Penetration Testing: Why Developers Should Be Hackers Too

Learning how to do penetration testing is a very valuable skill for developers.

When developing software, it is important to ensure that the application meets the highest quality and security standards. Thus, code review, as well as automated and manual tests, are aimed at ensuring that the application functions correctly and eliminates bugs before it goes into production. Security vulnerability testing is an important part of this process and should be supported by specialized tools.

Indeed, if these tests are neglected, or if the tools are inadequate, the tests can lead to significant delays and backtracking, putting customers and end users at risk.

In France, 20% of SMEs experienced one or more cyberattacks or attempted cyberattacks in 2021. ANSSI, for its part, reports that the number of confirmed intrusions into information systems increased by 37% between 2020 and 2021.

Fighting this scourge while ensuring application security has become a daily challenge.

New vulnerabilities are discovered every day, forcing us to rethink application code that was previously considered immune to attack. While cybersecurity standards are high in most companies, cybercriminals can act and innovate quickly, constantly improving their capabilities. Therefore, much remains to be done to respond to the growing number of cyberattacks.

Simulate cyber attacks to better protect against them

To improve security at the software development level, developers should seek to infiltrate their own systems using cyberattack tools and techniques.

Thus, the penetration testing method offers unique opportunities for improving security. While its differing approach exposes weaknesses that would otherwise be undetectable, it is not intended to replace the standard tests, scans, or reviews that make up current security practice. It complements these practices, which need to be rethought and developed as new risks emerge.

Trying to infiltrate native applications using the same tools as cybercriminals leads to better code and more security. Instead of ensuring that the intended use of the application is allowed, focus on the unintended use.

Very often, vulnerabilities are on the verge of functionality. In other words, pushing the boundaries of what software is supposed to impose can expose vulnerabilities that cyberattackers can penetrate.

If vulnerabilities can occur due to coding oversights, then most often they occur due to flaws in the software design itself or because of the mercantile logic that dictates the design of the application. Although the code is written correctly according to the specifications, those same specifications create many opportunities for abuse and violations.

Moreover, flaws create vulnerabilities very different from those that result from accidental misconfigurations, the use of vulnerable freeware, or even the failure to follow safe software development practices. They may not be the responsibility of the developer, but if the developer is considered the guarantor of the security of the application, then they are included in his area of ​​responsibility.

Penetration test tools

Penetration testing can automate many tasks, similar to how cyber attackers do when they want to break into systems.

Among the tools available to perform a penetration test are solutions that introduce unexpected values ​​wherever they might be entered, in an attempt to crash an application or gain additional access to code or data that should be hidden. In web applications, tools can, for example, enter certain values ​​into content submission forms.

Developers can then use exploit kits available from responsible sources to mimic the methods of the hackers to try and break the security system. Finally, there is penetration testing software that looks for possible entry points rather than malware or intruders on the system. This software is capable of trying thousands of different intrusion methods, far more than the most experienced developers.

Learning how to do penetration testing is a very valuable skill for developers. This gives them a deeper understanding of the various aspects of building secure applications beyond what they are familiar with from a programmer’s perspective.

In addition, the performance of these tests contributes to the creation of a state of mind, which consists in constantly thinking about shortcomings and protecting against the most unexpected actions. An especially important aspect for companies, because these are the paths that cybercriminals will take.

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