a minimum. Does your company rely on smart supply chains or store a lot of personal data? Such data represents a valuable asset that you need to protect with key IT security testing methods. The challenge here is to identify vulnerabilities and security gaps. Only if you know where they are, you can take targeted action against them.

What is a Penetration Test?

A penetration test is one of the testing methods you can use to check your IT security. It involves IT experts trying to break into and manipulate your network or IT systems. The testing methods they use in this process are similar to those used by hackers or crackers. By acting in a similar way to criminals, the experts can identify where the system is insecure. The regular security audit using these test methods thus makes it possible to assess the potential of the threat. Throughout the penetration test, the testers record the measures taken. Afterwards, you receive a report in which the vulnerabilities and possible solutions are recorded. At the same time, they grade the risk, so you know which gaps should ideally be fixed first. Although the testing methods shows where action is needed, it is not part of their job to close the vulnerabilities.

Different Penetration Test Methods

Depending on the system you want to test with a penetration test, different test methods are used. To simulate a classic cyber attack, use an external penetration test. This means that the expert tries to penetrate your internal network via the Internet. The focus is on your firewall and systems located in the demilitarized zone. If he succeeds, he can then access your data. In the case of an internal test, the company network is the starting point. In this case, the expert already has access to the internal network. This test shows you what damage can occur if the hacker has access to an employee's device. It is important to note that an attack from the inside will cause more damage in a shorter time than an external attack. In addition, there are numerous other types that fall under the term "penetration test". Which of them is useful and how they are carried out depends in turn on additional factors. For example, on the specific test method and on what level of knowledge the experts have of your system in advance.

Testing methods: What are White Box, Black Box and Grey Box?

In penetration testing, test methods are often differentiated by color. For example, there are blue, red, or purple teams that perform incidental PenTest tasks. Colors are also used to classify in terms of knowledge level and access granted: White Box, Black Box and Grey Box. Each of these test methods has a specific task and is suitable for a different scenario. Basically, the classification is related to how much you reveal about your system to the PenTester beforehand. While black-box testing requires, among other things, minimal knowledge about your IT system, in white-box testing much is known in advance. If you are commissioning a security audit for the first time, you will usually prefer a black box test. On the other hand, if you have your IT security tested annually, most tend to go with white box testing methods.

White Box Penetration Test

In a white box test, the PenTester already knows everything about the IT infrastructure in their organization. This includes: Your servers, operating systems, applications and services. He also knows which ports are open, or at least should be. With this information, the test is particularly effective. The reason is simple: Here, the tester can get straight down to testing the systems. This enables him to make a detailed target/actual comparison. These test methods are also referred to as Auxiliary or Logic Driven. This places it on the opposite spectrum of a black box test. Full access to architecture documentation and source code creates entirely different challenges. For example, huge amounts of data have to be searched through and potential vulnerabilities have to be found. This makes the penetration test particularly time-consuming. The result of the test is a comprehensive assessment of external and internal vulnerabilities. If you would like to perform a computational test, this penetration test is among the best test methods for your security audit.

Black Box Penetration Test

The test methods in black box testing are mainly characterized by the fact that the tester does not know the IT infrastructure. Thus, he has to proceed in the same way as a hacker. The advantage of this is that the PenTester obtains an overview of the infrastructure himself. He therefore primarily identifies vulnerabilities that exist outside the network and could be exploited by third parties. Because of the limited knowledge, these testing methods are the fastest to perform. Exactly how long it takes to complete the test again depends on the skills of the tester. However, this approach has the disadvantage of leaving internal vulnerabilities undetected should the PenTester fail to penetrate the perimeter.

Grey Box Penetration Test

The Grey Box Penetration Test combines the testing methods from the White Box and Black Box PenTests. This means the PenTester has initial knowledge about your IT infrastructure. What SIe use the systems for and what makes them approximately. The Grey Box method is the type of penetration test that is most commonly used. This is because certain IP ranges are defined in advance and you may want to exclude certain applications from your test. A grey box tester has the same level of knowledge and access as an employee. You may even grant him elevated rights to the system. This way, he can specifically evaluate the security of your network and perform his own analyses. At the same time, it brings the advantage that the tester can focus on the systems with the highest risk.


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