Hidden vulnerabilities in a company’s computer networks, systems, and applications can pose serious security threats, but how can pen testing methodologies find them?

Pen testing methodologies, which simulate the behavior of a possible attacker, are critical in detecting and resolving vulnerabilities. As a result, various penetration testing approaches have been established to help security experts perform this securely and successfully. Here, I will go through the top pen testing strategies, what they entail, and what areas they cover.

What is the importance of pen testing methodologies?

Penetration testing is an ethical cyber security assessment that helps organizations better their cyber security posture. It is a complex process that, if not properly conducted, has the ability to miss significant vulnerabilities and leave an organization vulnerable. Completing pen testing in accordance with structured frameworks and procedures guarantees that specific goals are reached, and all relevant areas are covered. However, because every organization and environment is unique, a one-size-fits-all strategy for pen testing is ineffective.

The top 5 pen testing methodologies

It’s critical to consider whether a pen testing approach provides the right level of assessment for your company. This is accomplished through becoming acquainted with the various sorts of techniques.

Open Source Security Testing Methodology Manual (OSSTMM)

OSSTMM seeks to provide a scientific process for defining operational security based on verifiable facts.

The OSSTMM addresses most of the International Information System Security Certification Consortium’s (ISC)2 10 security domains. The domains are grouped into five channels or security sectors to allow organizations to analyze the effectiveness of their security activities. The Institute for Security and Open Methodologies peer-reviews and maintains the OSSTMM methodology, which is constantly updated (ISECOM).

It is essential to highlight that the OSSTMM was created as a security auditing methodology to analyze against regulatory and industry criteria rather than as a standalone penetration testing technique. It is meant to serve as the foundation for a pen testing approach tailored to the appropriate rules and frameworks. This implies it isn’t as complete as, say, the Information System Security Assessment Framework (ISSAF), and it lacks tools and procedures for completing modules. However, when used by specialists with the appropriate level of technical understanding, it is a significant resource that can assist organizations in meeting regulatory requirements.

pen testing methodologies
pen testing methodologies


The OWASP Top Ten, recognized by developers and security specialists worldwide, outlines significant vulnerabilities that affect online application security. It was developed by the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), a non-profit organization that helps organizations improve the security of their web applications.

The OWASP Top 10 was first released in 2003 and is updated every three years. It presents a classification of the most prevalent web application security concerns to assist organizations in identifying and addressing them based on prevalence, impact, manner of exploitation by attackers, and ease or complexity of discovery.

The inspection of web applications to uncover vulnerabilities described in the OWASP Top Ten is covered by OWASP pen testing. An OWASP pen test is intended to find, securely exploit, and help address these vulnerabilities so that any flaws uncovered can be addressed as soon as possible.

The OWASP Testing Guide (OTG) is organized into three major sections: the OWASP testing framework for web application development, web application testing methodology, and reporting. The web application methodology can be used alone or in conjunction with the testing framework, whereas the framework can be used to construct a security-focused online application, followed by a pen test (web application methodology) to test the design.

One significant distinction between OWASP and other penetration testing methodologies is that the OTG primarily focuses on web and API application security throughout the whole software development lifecycle, as opposed to the ISSAF and the OSSTMM, which are aimed at security testing and implementation. Another distinction is that OWASP handles controls, whereas OSSTMM does not.

Pen testing methodologies Execution Standard (PTES)

PTES was developed to provide a structured framework for organizations to describe what they should expect from a penetration test. As a result, the PTES is one of the most comprehensive pen-testing approaches and one of the most recently established.

It intends to set a baseline for penetration tests by providing security practitioners and/or organizations with a reference point regarding penetration testing needs. It is divided into seven primary sections covering all pen test aspects. It also aims to provide organizations and security service providers with a standardized language and scope for testing.

Version two of the PTES is currently being developed with the goal of being more granular in the amount of intensity at which each part of a penetration test can be performed. This will assist organizations in defining the level of sophistication they anticipate from their adversary, allowing the tester to adjust the intensity accordingly in the relevant areas.

While the PTES standard does not give technical guidance for conducting an actual pen test, an additional technical reference goes along with the standard. Referencing approaches such as OWASP makes the most of other accessible resources.


