Web Application Penetration Testing: A Complete Guide

Web Application Penetration Testing: A Complete Guide

Web Application Penetration Testing: A Complete Guide

Web application as you all know is a computer program that utilizes a web browser to perform various tasks over the internet. Web application is so important for each and every person be it a business owner or a normal person it helps you to perform various tasks.

Today in this article we are going to talk about web application penetration testing and how it goes.

Penetration testing or you can also call it pen test is the most commonly used technique in cyber security for testing web applications. In common words you can say that it is done by simulating unauthorized attack either internally or externally so that the sensitive data can be accessed.

Web application penetration testing helps the end user to find out the possibility of a hacker whether the person is accessing the data from the internet or not. Using this technique you can also get to know how secure your email servers are and also get to know about the security of web hosting sites and servers.

Why is this required?

Today whenever we talk about security the first thing which arises in everyone’s mind is vulnerability. Now to understand vulnerability you should firstly know the difference between pen testing and vulnerability.

Now what is vulnerability? It is nothing but a language used to identify security threats in a system. It is most commonly used to detect the flaws which are causing problems in a particular task.

Vulnerability Scanning Vs Pen Testing

So the vulnerability scanning lets the users find out the known weakness of a particular application and also defines you the methods of fixing those weaknesses so that the security of the overall application can be fixed easily. The most common thing it does is to check whether the security patches are installed or not and the system is properly configured or not to make the attacks difficult.

Now if we talk about pen tests so it mainly simulates a real time system and enables the client to see whether the system can be accessed by unauthorized clients, if the results will be yes then it does find out what damage can be caused to which data.

Subsequently, Vulnerability Scanning is a detective control technique which recommends ways to improve the security of your application and also ensures the known weaknesses do not resurface, whereas the pen tests you can say it is an preventive method which allows users to view the overall system’s security layer.

So it can be easily said that both the methods have their own importance, but it depends on the testing and results expectations, but the methods can be useful. If you are a tester before you start testing first you should be clear on the purpose of testing, if you are clear on objective you can easily define what you need in between vulnerability scan or pen testing.

Importance of Web Application Penetration Testing

  • Penetration testing is a preventive control method which can be used to identify the unknown vulnerabilities.
  • It does also help an user to check effectiveness of the overall security policies.
  • Not only this but it also helps testers in testing the components exposed publicly like routers, DNS and firewalls.
  • Lets you find out the most weakest route of your system from where the attacks can be made.
  • It will also help you in finding the loopholes and can control the theft of sensitive data.
3 Biggest Cyber Attacks in 2019

Now if we look at the current market we’ll find out that most of the people are using mobile phones and that’s why these attacks are also growing in huge numbers. If you are accessing websites using your mobile phones let me tell you that it is prone to more frequent attacks and hence leaking of data. Although, penetration testing becomes more important so that we can build more secure systems and users can access it without any worries of hacking or data theft.

Web Application Penetration Testing Methodology

If we look into deep then we can easily say that this methodology is nothing but a set of security guidelines on how the testing should be done. You can say that there are some well known as well as famous methodologies and standards are present to conduct the testing, but since every web application is not the same it does demand various types of tests, hence testers can create their own methodologies by going through the standard available in the current market.

Some of the current available methodologies are below:-

  • Open web application security project (OWASP)
  • Open Source Security Testing Methodology Manual (OSSTMM)
  • Penetration Testing Framework (PTF)
  • Information Systems Security Assessment Framework (ISSAF)
  • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS)

Test Scenario

Below mentioning some of the best test scenarios which can be tested as a web application penetration testing.

  • Flaws in File Uploading
  • Misconfiguration in Security
  • Cracked Authentication and management of sessions
  • Password Cracking

And many other test scenarios are available if you are a tester, you might be knowing about all of them.

An example why we should not blindly create our own methodology.

Suppose you are asked to perform a penetration test on an ecommerce website, now just think that if all the vulnerabilities of that particular website can be identified using the methods like XSS and SQL injection etc.

The straight answer to it is simply no because let me tell you one thing that ecommerce works on very different platforms and technology as compared to other websites. Now if you want to make pen testing effective for an ecommerce website, I recommend testers should design a methodology involving above given methodologies.

Last thing for this is that before deciding on the methodology, be sure about what kind of website you are going to test and which method of testing will help you to find the maximum number of vulnerabilities.

Web Application Penetration Testing Methodology

Methods of doing Web Application Penetration Testing

Web application penetration can be tested into 2 types first one is automated penetration testing and the second one is manual penetration testing.

#1) Automated Penetration testing

In this penetration testing is done by tools and automate certain tasks, improve testing efficiency and discover issues that might be difficult to find using manual analysis techniques alone. Some of the famous tools are: Nikto, Nmap, dirsearch, Aquatone, knockpy, and many more.

#2) Manual Penetration testing ?

Manual penetration testing is done by human with using of professional penetration testing software and tools. A manual penetration test(Pen Test) provides complete coverage for standard vulnerability classes, as well as other design, business logic and compound flaw risks that can only be detected through manual testing.

