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OpenTAP and Security Testing III - Penetration Testing


Penetration Testing

  • Purpose: Simulates real-world attacks to identify vulnerabilities and assess the security of systems and networks.

  • Methodology: OpenTAP runs hacking scripts that attempt to exploit vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access, providing insights into potential risks.

  • Output: Detailed reports on vulnerabilities, their severity, and recommendations.

What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing (a.k.a. "pen testing") plays a crucial role in identifying and mitigating security risks. It helps organizations strengthen defenses, protect sensitive data, and improve overall security posture. By simulating real-world attack scenarios, pen testing provides valuable insights into security vulnerabilities and helps ensure that appropriate controls are in place to defend against potential threats.

Five Phases of Pen Testing

The process of pen testing is broken out into five phases:

Reconnaissance - In this phase, testers gather information about the target system, including network topology, OS and applications, user accounts, and other exploitable information, in support of building an effective attack strategy. Reconnaissance can be passive or active: passive reconnaissance pulls information from public sources; active reconnaissance involves direct interaction with a target system. Testers typically employ both methods to form a fuller picture of target vulnerabilities.

Scanning - Testers use various tools to identify open network interface ports and check network traffic on the target. Open ports provide potential entry points for attackers, penetration testers need to identify as many open ports as possible for the next phase.

Vulnerability Assessment - Using reconnaissance data and scan results, testers then identify potential vulnerabilities and whether they can be exploited. Like scanning, vulnerability assessment is more powerful when combined with other penetration testing phases.

Testers look to a varied assessment toolbox, including the National Vulnerability Database (NVD), a repository of vulnerability management data created and maintained by NIST providing analyses of software vulnerabilities published in the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) database.

Exploitation - In this penetration testing phase, testers attempt to access the target system and exploit identified vulnerabilities. More extensive exploitation testing can take the further steps of exfiltrating data, attempting to corrupt information, even simulating malware of various types.

Reporting - After various successful attempts at exploitation, testers document the tests' findings. Pen test reports provide a "punch list" for remediation of discovered vulnerabilities with a goal of improving organization security posture.

Leveraging Test Automation

Test automation can play a crucial role in penetration testing by mechanizing the phases of the testing process. Here's how test automation applies to each phase of penetration testing:

Automating Reconnaissance : OpenTAP and other automation tools can greatly enhance active recon, allowing methodical identification of exploitable elements such as open ports, services running on those ports, and potential entry points. This information helps penetration testers understand the attack surface and plan their testing approach.

Speeding Vulnerability Scanning: By encapsulating invocation and monitoring of vulnerability scanning tools in an OpenTAP test plan, testers can more easily scan software stacks, target systems and networks for known vulnerabilities in software, configurations, and infrastructure components. These tools can identify common security weaknesses, such as missing patches, misconfigurations, and insecure network services, allowing penetration testers to prioritize their efforts and focus on high-risk areas.

Potential vulnerabilities can pop up at any time (especially zero-day vulnerabilities), and automating vulnerability management helps to provide an active and up-to-date line of defense.

Orchestrating Exploitation: OpenTAP can orchestrate execution of the testing frameworks and scripts used to automate the exploitation of vulnerabilities identified during the testing process. OpenTAP can automate the process of launching attacks against vulnerable systems, including brute-force attacks, SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and remote code execution. OpenTAP enables penetration testers to more easily demonstrate the impact of security vulnerabilities and assess the effectiveness of defensive measures.

Post-Exploitation Automation: After gaining initial access to a target system or network, OpenTAP can be used to automate post-exploitation activities, such as privilege escalation, lateral movement, data exfiltration, and persistence mechanisms. OpenTAP can thereby help penetration testers simulate real-world attack scenarios and assess the extent of potential damage that an attacker could cause.

Reporting Automation: OpenTAP can streamline the process of generating penetration test reports by aggregating results, including vulnerabilities discovered, attack paths, exploit attempts, and remediation recommendations. Combining OpenTAP with advanced reporting tools can save time and effort for penetration testers, allowing them to focus on analysis and remediation efforts.

Automated Remediation: Security teams seldom have time or resources to address every vulnerability and/or to do so in a timely fashion. This is where automation comes in: remediation strategies should ideally have automatic fixes for at least some vulnerability management tasks. For example, a predesigned patch management workflow could be triggered when a vulnerability scanner detects an unpatched asset.

Continuous Penetration Testing: OpenTAP can participate in the process of continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines, automated penetration testing can be integrated into the software development lifecycle. Tools and scripts can be used to automatically trigger penetration tests whenever changes are made to the codebase or infrastructure, ensuring that security testing is performed consistently and continuously throughout the development process.

OpenTAP in Pen Testing Products

The Keysight SA8710A Automotive Cybersecurity Penetration Test Platform provides a complete OpenTAP-based automotive cybersecurity solution from the hardware level through all layers of the OSI stack. The automated end-to-end device security testing cover all access interfaces on a platform that to detect and fix vulnerabilities quickly and efficiently and builds on Keysight’s UXM platform, Ixia Security expertise, and PathWave Lab Operations platform for test case management and Regression testing.

The Penetration Test Platform is highly scalable platform enables validation of the robustness of ECUs, TCUs, subcomponents, and the entire car against cyber-attacks.

The combination of Hardware plus Software plus Services

  • Hardware that connects to the DUT via all relevant interfaces

  • Software that runs attacks against (exploits) the various interfaces

Regression testing and enterprise level management promotes

  • Saving discovered found vulnerabilities for re-use

  • Integration with the Keysight PathWave Lab Operations platform

Integration with customer enterprise platforms

  • Cloud and database services

  • Customer-proprietary test harnesses and test sets


By leveraging test automation in general and OpenTAP in particular in penetration testing, organizations can improve the efficiency, accuracy, and effectiveness of their security testing efforts, helping them identify and remediate security vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by attackers.