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All You Need to Know about External vs Internal Penetration Tests

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By AMSAT Jan 20,2021

All You Need to Know about External vs Internal Penetration Tests

Penetration testing, also called ethical hacking, is the exercise of reviewing the security flaws of application software, networks, computers and devices, wireless systems, and employees. Penetration tests can be either external or internal depending on the goal of the project.

An external penetration test seeks to misuse flaws that could be carried out by an external user without appropriate access and authorizations. An internal penetration test is similar to a vulnerability evaluation; nevertheless, it takes an examination one step further by seeking to exploit the flaws and ascertain what information is actually exposed.

External Penetration Test

External penetration testing comprises testing flaws to review the likelihoods of being attacked by any remote attacker. By exploiting the found vulnerabilities it recognizes the information being revealed to outsiders.

The major goal of this test is to pretend an attack on the internal network by imitating the actions of an actual hacker.

This type of penetration testing seeks to find and misuse flaws of a system to make off with or adversely affect the organization’s information. Consequently, the test will reveal whether the employed security measures are sufficient to secure an organization and to evaluate its ability to protect against any external attack.

An external penetration test typically takes three weeks to complete; nevertheless, this hinges on the intricacy of the system, the size of the network, and the objectives of the test itself

Examples of external penetration tests include:

Configuration & Deployment Management Testing

Identity Management Testing

Authentication Testing

Authorization Testing

Session Management Testing, Input Validation Testing

Testing for weak Cryptography

Business Logic Testing

Client-Side Testing

Testing for Error Handling.

Testing methodologies include: 


Checking for public information and other information leakages

System Scanning/Port Scanning/Service Scanning for flaws

Manual testing identified flaws

IDS/IPS Testing

Password Strength Testing


Internal Penetration Test 

An internal penetration test employs a different method of tackling the attacks and only bets highlighted once it completes an external penetration test. In this test, the key focus is to recognize what a hacker with internal access to your network could achieve. 

Make sure you have the following checklist on hand before engaging with a vendor: 

Your objectives for conducting a pen test

The number of internal workstations on the network

The number of servers

The total number of internal and external IPs.


Internal penetration tests include using:


Computer Systems
Access Points
WiFi Networks
Local Servers


Once those flaws have been identified, testers exploit them to determine the effect of an attack and show the defects/entry points to the organization. 


Internal penetration testing is not just restricted to abusing internal network flaws, but it also comprises privilege escalation, malware spreading, man in the middle attacks (MITM), credential stealing, monitoring, information leakage or any other mean activity.


Testing methodologies include:

Internal Network Scanning
Port Scanning and System Fingerprinting
Finding vulnerabilities
Manual Vulnerability Testing and Verification
Firewall and ACL Testing
Administrator Privileges Escalation Testing
Password Strength Testing
Network Equipment Security Controls Testing
Database Security Controls Testing
Internal Network Scan for Known Trojans
Third-Party/Vendor Security Configuration Testing

Popular tools used in internal penetration testing:

Burp Suite Pro
Metasploit Framework
Hashcat/John the Ripper
Custom Scripts


To prevent your organization from possible breaches and strengthen existing security controls against an expert hacker, a number of companies on the internet offer penetration testing services based on a custom plan of a multistep attack that targets custom network infrastructure and applications. For every enterprise, it’s best practice to carry out an external and internal penetration test along with consistent security reviews to confirm the security of their IT System and determine what information can be revealed to the hackers.


  • Internal Penetration Tests
  • External Penetration Tests

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