After running a penetration test, you need to create an insightful and detailed report. This can be done using a combination of any automated tools you use to generate reports, as well as your own manual input.
Typically, most penetration reports will follow a similar structure, though, in the end, it is ultimately down to the preferences of your company as to what the final report looks like.
That said, no matter how you choose to structure it, every penetration test report needs to include certain details – which is why we have created this guide. Below, we’ve pulled together a list of five things you always need to include on your pen test report.
1. An executive summary
The first thing to appear on a penetration test report is usually the executive summary. This gives a brief overview of all the key details in the report. It quickly lets the reader know the steps that have been taken and any key findings. It also gives a quick breakdown of the recommended next steps and actions that need to follow.
Often, the executive summary, as the title suggests, is targeted at the C-suite and executive staff that will be reading it. As a pen tester, you often find you have little time to actually speak with senior staff; therefore, the executive summary is somewhat of an elevator pitch for the whole penetration test.
For this reason, the executive summary needs to be clear and concise and give a high-level overview of the key findings. The smaller details can be included later in the body of the report.
It’s also important to avoid any technical jargon in the summary, unless it is quick and easy to explain. A strong executive summary might also include high-level charts and graphs that the reader could find helpful.
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2. Tools and methods used
The next section you need to include is a breakdown of the tools and methods. This should give more information about the exact methods and tools that were used to conduct the test. This will include details like:
- The tools that were used
- The methods that were chosen
- Paths taken
- Attack patterns
- Vectors selected
This should give an overview of all the ethical hacks that took place; you could then include details or a map of the specifics for better visualisation.
Depending on the length and complexity of your penetration test, you might wish to go into even more detail in this section by laying out a step-by-step guide of the attack narrative. At this stage, you can also show how certain information was discovered based on the assessment.
Though you might be the one writing the report, it is likely that the other technical teams will be the ones reading it. They will have to fix any issues that have been raised. Therefore, it needs to be detailed enough to help them do their job and suggest paths for re-testing once vulnerabilities have been addressed.
3. The technical details of the vulnerabilities
No penetration test would be complete without details of the vulnerabilities that have been discovered. Without this information, technical teams cannot address the problems and strengthen the company’s cybersecurity efforts.
This description of the vulnerabilities assessment will typically describe all the risks in technical terms, giving evidence of the vulnerabilities that have been found. However, it is important to add some explanation and context about these issues so that those without in-depth technical knowledge can still understand.
To make things clearer, the vulnerabilities are broken down into categories and ranked by severity and level of priority. This can be done using a CVSS score (Common Vulnerability Scoring System). By giving these a level of priority, they can be mitigated according to the risk they represent to the business.
However, it is not enough to simply outline the vulnerabilities; you must also include a contextual description of what this could mean for the business and very real the impact it could have.
An example of this might be if a healthcare company uploads files through an online portal and a vulnerability is discovered; it’s not enough to describe the technical process. Instead, it must include language that clearly spells out the impact. For example, in this case, the hacker might be able to view private medical records.
4. The next steps for fixing the vulnerabilities
Once the vulnerabilities have been set out and the biggest problems highlighted, the report needs to present the next steps that must be taken to mitigate these risks.
As well as giving recommendations for better security, these next steps need to be tailored to the unique needs and circumstances of the business.
Often, an effective penetration test report will give multiple remediation solutions as this gives the technical team options for tackling the problems. That way, they can choose the quickest and most budget-friendly way for them to make changes.
Some smaller organisations might need extra support at this stage, which might include an additional section walking them through the possible fixes, step by step. As such, this final stage might present detailed appendices, resources and recommendations to better support the business going forward.
Again, this section is really important to your penetration test and might be read by a variety of people with different levels of technical know-how. Therefore, it needs to be explained clearly and concisely.
5. A conclusion
The final thing you should include in your penetration test report is a conclusion section. This should succinctly wrap up everything you have compiled into your report and reiterate some of the most important steps that the business needs to focus on next in order to bolster its security.
You might feel like you’re slightly repeating yourself here, but this can be a quick and easy way for senior employees to quickly get to grips with the next stages and how to mitigate risks. Like the executive summary, it should give a high-level overview of what they need to do.
Essentially the conclusion is one final holistic and purposeful summary of the report, its key findings and how to address these vulnerabilities.
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