Web Application Penetration Testing

Web App Pentest

Web Application Penetration Testing

Web application penetration testing is an integral part of assessing applications for potential security threats. Companies rely on customer-facing web applications to hold sensitive data and allow people to perform sensitive tasks in real-time. To avoid security issues, some companies depend solely on vulnerability scans which are limited in their ability to identify threats and potential issues. While vulnerability scanning certainly has its place in a secure development life-cycle, it leaves much to be desired in terms of an in-depth security assessment.

Pensive Security takes security testing several steps further with dedicated web app penetration testing (or “pentesting”), which helps identify threats or gaps in the application that could be vulnerable to cyber-attacks. This guide will take a detailed look at web application penetration testing and what it means for your business.

Article Summary:

  • Web application penetration testing is used to detect vulnerabilities and ensure web applications are secure.
  • Testing involves using standard hacking methods and embracing the mentality of a cyber attacker to find weak points in the system.
  • Penetration testers use a combination of automated and manual analysis of web applications and fall back on years of experience to identify vulnerabilities that tools cannot identify.
  • In addition to web applications, Pensive Security can perform penetration testing on cloud services, internal and external networks, mobile applications, wireless networks, and much more.
  • Penetration testing will identify faults and vulnerabilities in an app and exploit these weaknesses to show developers how and where to make improvements.

What Is Web Application Penetration Testing?

Web application penetration testing is a common security testing technique used on web apps as part of a healthy, secure development process. This process involves simulating attacks against web applications to gain access to sensitive data or take control of the application’s supporting infrastructure.

Unlike automated vulnerability scanning, which is often integrated as a part of a development pipeline, pentesting is done by professionals who understand the methods real attackers use. There are some standardized methodologies in place within this industry that outline default best practices for pentesting, including:

• PTF (Penetration Testing Framework)
• OSSTM (Open-Source Security Testing Methodology Manual)
• ISSAF (Information Systems Security Assessment Framework)
• PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard)
• OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project)

Though these projects are all relevant for penetration testing, OWASP is the one that is most directed at web application security.

Like all pentesting, the ultimate goal of web application pentesting is to simulate events that an actual attacker would perform to identify security weaknesses and improve the security of the targeted application.

Common Web Application Vulnerabilities

What type of vulnerabilities would typically be discovered on a web application? OWASP provides a list of the “Top 10” web application vulnerabilities, which represents a broad consensus about the most critical and common security risks to web applications.

For a complete description of each class of vulnerabilities, we recommend referencing resources like the OWASP Top 10. However, we’ve briefly touched on a couple of vulnerabilities you’ve likely heard of concerning web applications.

Cross-Site Scripting

Cross-site scripting is a common output encoding vulnerability that allows an attacker to execute arbitrary JavaScript code in the context of the victim’s browser. An attacker can use this type of attack to access a victim’s web account and perform actions as though they were the victim (such as transferring money out of a bank account or accessing medical data).

Password Cracking and Credential Stuffing

We hear about data breaches constantly in the news, and in addition to financial and medical data, these breaches often include email addresses and hashed (or even worse, plaintext) passwords. Once an attacker has access to these breached credentials, they can (sometimes) crack the password and then use the credentials to access other services the user has access to. This works because people often use the same password for multiple websites.

Broken Authentication Tools

Authentication is the process or action of verifying the identity of a user. When the controls for that process are broken or faulty, that will impact the system’s ability to validate who’s accessing it and from where. Exploiting broken authentication protocols or tools allows hackers to get into systems and access secure data.

SQL Injection

SQL injection occurs when an attacker can inject malicious code into a SQL query. That will allow hackers access to sensitive data stored in the database. Attackers use sophisticated tools to detect SQL injection by trying lots of inputs until an SQL error is detected. For example, when someone puts a quote character into the username or password field on a website and then an SQL error is generated, an attacker will be encouraged to explore the issue deeper.

