Computers and Technology

Penetration Testing on Cloud Environment and Important Things to Consider

By definition, Penetration Testing refers to the practice of testing a computer system to identify any and all security vulnerabilities that it might be facing. This is done in a bid to strengthen the security of the system and subsequently save it from possible threats. In more colloquial terms, this practice is also referred to as pen testing or ethical hacking, and apart from computer systems, it can also be applied to networks and computer applications. While you can always authorize and automate this simulated cyber attack with the help of software applications, you can perform it manually as well. For the clarity of the reader, it should be noted that the practice of pen testing must not be confused with that of vulnerability assessment. 

Carrying out a penetration test on a cloud environment and testing of cloud-based applications involves the same set of procedures that one would have to follow while executing it on any other platform. With the growing reliance of multinational companies and business conglomerates on cloud services, insuring it for possible security threats and cyberattacks has become all the more necessary. 

Anatomy of a Regular Pen Test:

A standard pen test starts with the ethical hacker thoroughly scrutinizing the system to identify any and all security loopholes in it. Scrutinization provides information and other useful data later utilized in planning the simulated attack that the hacker wages on the system. Once this is achieved, the focus shifts towards securing access to the test system and maintaining that subsequently. Now, this might mandate tools that belong to a broader set. 

Usually, an ethical hacker relies on SQL injections or any other software designed specifically to cause force attacks that are directly inflicted. Additionally, they may also depend on the designated hardware for the process to achieve their objective as well. This involves the use of small boxes that do not really grab attention but can nonetheless be plugged into a system on the requisite network to ensure remote access. On top of everything, an individual who performs ethical hacking also has the liberty of resorting to social engineering practices to locate vulnerabilities. A common example of that includes the practice of sending fraudulent emails to the employees of that particular company.

Pen Test and Its Consequences:

Once a penetration test is successfully carried out, the engineer will divulge the necessary inferences and observations with the security team of the company in question. The team is then expected to make judicious use of these reports and implement suitable enhancements to their security systems to resolve their loopholes. Often these upgrades involve rate limiting, DDoS mitigation, improved WAF rules, and other stricter forms of validation and sanitization.

Possible Challenges:

Like any other technical maneuver, the process of pen testing on cloud environments comes with its own set of challenges. In past times, testing of applications that are cloud-based used to be a complicated affair owing to several geographic and legal limitations. Without the explicit permissions of Cloud Service Providers, testers and professional, ethical hackers failed to obtain the clearances that would be required to carry out any intrusive scans on these platforms and environments.

However, of late, this attitude has seen a welcome change on the back of several malicious cyber attacks. Most notable among them was the data breach at CapitalOne that rocked headlines all across the globe. In this unfortunate incident, the attacker exploited an ill-configured access control on AWS to seize the requisite credentials and gain illegal access to the Amazon S3 buckets and subsequently recover the stored information. 

Consequently, organizations have now started being open to the practices of QA outsourcing in a bid to execute pen tests within their cloud environments and under supervised and curated circumstances. However, the biggest challenge to security in a cloud environment continues to be a human error that stems from user flexibility within the system.

Cloud computing service Microsoft Azure understands this issue and deploys measures to avoid any vulnerability that could be caused due to human involvement. One can master this service by opting for the Azure Fundamentals certification program.

Execution of a Pen Test in a Cloud Environment:

The eventual execution of a pen test in a cloud environment entails many operations that one should be aware of before going ahead with the procedure.

  1. Cloud policies comprehension: In most cases, an ethical hacker is required to inform a cloud service provider in advance before they can proceed with testing the platform. Consequently, this introduces some limitations in the testing process. Thus the hacker is always advised to conduct prior research with respect to the process that the concerned provider recommends for their clarity. Failure to do so might result in the executed pen test appearing as a typical DDoS attack, thus making you directly answerable to the relevant authorities in place. Hence understanding the legal necessities and all concerned schemes and guidelines is crucial for the hacker to conduct testing. 
  2. Create a plan: To conduct a pen test, the ethical hacker first needs to chalk out an effective plan. This is necessary for the overall clarity of the team that is meant to carry out the pen testing operation and the eventual establishment of the operational pipeline that is to be followed. 
  3. Finalizing on your testing tools: While using on-premises software tools to carry out pen testing is a favored approach, hackers should also be on the lookout for recent pen-testing instruments that are cloud-based, which are increasingly cost-effective. Additionally, they do not necessitate massive hardware footprints as well. 


In this time and age, where data has truly become the new currency, it is fair to assume that the security of its data supersedes the rest of a company’s priorities. Especially in a hybrid cloud environment where some data is stored locally and the rest in the cloud, pen-testing becomes absolutely essential.

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