Application Penetration Testing: Steps, Methods, & Tools

Web applications are an indispensable part of business success today. The concerning part is that they belong to the technology sector, always on cybercriminals’ eyesight and attention. To avoid becoming an attractive prey for them, you will need to use and implement application penetration testing services for your system’s security.

A pentest is ideal for creating and maintaining a secure software development lifecycle if conducted yearly.

So let’s move on and explore the main tools and methodologies of web application penetration testing.

Definition of Web Application Penetration Testing

We can expand the term application penetration test as follows: it’s a type of ethical hacking created to assess web applications’ design, configuration, and architecture. Simply put, penetration tests identify and detect the security risks of your application, exploit the existing security vulnerabilities, and retest your app. This comprehensive testing will help you to avoid the risks of data leakage and unauthorized access attempts.

A team of security testing companies usually conducts web penetration testing. Penetration testers should be certified and have all the required penetration testing certifications: CCT, CREST, APP, etc.

Web Application Penetration: Benefits and Advantages

The importance of web application penetration testing is no secret for anyone in the technology sector. So let’s discuss the main goals and benefits of pentests.

  • Vulnerability Detection: The only way to identify all the vulnerabilities, loopholes, bottlenecks, and weak spots of your system is through web application penetration testing. With the help of different analyses and tools, a penetration tester can find all the security risks and suggest optimal solutions.
  • Performance Improvement: A penetration tester can identify many reasons and setbacks causing delays in response time and application loading during the test. The problem detection will enable the team to adjust to the application infrastructure.
  • Reduction of Cyber-Attacks: As even the slightest mistake or negligence in a security system can result in a valuable data breach, a pen test will ensure thoroughly executed testing. It will drastically reduce the chances of cyber-attacks and risks.
  • Compliance Assurance: Proper protection of your data requires a severe approach and budgeting. Companies need to follow enacted data protection laws and process an independent pen test from a third party from time to time.
  • Decrease of Legal and Financial Liability: In case of safety issues, you will have financial losses, face legal liability, and even lose your licenses. To avoid these unpleasant scenarios, conducting a comprehensive pen test once a year is enough.

Methods and Stages of Web Application Penetration Testing

Web application penetration testing includes a list of steps and methods for gathering information, analyzing the existed data, exploiting and retesting apps, and improving the quality of security measures.

Though each penetration test is individual and is executed according to specific application requirements, some general standards are worth mentioning.

  1. OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project)
  2. PTF (Penetration Testing Framework)
  3. OSSTMM (Open Source Security Testing Methodology Manual)
  4. PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard)

The entire web app penetration testing process can be divided into three main stages: Planning, Execution, and Post Execution.


Information Gathering: This is the most crucial stage for conducting a pen test. The client provides the required information. It can include IP addresses, URLs, data storage, etc.

Discussing Terms of Testing: Defining the rules, testing timelines, confirming the project’s goals, and reviewing test methods are all included in the initial penetration testing stage. After everything is agreed upon, a testing expert can begin the execution process.


Intelligence Gathering: After the review is done, a client needs to provide all necessary materials: open-source components and resources. This information can include email addresses, user manuals, web server software information, social media posts, etc.

Threat Modeling and Planning: Threat modeling is the assessment process of evaluating security risks and threats. The types of vulnerabilities attacks are identified during this stage, helping the pen tester discover all the weak spots from where cyberattacks are possible.

Analyses: After detecting and finding the loopholes and vulnerabilities, it’s time to run some tests for manual identification. A tester then will create a list of existing and identified vulnerabilities that need to be exploited and fixed.

Manual Exploitation: As all web application vulnerabilities were identified at the previous stage, it’s time for exploitation. During this phase, a hacker-simulated attack is performed. The purpose is to test the system’s security level by web application attacks from the cybercriminal’s perspective.


Reporting: After testing web applications, the expert prepares a detailed report. The report includes the entire assessment of the application: identified security risks, vulnerabilities list, threats, and some suggestions on how to fix them.

Depending on the type of the conducted test, two types of reports can be done: technical and executive-level reports.

A technical or simplified report is not detailed and includes only a simple overview, threat analyses, and remediation options. An executive-level report, on the contrary, is more developed and detailed, including materials and information like scope assessment, most critical risks and issues, overall security scoring, possible solutions, and retesting suggestions.

Quality Assurance Phase: This is a must-have phase included in every penetration testing process. Quality assurance provides follow-up processes and actions.

Types of Application Penetration Tests

The well-known and common types of tests are Internal and External tests.

Internal Penetration Testing

Generally, internal testing is used by large organizations and companies as constant security testing is required.

Internal pen testing is processed within the company over LAN – testing apps hosted on the Intranet. The purpose is to identify vulnerabilities inside the corporate firewall.

External Penetration Testing

These types of tests, on the contrary, are designed to find external security risks.

The tester is provided only with the information concerning the IP address and nothing more. Afterward, they search and analyze publicly available components of the vulnerable web application and identify the routes and related external websites from where attack attempts are possible.


Although some security requirements can be overwhelming and difficult to keep up with, you still need to do it. A positive side of it is the existence of numerous companies and cybersecurity experts who can do the work for you. So, you need to sit and enjoy the satisfying outcome!