The Open Information Systems Security Group backs the Information System Security Assessment Framework (ISSAF) (OISSG). It connects individual pen testing phases to specific tools. It strives to provide a comprehensive guide to executing a penetration test while allowing organizations to design their own pen testing methodology.

The ISSAF splits the pen testing process into three essential phases: planning and preparation, assessment and reporting, cleanup, and artifact destruction. The ISSAF distinguishes itself by providing comprehensive technical guidance on testing, as opposed to other approaches, such as the OSSTMM, which is primarily an auditing methodology. However, while it is a useful reference source for those in the sector, it is no longer maintained and is expected to grow progressively out of date.


The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) cyber security framework offers organizations an organized collection of rules, guidelines, and standards. It divides all cyber security capabilities, initiatives, procedures, and everyday activities into five key roles to assist businesses in better understanding, managing, and mitigating cyber security risks.

As part of the framework, NIST penetration testing is a pen testing approach that adheres to NIST’s particular and detailed instructions. Companies must execute penetration testing on their applications and networks in accordance with a set of rules in order to achieve these standards.

The  NIST document that focuses the most on penetration testing is NIST 800-53, which describes a variety of security controls classified into distinct groups based on their use.

pen testing methodologies
pen testing methodologies

Pen testing methodologies | The many stages of a pen test.

While the specific steps of a penetration test vary depending on what is being tested, they generally follow the same sequence, which includes:

1. Scoping

Scoping is an essential aspect of the pen testing technique since it allows the most relevant sort of assessment to be identified. The whole scope and aims of the pen test are established at this point. It comprises a list of the systems and applications to be tested and the best testing approach to utilize, whether it be a black box, grey box, or white box.

The scoping step should maximize an organization’s return on investment. Setting explicit goals for the pen test also ensures that only the particular and required areas are addressed, and assessments are carried out in accordance with technical, legal, and compliance standards, including pen testing in accordance with the GDPR, PCI DSS, and ISO 27001.

2. Testing

The following step in the penetration testing technique is carrying out the scoping strategy and identifying and assessing vulnerabilities. The activities during this stage can differ depending on the type of test done. For example, if the test is part of a black box evaluation, this stage may include both active and passive reconnaissance. In order to get an in-depth perspective of an organization’s infrastructure, testers use open-source approaches (passive) as well as network and vulnerability scanning (active).

After generating a network overview, the testers analyze any systems and applications in scope to find vulnerabilities and potential exploits.

Some interactions necessitate employing actions commonly used by attackers against organizations, such as vulnerability exploitation. This enables testers to determine the extent to which a vulnerability could allow an attacker to compromise an organization. Pen testers use previously obtained information and expertise of the most recent adversarial tactics, strategies, and processes to exploit identified vulnerabilities (if this was agreed upon within the scope) to get first access.

This step should also contain work to perform a horizontal and vertical movement, which may imply upgrading privileges by compromising user accounts with more extensive access to an environment. This ensures that the objectives established throughout the scoping phase are met.

3. Debriefing and reporting

Whatever the approach, the reporting and debriefing stage is a critical last step in the pen testing process. This entails presenting a client report outlining the vulnerabilities discovered during the pen test, their impact, how they were discovered, and the potential implications of failing to remediate them. This report should also include any sensitive data accessed and, if applicable, how long the testers remained undiscovered.

A comprehensive penetration testing report should also include an analysis of the potential business impact of each issue found. It should also include remediation recommendations, as well as guidance on the necessary activities and technical information to communicate with vendors in order for them to resolve vulnerabilities in their infrastructure and apps.

4. Choosing a Pen Test Provider

While having a current grasp of the many types of penetration testing procedures is essential, evaluating potential pen test providers is critical to ensure you select the best one for your organization’s needs. A reputable pen test vendor should be able to advise you on the methodology and strategy that is best suited to your needs.


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About Rhyno Cybersecurity Services

Rhyno Cybersecurity is a Canadian-based company focusing on 24/7 Managed Detection and Response, Penetration Testing, Enterprise Cloud, and Cybersecurity Solutions for small and midsize businesses.

Our products and services are robust, innovative, and cost-effective. Underpinned by our 24x7x365 Security Operations Centre (SOC), our experts ensure you have access to cybersecurity expertise when you need it the most.

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