Web Application Penetration Testing Approach

This can be conducted into 3 phases :-

#1) Planning Phase

Before testing it is recommended to be assured what kind of testing you are going to perform and how the whole testing will be performed.

Scope Definition - You can say that it is the same as our functional testing where the scope of testing is defined before starting the tests.

Availability of Documents - To begin a particular test, the tester must have all the required information related to that website like documents which will be detailing the web architecture, integration points etc. Note- the tester should always be aware of the HTTP/HTTPS protocols as after that only the proper results can be gained.

Determining the Success Criteria - Pen testing is not like functional testing where we derive expected results from user requirements. Pen testing works totally different here the success criteria needs to be defined or approved.

Reviewing the results from previous tests - It can be a better option to solve vulnerabilities as in case in which the previous test has been done the results can be easily searched and proper remediation can be taken to prevent vulnerability.

Environment Understanding - Any tester who is performing a particular task should have proper knowledge of the environment as it is very much necessary to perform any kind of attacks. This step does also give them a proper understanding of firewalls or any security protocols which is required to disable while performing tests.

#2) Execution Phase

Run Test With Different User Role - In this step the tester should run the tests with different roles as different user have different privileges so it becomes so easy to find out the results.

Awareness on most-proficient method to deal with Post Exploitation - So in this step testers must follow the success criteria as given in phase 1 to report the exploitation not only this but tester should define vulnerability during the test. In simple words it can be said that in this the tester has to find out the solutions when known that the system has been compromised.

Test Report Generation - First thing which you have to always keep in mind while performing the test is that a proper report will only give you a better result and protect your system from getting compromised and data theft from attackers. This proper report has to be prepared and show all the vulnerabilities found as because this helps organizations a lot.

#3) After Testing

Now the main part is that once the test is completed and the reports has been shared to all the stakeholders in an organization, the following list should worked upon-

Suggest Remediation - Let me tell you one thing that penetration testing just doesn’t end by identifying vulnerabilities. The concerned team where you have reported should discuss with the QA team and give the remediation to solve the vulnerabilities.

Retesting those vulnerabilities - Once the remediation is taken and implemented, testers should always retest to ensure that no vulnerabilities should appear again in near future. This step is necessary for the success of penetration because it helps you to get assured whether the problem is fixed or not.

Cleanup - This is the last step of the testing once everything is done the tester should make changes to proxy settings, so clean up must be to make all the changes reverted. Once the cleanup is done everything is fixed and your system will be superfine to work on every kind of task performed by you and data will also be restored.

Web Application Penetration Testing Planning

Manual Testing Vs Automated Testing

Manual penetration testing is something which is not always preferred by testers as everyone prefers automatic testing, nowadays which is preferred by everyone. It’s only because automatic penetration test brings speed, avoid human error done manually, excellent coverage and several other benefits but as far as penetration test is concerned, in this too it is required to perform some manual task to get the results.

Manual testing is also important as it helps in finding vulnerabilities related to business logics, it does also reduce false positives which does also give proper results for an organization. Tools can also be sometimes wrong and that’s why manual testing is so much necessary to determine whether the found vulnerabilities are real or not. These tools are created to automate the tests and also to make sure that these tests can be performed easily and without any kind of problem.

Few tools I am mentioning below which can help you to perform your test easily and fast without having any kind of problem.

  • Free Pen Test Tool
  • Vega
  • Veracode
  • Netsparker

And various other kinds of tools which can help you to find the vulnerabilities without any kind of problem.

Not only this but using these tools testers can easily find the vulnerabilities and even if you are a newbie to it these tools can help you a lot in your work as they’re totally automated and don't need any kind of manual testing so it becomes easy. One thing which always keeps in mind while using these tools and never keeps aside manual testing as both the methods have their own profit. Manual testing helps you to find out whether the vulnerabilities found using tools are exactly correct or not, hence manual testing is also important.


In this article we have discussed web application penetration testing or you can also say pen test which is used to find the vulnerabilities of a system or web application. Methods and prevention of those threats are also mentioned in this article testers can easily find vulnerabilities if they have complete and prior knowledge of it.

The phases are also an important part of testing as it helps the tester to check the threats externally as well as internally to better understand where the attacker has performed the attacks.

The use of tools is also sometimes good and bad too as because the results sometimes can be misleading and that’s why testers sometimes prefer to check the found result using manual methods.

Even some kind of methodologies are also mentioned above in the article all in all it can be said that pen test can help you prevent data theft and many other problems which an organization faces and the tester who is performing pen test must have all the knowledge as the success not only depends on knowledge but also the phases which I have mentioned above is too much important in getting particular results. So just keep all those things and you will get your results.

Are you looking for web application penetration service or want to secure your web application completely? We would be happy to secure your web application. We have an experienced team at Safehack who is excellent at securing the applications of enterprises. If you have any queries, then we are there for your assistance. Drop us an email at kanishk@safehack.in. To read more blogs, visit our website.

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