Penetration testing (also called pen testing) is the practice of testing a computer system, network or Web application to find vulnerabilities that an attacker could exploit.
Pen tests can be automated with software applications or they can be performed manually. Either way, the process includes gathering information about the target before the test (reconnaissance), identifying possible entry points, attempting to break in (either virtually or for real) and reporting back the findings.
The main objective of penetration testing is to determine security weaknesses. A pen test can also be used to test an organization’s security policy compliance, its employees’ security awareness and the organization’s ability to identify and respond to security incidents.
Security issues uncovered through the penetration test are presented to the system’s owner. Effective penetration tests will couple this information with an accurate assessment of the potential impacts to the organization and outline a range of technical and procedural countermeasures to reduce risks.