Stay Safe with a Network Penetration Testing Checklist

Are you thinking about exploring what vulnerabilities exist within your network or applications?

You need what is known as a pen test. For a complete background, in this article, we provide a fundamental network penetration testing checklist for organizations to keep in mind.

We are going to look at a 5-step network penetration testing checklist that can be used to ensure your efforts deliver results.

Before we get into the details, here are 3 reasons why organizations should perform a network penetration test in the first place:

  • Network penetration testing will enable you to identify the security vulnerabilities and flaws that are currently present in your system.
  • After a thorough penetration test, you should be able to understand the level of security risk that your organization or business entity is running.
  • The reports from the network penetration tester will help you formulate a proper plan to fix and remedy the flaws that are discovered. At Cynexlink, we employ certified ethical hackers who act as though they are malicious actors, uncovering the vulnerabilities before the bad guys do first!

Also, some companies face regulatory requirements for conducting penetration tests (CMMC, SOC2, HIPAA, etc.).

Along with this network penetration testing checklist, we will also mention several network pen testing tools that help ethical hackers perform each task.

Now for the network penetration testing steps(checklist):

Step 1: Information Gathering

The goal of the first step in this network penetration testing checklist is to gather as much information about your target network as possible.

It should be information that can potentially be used to exploit vulnerabilities.

Primarily having IP addresses or URLs to work with initially, this is the point where technicians will use a tool like Nmap to enumerate the IP DNS records.

Nmap is an information-gathering tool that will get you DNS records of an IP address like A, MX, NS, SRV, PTR, SOA, CNAME records.

With these tools, we can detect all the hosts on the network, what services they are providing and the server software & versions they are running.

Because certain server software versions have known vulnerabilities, we’ll need this information in step 2 of this network penetration testing checklist.

Another very important piece of information needed before formulating an attack model is the open port’s availability.

Again using Nmap, we can discover and enlist all open ports in the entire network.

Open ports are the most commonly used openings for malicious hackers to gain unauthorized or backdoor access into a network and to install malicious scripts.

Step 2: Threat modeling

After collecting all the information we can about the target network, it’s time to use this information for something more active.

Step 2 of this network penetration testing checklist involves using this information to run tests on the target system, scouting for obvious vulnerabilities.

At this point, we are simply trying to enlist all the vulnerabilities available on the network, without necessarily moving forward to attack them and see if they are exploitable.

Note also that while you can use automated tests to scan for network system vulnerabilities, a more thorough process runs manual tests with live technicians, as well.

It is at this point, a network penetration test tool like the Metasploit framework gains critical information about security vulnerabilities on a target system. It generally finds all the loopholes and security flaws on a target with a very low percentage of false positives.

Another vulnerability scanner tool like Nessus is also great for finding software bugs and possible ways to violate software security.

With the information on operating systems and versions, you can use Nmap to then find known vulnerabilities for potential exploits on the target.

With information on all the possible vulnerabilities, let’s move to step 3 of this network pen testing methodology.

Step 3: Vulnerability Analysis

First, keep in mind that not all vulnerabilities are worth trying to exploit.

The vulnerability assessment tools used in step 2 of this network penetration test checklist exported some reports; it’s now time to look into these reports and categorize the security flaws with their level of severity.

It is by using such reporting that we’re able to formulate an attack plan to exploit the real-world attack vectors.

The vulnerability analysis step aims to identify suitable targets for an exploit so we don’t waste time performing unnecessary tasks.

It is at this point that we can also draw a network diagram to help you understand the logical network connection path. We also prepare proxies to use in step 4 to keep ourselves anonymous: testing the recognition and response to an attack is part of the pen testing process. Does the IT team of the targeted organization know if a hacker has gained access to their network? We’ll find out.

Having noted the attractive targets for exploitation at this point, it is time to determine the most appropriate attack vectors for the vulnerabilities identified.

Step 4: Exploitation

Exploitation means probing the networks’ vulnerabilities to ascertain whether they are exploitable. This is the most important step because it allows us to show clients which flaws they need to fix most immediately.

The tools we often use at this point for exploitation include Metasploit, Burp Suite, and Wireshark.

Depending on the project scope, we will also use password cracking tools like Aircrack or Cain & Abel, to explore the strength of network passphrases.

This network penetration test stage might also involve other heavy manual testing tasks that are often very time-intensive. Such vulnerability exploitation may involve SQL injection, password cracking, buffer overflow, and OS commands, among others.

Even social engineering might be employed at this stage, again depending on the project scope.

Here’s the bottom line about step 4: because this phase depends on savvy probing by a live pen tester, hiring the most experienced technicians is vital.

Step 5: Reporting

The delivery and reporting phase on network penetration testing is very important.

A good network penetration test report should not only give an overview of the entire penetration testing process, but it must also include the most critical network vulnerabilities that need to be addressed – in order of urgency.

Good reports will also include a summary of the vulnerability statistics together with screenshots of exploit attempts, and a well-written pen testing report will outline a clear plan fixing all vulnerabilities which were discovered.

Which is, of course, the point of network penetration testing in the first place.


It is always important to follow a proper network penetration testing methodology.

With this checklist, organizations should now understand how a properly trained technician will formulate a large-scale attack on a network without missing any gaps.

While there is no one-size-fits-all checklist for performing network penetration testing, the steps above should provide a good foundation for almost any organization that had been looking for a network penetration testing tutorial.

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