NIST Penetration Testing: 11 Steps to Access Vulnerabilities



NIST penetration testing

NIST penetration testing is a process of testing the security of an organization’s information systems. It includes techniques such as vulnerability scanning, network mapping, and penetration testing. NIST stands for National Institute of Standards and Technology. This agency sets guidelines for all US Government agencies to follow when it comes to cybersecurity. They have created a system that goes through 11 steps in order to assess the vulnerabilities within an organization’s system before they are exploited by cybercriminals or foreign actors alike.

Why does your company need this?

Every business needs protection from threats including hackers stealing their data or shutting down operations altogether with ransomware attacks which encrypt sensitive information until money demands are met by its owners not being able to work without access to these files anymore unless they pay up.

Kanishk Tagade

What are the 11 steps to access vulnerabilities?

NIST penetration testing has 11 different steps all companies should follow in order to assess their network’s vulnerabilities and make sure they are protected against threats like these ones while also following guidelines set by NIST for best practices when it comes to cybersecurity.

Step 1: Information Gathering and Reconnaissance

The first step in the NIST pentesting process is to gather information about your organization’s systems. This includes what devices are used, their purpose, location on a map of your network, data flows between different parts of it, etc. All this information helps pen testers identify weak points within an organization’s system so they can be exploited and shut down both temporarily or permanently.

Step 2: Scanning and Enumeration

Once the information has been gathered about your organization’s systems it is time to launch a vulnerability scan on these devices as well as attacks using tools such as Metasploit which will try to exploit vulnerabilities found in the previous steps.

Step 3: Vulnerability Analysis

Pen testers will now analyze all the vulnerabilities found during scans and attacks. Weaknesses are ranked according to the severity with high, medium, or low rankings depending on how critical they are to an organization’s system.

Step 4: Gaining Access

Gaining access, maintaining access, or escalating privileges to obtain higher levels of permissions. This could include data exfiltration if the attacker is able to gain network access to a cloud-based application (such as Salesforce) without detection.

Step 5: Covering Tracks

Covering tracks by deleting logs or otherwise altering system settings so that others may be unaware of any changes made during testing. In other words, this step includes cleaning up after yourself so your efforts aren’t detected. If you keep getting locked out of servers because an administrator has been averted due to failed login attempts from different machines around their infrastructure then it will be much harder to determine where the attempted access originated.

Step 6: Post Exploitation Operations

The post-exploitation actions, which include establishing a connection back to the attacker’s machine and moving laterally through an organization’s network by using available system administration tools built into each operating system (i.e. Microsoft Command Prompt or PowerShell).

Step 7: Covering Tracks (Again)

Cover your tracks again so you don’t get caught at this stage of penetration testing either! This step is just as important as step five because if security professionals know that you’re accessing their servers then they will work hard in order to identify who might have done it before taking additional steps themselves for mitigation purposes. You want them thinking “Who could possibly do something like this?” instead of narrowing down on suspects quickly.

Step 8: Escalate Privileges

Escalate privileges to access the information you couldn’t gain any other way. If the NIST penetration testers are given high levels of permissions but aren’t able to get their hands on critical data or system configurations then they will move onto this step in order to complete the assessment successfully.

Step 9: Cover Tracks

Covering your tracks again! It’s important that attackers don’t leave behind clues about what they have done when attempting a pen test because it might just be detected by someone who knows how and where to look for evidence of unauthorized activity. This is why steps five through ten are so crucial since these were designed specifically with defense in mind while still giving consultants enough room to do their job properly within an organization’s infrastructure during testing.

Step 10: Reporting and Remediation

Provide a full report that details the steps taken during penetration testing, as well as how far they were able to get and what kinds of data or access they could see. This step is important because it helps an organization better understand where security gaps exist so those vulnerabilities can be patched before critical information gets exfiltrated from their servers! In other words, NIST pen testers have been given significant authority to sniff around for weaknesses but need to remain within certain boundaries in order not to cause any long-term damage beyond being detected by administrators who know exactly what types of activity might indicate a failed attempt at gaining network access without permission. That’s why this final step exists – if consultants are too far then it will become immediately apparent when they try to access information that is off-limits.

Step 10: Documentation

Lastly, you need to document everything that took place during this process or the penetration testing scope you articulated before initiation of the tests so it can be presented back to someone within your company who has decision-making power when it comes to cybersecurity policy for best practices that should be followed in order to help secure your IT infrastructure all throughout its life cycle.


Penetration testing has become the preferred method of evaluating security within an organization’s IT infrastructure because it gives them a chance to understand vulnerabilities in ways that are difficult with other types of assessments, especially those involving red teams or social engineering tactics. This methodology also allows consultants to check out their own skills while leaving enough room for mistakes without serious consequences due to the attacker not having sufficient permissions during assessment activities. That said, this type of penetration testing isn’t designed simply to test how vulnerable organizations truly are but instead give businesses a benchmark from which they can improve upon existing weaknesses and strengthen security before attackers move onto more advanced steps at attempting unauthorized access beyond was granted by NIST consultants.

About the Author

Kanishk Tagade is a cybersecurity enthusiast and marketing wizard. Having a hawk-eyed view on the cybersecurity threat landscape and hacktivism activities, Kanishk is a contributor to many technology magazines and security awareness platforms. Editor-in-Chief at “”, his work is published on more than 50+ news platforms.