12 January, 2023

What is a Physical Penetration Test?

What is a Physical Penetration Test?
Kathy Collins
Author: Kathy Collins

If you are wondering what a physical penetration test is, and what different types we offer, you have landed in the right place.  In the simplest terms, a physical penetration test is an attack on a location's physical security, focused on determining if an attacker could bypass the controls on the location. Just like other forms of penetration testing such as a network, API or web application test, physical testing is designed to expose vulnerabilities and weaknesses so these flaws can be addressed.  This helps improve defenses against real-world threats.

We provide a variety of testing options and are committed to working with clients to tailor the test to meet their specific requirements and goals.  The following are the most frequently requested testing formats:

Physical Security Assessment

Overall, the goal of a physical security assessment is to ensure that the facility is adequately protected against physical threats and to identify and address any weaknesses or vulnerabilities that could be exploited by an attacker.

The assessment typically involves a client-guided, thorough walk-through of the facility by a Secure Ideas consultant during business hours.  The consultant will examine a wide range of security-related factors, including the layout and design of the space, the type and condition of locks and other physical barriers, the presence of security personnel and surveillance systems, and the availability of emergency exits and other safety features.

Full Spectrum Physical Penetration Test

During this style of testing, the Secure Ideas team of professional testers will attempt to gain access to agreed-upon locations, typically during business hours.  This is a fully involved test of physical barriers, sensitive areas, and personnel using a variety of tactics. These may include pretending to be employees or delivery workers, using social engineering techniques, attempting to bypass security measures such as locks, alarms and cameras, or physically breaking into the location through windows, doors, or other weak entry points. 

Once our team gains access to the designated areas, our next steps can vary based on what our clients are trying to achieve.  We may attempt to access the internal network and exfiltrate data, search for poor security practices (such as passwords written on sticky notes), remove laptops or other hardware, or measure the length of time before the security team determines that unauthorized access has been obtained.

Controlled Intrusion Physical Penetration Test

Throughout this type of test, key personnel are aware of the test and have disabled alarms and alerted the security team.  Consultants will typically be able to conduct the test in a more controlled and contained manner, without the risk of triggering any real-world security responses. This can allow the consultants to focus more closely on identifying and evaluating vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the physical security of the facility.  

When performing this testing, the security consultants will typically follow a predetermined plan and timeline in order to simulate the conditions of a real-world attack as closely as possible. Depending on the specific goals of the test, the consultant may attempt to gain access to sensitive areas of the facility, or simulate disrupting operations in some way.

Navigating Through the Physical Testing

Now that you have decided what type of physical testing you need, Secure Ideas is committed to transparency and accountability throughout the testing process. Prior to any type of physical test, you will collaborate with Secure Ideas consultants to outline the test's scope.  Additionally, expectations will be thoroughly discussed and detailed in writing before the test date. We strive to understand your security concerns, identify target locations and assets, and mutually agree on the methods and tactics to be employed, ensuring that all actions remain within legal and ethical frameworks. This verifies that our goals match your objectives, and establishes precise boundaries for permitted activities. As a result, our efforts are focused, relevant, and tailored to replicate real-world threats specific to your industry.

Following the test, we consolidate this information into a comprehensive report. We meticulously document our actions, findings, and the vulnerabilities we uncover. This includes capturing evidence of how we gained access, such as photographs or screenshots, and detailing the sequence of events in a narrative format. This report not only describes our activities and findings in detail but also offers strategic insights, suggestions for enhancing physical security measures, and recommendations for remedial actions. Our goal is to provide you with a clear understanding of physical security vulnerabilities and actionable guidance to strengthen your defenses against potential threats.

As you can see, a physical penetration test can be a valuable tool for identifying and addressing vulnerabilities in physical security.  Secure Ideas consultants have been performing physical testing for many years, and utilize some of the most cutting-edge tools and techniques – just like the bad guys do.  By simulating a real-world attack, a physical penetration test can better protect your assets –including the people your business relies on – and help improve security culture and awareness across the entire organization.

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