A network is an important part to any business or organization. They are crucial operating systems that assist in the business's activities every day, so that’s why it’s essential to get a penetration test. There are many other ways to protect your network, but the pen test is the best way to find the threats that can get through and vulnerabilities that may exist. Even if there are no findings in one of these tests, it is better to know than to not know.

Not only that, but it is usually required by the government if the company deals with sensitive information. Federal regulations are becoming increasingly strict on these sorts of cybersecurity needs, but even if they weren’t, it’s always good to have strong defenses in place. Hacks and attacks have been known to take down businesses for days and that’s something that many can’t afford.

What is a Penetration Test?

A penetration test, or pen test, is when a cybersecurity firm pretends to be a bad actor or hacker attempting to break into your company’s network. This simulation, agreed upon by both parties, will give a business lots of information on any vulnerabilities that might exist in the network. A security analyst will use all the tools and methods that a real hacker may use to get in, sometimes with preexisting knowledge and sometimes without.

Considering there are many ways a bad actor can attack and get into your systems, there are many different types of penetration tests that can be performed. Among them are:

  • External penetration tests
  • Internal penetration tests
  • Web application penetration tests
  • PCI DSS penetration tests
  • Red team tests
  • Purple team tests
  • Black Box, White Box, and Grey Box tests

Each of these services can tell you everything you need to know about your cybersecurity posture. Some of these are variations of each other, depending on the information that the security analyst has to work with. Either way, it is not only important to get these tests done, but they can ultimately save your business.

Types of Penetration Tests

As mentioned above, there are many different types of penetration tests that can be performed. Each one provides different information and some of them are required by the government. It is important to get a penetration test done once a year, but it is recommended to get at least two. If there is a big change or shift in your network, it’s also recommended to get a network penetration service at that point as well.

External Penetration Tests

Of all the penetration test types, the external penetration test, or EPT, is likely the one everyone is most familiar with. An external penetration test consists of an outside attack on the network, server, or application that’s being tested. The business may give additional information, depending on what type of “Box” they want during the test. A black box uses public information, a white box uses whitelisting for IPs, and a grey box is a mixture of the two, usually user-level access.

The variations of the external penetration test are all valuable in defending your networks. At the surface, this penetration test is the one that most people use. However, it should be done in part with an internal penetration test as well. An external test is only half of the picture, considering an attack can come from someone inside of the company as well. That’s where the internal penetration test comes in.

Internal Penetration Tests

An internal penetration test, or IPT, is a pen test done from within the server or network. This test assumes that an attacker is already inside the network. This means that a bad actor may have gotten past the external network defenses or it might be a rogue employee who already had access. With this penetration test, this measures what a hacker may have access to once they have gotten in.

This second line of defense is one of the most crucial ones. While it is worrying to have a bad actor get through your external protection, if your internal defenses are in place, they won’t be able to get very much before they’re caught. If your accounts and configurations are up-to-date and properly patched, you’ll be fine. The only way you can be sure is to get an internal penetration test done on your systems.

Wireless Assessment

A wireless assessment penetration test, or WAPT, is an important test for any business that has an app or program that is used by its employee and its customers. Applications are becoming more and more popular, but they are not immune to vulnerabilities or hacks. These programs that access bank systems or other various financial databases can be exploited to gain sensitive information, and in some cases, money and other valuable things.

A WAPT can be done relatively easily, but it should be done often and thoroughly. Web applications are updated often and should be tested with every major update that’s done. Otherwise, it’s recommended to be performed at least once a quarter. Either way, apps are extremely useful and should be used, but they should also be protected.

PCI DSS Penetration Test

With the heavy dependence on credit cards and other pay cards, a PCI DSS penetration test is necessary for many businesses. PCI DSS stands for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, which is a regulation needed to protect people’s card payment methods. If a business accepts any sort of card payment, a penetration test is required by the PCI DSS.

This penetration test deals with the network that processes these card payments. In order to be compliant, proof of the test must be shown to a Qualified Security Assessor, or QSA. This report will include any important update to software versions, configurations relating to these systems, and other various vulnerabilities that might have been found. It is important for any business to make sure their card processing company is doing what they’re supposed to.

Red Team Penetration Test

A red team penetration test, or simply red team test, is a relatively recent assessment where a “red team” (testers) will simulate an attack on your business’s networks and systems. It is an active threat and it is a full campaign of social engineering and penetration testing. This is usually all done without much more than an agreement with a company so that the cybersecurity firm can provide the most authentic simulation possible.

A few things included in a red team test are finding information already available on the Internet, different -ishing simulations like phishing, vishing, and smishing, onsite and remote social engineering, and even some physical hacks. These penetration tests are deep and detailed, so they take more time and cost more, but for many businesses, it’s worth the time and effort.

Purple Team Penetration Test

Similar to a red team test, a purple team penetration test, or purple team test, is where a "red team" (testers) works with “blue team” (internal IT staff) to determine real-time response to the red team's testing activities. The blue team is basically a company’s IT team and the red team is the attackers. In this simulation, the red team will attempt to launch a realistic full-scale attack on the company which the blue team will respond to. It is a test to measure the proper response levels of your company.

In color theory, red and blue make purple, hence the name purple team. This simulation provides some of the best and strongest information on a business’s cybersecurity posture. While it may be too intensive for smaller businesses, most companies can benefit from having a purple team test done at some point.

Physical Penetration Test

A physical penetration test is a simulated attack on a business's access and entry to a facility. It is a series of tests where a security analyst will attempt to get into the building or server room that is owned by the targeted company. The analyst may use disguises to act like a contractor, worker, or some other business trying to "fix" something or pretending as if there is an open order for IT to set something up. Methods like tailgating, pretexting, dumpster diving, and various others will test how secure the company's building is.

This section is often overlooked by businesses, considering it's not a digital test. However, physical access to a building or server room can be just as important as a computer network. That's why it's always important to keep a clean work station, make sure that each contractor or worker is verified, and policies are in place for visitors and third-party workers.

White Box, Black Box, and Gray Box Tests

These different white box, black box, and gray box tests are less tests themselves and pertain more to levels of access in penetration tests. A security analyst needs various methods to access a network depending on what needs to be tested. As said above, a black box test is no information given to the analyst and they attempt to get into a network without prior knowledge. This sort of level can show issues with the network’s perimeter.

The white box is the opposite of a black box in which the security analyst is whitelisted and given access to multiple portions of the network. This gives valuable information on what a user or bad actor may have access to when it comes to getting into the system. A grey box is a mixture of the two, but all three are necessary to provide a full picture of a system’s cybersecurity defenses.


Penetration tests are a cornerstone of any business’s cybersecurity posture. It is often required by the government and should be done at least once a year, if not twice. If there are any significant updates to a system or a core conversion, it is also recommended to get one then, too. Of course, these can be done at any time and some businesses do more than that.

There are many penetration tests types that can be done for a business. The most common ones are internal penetration tests, external penetration tests, web app penetration tests, and PCI DSS penetration tests. There are others, of course, but these are the ones that are most used by financial businesses and many healthcare companies. Protecting employees and customers should be at the top of anyone’s list and penetration tests are the best way to do that.

Eddy Berry, Security Research Analyst

Eddy has been researching cybersecurity for a few years now. Finding specific trends and best practices is something he takes pride in, assisting in finding news and government regulation that are on the rise. He researches topics and writes articles based on current events and important vulnerabilities that are affecting people, always hoping to get the necessary cybersecurity steps to those that need them.