Web/API Penetration TestJan Kahmen8 min read

The Penetration Testing Execution Standard (PTES) simply explained

PTES is a guide that enables testers to perform effective penetration testing.

Table of content

What are Pentesting Guidelines?

Pentest standards are an important tool for companies of all sizes. They are standards, called pentest guidelines, that enable testers to perform effective penetration testing.

But why perform a penetration test? With the help of such a test, you can reliably detect potential vulnerabilities in your cybersecurity. So, the reason why you should perform a penetration test is to increase your security. With its help, you can quickly determine how hackers might succeed in obtaining sensitive data.

Importantly, penetration testing for SMBs as well as large enterprises follows best practices: The above-mentioned pentest guidelines. This is the only way to ensure that the results are consistent and deliver the expected outcome. The PTES is therefore a form of quality control that safeguards you and your company.

The standard was defined by a group of experts from the field of cybersecurity. Although the original guideline was created back in 2009, it still stands today. This is because the main major components of the pentests remain. What adapts over time are the methods and procedures.

By the way, the best pentest provider will always adhere to applicable pentest standards. This way, it will deliver the best possible results and high quality. If this is not the case, you should think about changing your pentester.

The Seven Phases of the Pentest Standard (PTES)

When changing pentester, when choosing your future expert, make sure that he or she follows the standards, such as the Penetration Testing Execution Standard. This is a characteristic that the best pentest provider will bring. Regardless of whether it is a penetration test for SMBs or a large enterprise. Even if you plan to perform the pentest only once, the following seven phases of PTES are indispensable. They will make the endeavor more feasible and help you execute the test successfully. Each phase is important in its own right, but it is in combination that these steps contribute to success.

Pre-Engagement Interactions (Preparatory Work)

If you are conducting your pentest only once or on a regular basis, you should expect some initial preparatory work. This step requires intensive collaboration with your pentester, as the scope needs to be considered and defined here. The result is a common set of objectives, which allows you to ensure that all relevant items are tested.

Pre-engagement also involves rough planning: On the one hand, it includes different communication channels within your company. On the other hand, it may require coordination with third-party vendors who are not directly involved in testing.

Intelligence Gathering

Step two of the Pentest standard is information gathering. This involves identifying and gathering details and information about the scope. This information must be presented in such a way that it can be understood by all parties involved. In most cases, this data comes from publicly available sources. Then, understand what public information creates a potential attack surface or how it can be identified.

Obtaining all data is an essential part of any type of pentest. Regardless of whether you choose PHP penetration testing or want a local test.

Threat Modeling

Threat modeling, also called threat analysis, helps the tester take a closer look at specific threats. Both the scope itself and the organization are examined. Through this approach, you learn which processes within your organization are considered critical. Typically, these are processes that process and then store your sensitive data.

Since this step analyzes other potential threats, threat modeling is an important foundation. This can be used to interpret and evaluate the subsequent results.

Vulnerability Analysis

At the heart of any pentest is the vulnerability analysis. During this step, vulnerabilities are identified and validated. The analysis itself can be done manually or automatically. However, testers usually rely on a combination of manual and automatic procedures.

The reason for this approach: Although the automated solution is faster and tests a larger scope, the result is less meaningful. At the same time, it is only possible to a limited extent to detect multi-level vulnerabilities in this way.

Exploitation (Exploitation of Vulnerabilities)

A pentester basically uses the same methodology as a hacker who wants to harm your company. Therefore, following the vulnerability assessment, he tries to exploit the vulnerabilities found. This allows you to test the integrity, availability, confidentiality and traceability of your systems, which could otherwise put your processes at risk.

Exploitation can be very costly. Therefore, it requires close cooperation as well as intensive communication between the pentester and the end user. The elaboration of individual scenarios usually creates an important basis within companies: Raising awareness of potential threats from cyberspace.


The last phase in the actual test simulates the attack on the found vulnerabilities. For example, with an attempt to extract sensitive data from the database. Or to penetrate the company's internal network and cause damage there. Of course, the pentester will not do any real damage in the process. This step can quickly determine how valuable this attack site is to a cybercriminal: what data does it obtain? What opportunities are there to take maximum control of the corporate network? These and other questions can be answered with post-exploitation.


Another key component in pentesting is described by the last step of the pentest standard. This is reporting, which documents and evaluates all findings. In doing so, it is important to keep an eye on the context of the overall concept. In addition, you receive suggestions for possible countermeasures that can be used to eliminate the weaknesses.

PTES - but with Method

Regardless of whether you choose PHP penetration testing or any other form of pentesting: It is important that the individual steps of the test are done methodically. This is the only way to ensure that you get the best possible results. Since the individual steps are not standardized, the pentest standards are the best way to proceed in a standardized manner. The advantage of the PTES is that it is a public standard. For you, this means that you can view it online. This allows you to maintain and further refine the quality of the constantly evolving model.

In addition to the PTES, there are other important standards that provide initial guidance in the area of Internet security. These include, for example, the OSSTMM, as well as the Practical Guide for IT Security Penetration Testing from the BSI or the OWASP Testing Guide.


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