Components with Known Vulnerabilities

Many websites and web applications rely on thousands of underlying libraries on both the server and client sides to function. If one of these libraries has a known vulnerability an attacker can exploit it and gain unauthorized access to sensitive data, modify user data, or cause the entire service to crash and become unavailable.

How Do You Test for Web Application Security?

There are several different methods for testing web application security based on the standards available on the market today. The methods used vary from one organization to the next, but the stages are the same throughout. Read on to learn more about both aspects and what testing entails.

Web App Penetration Testing Stages

The three stages of pen testing include:


The planning stage allows you to consider what types of testing will be used, how they will be performed, and what is needed by the tester. This is where you can define the scope and outline the availability of all documentation and other resources for testers involved in the process. You will also need to take the time to determine the success criteria.


In this stage, testers carry out the augmented “attacks” on the system and attempt to penetrate the security in various ways. This is done using several different tools and in-depth manual testing that will allow testers to simulate various attacks and hacks to see if they can get into your system. The more thorough a tester is here, the better.

Post Execution and Reporting Phase

This is the final phase that comes after the attacks and allows the team to assess what happened and how the test went. The tester creates a report of your application’s risk level and describes all of the pentest findings in detail.

What Tools are Used for Web Application Penetration Testing?

Several different tools are potentially used in the process of testing web apps for vulnerabilities. These include:

• Scanning and identification tools
• Network analysis tools
• Automation framework testing tools
• Password cracking tools
• Vulnerability scanning tools

Companies will use a series of tools that are often designed for scanning and testing, but they will also use some of the same tools designed by hackers to make the pentest as realistic as possible. After all, what better way to test a network for vulnerabilities than to use the same tools that hackers do?

These tools make it easy for testers to get into the depths of your system and go places hackers wouldn’t even dream of. They’ll find any weak spots and make sure that you know about them, and they’ll use every tool they have access to and make sure that your application is up to snuff. A good penetration tester will automate as much of the penetration testing process as possible and use all available tools at their disposal so that time isn’t wasted. However, automated testing is just one part of the process because a qualified pentester will spend a large portion of the engagement performing manual review of the application’s business logic, access controls, and much more.

Why You Need Penetration Testing for Your Web Application

It is critical to ensure that your web applications are secure and protected from any hackers or other potential threats that may come your way. As such, penetration testing is essential. When hackers get into your system, chaos ensues, from the attacker stealing valuable information to receiving financial gain and so much more.

Penetration testing will give you the chance to ensure your application is protected from potential threats or damage. It will also allow you to ensure that your passwords and password policies are secure and that your application can hold up to whatever today’s hackers bring your way.

This allows you to spend less time stressing about security and instead focus on running your business.

Today’s companies are developing web apps at impressive rates. This often leads to security concerns that are overlooked, and that’s where penetration testing comes into play. Take advantage of it to check your apps and tools so that you can trust that you are giving your team and your customers tools that are safe and secure to use.

How Much Does Web App Penetration Testing Cost?

This is a common question, but it’s not one with an easy answer. The scoping process that we use at Pensive Security is quick and effortless, and it delivers the solution you need with all the complex details built-in. However, you may need a different type of test than someone else, so we scope all projects individually.

Determining the cost of penetration testing includes factoring in how much testing is needed based on how many endpoints and requests are involved, user roles, and more. If you have a simple app with limited functions, you’ll spend a lot less on penetration testing than someone who has a more complex app with a large attack surface.

Hire Our Team of Professional Security Testers

When you want to make sure that your web application is secure, rely on the team at Pensive Security. We have years of experience performing all kinds of security assessments, including web app penetration testing. Just let us know what we can do and how our testing services can help you. We will use all of the latest tools and methods to check your app and advise on the best course of action for fixing weak spots and improving security.

At Pensive Security, we’ve been handling web app penetration testing for years, and we know the best practices and have watched the industry evolve. We can provide you with the best penetration testing solutions and ensure that your network and all the tools you use are safe. Call us today to discuss your web application usage and determine how our testing can ensure that your web application is protected from possible threats.


July 2021: Cybersecurity Roundup June 2021: Cybersecurity Roundup
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