The PTES pentesting standard is awesome and you should read it

If you’re into pentesting or red teaming, sooner or later you’ll encounter some standardized methodologies.

The National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST) has one called the “Technical Guide to Information Security Testing and Assessment,” or SP800-115. I’m a big fan of NIST, and this is a good place to start, especially if you care about FISMA risk management frameworks. But it’s pretty high-level, and will probably leave you wanting more.

With a little more Googling, you’ll then find The page has a dated MediaWiki interface. It hasn’t been updated in almost a year. But those things don’t matter, this site is made of open source awesomeness.

The meat of the site lives in the PTES Technical Guidelines. It’s fairly extensive, and if you’re already somewhat familiar with information security, it can go a long way to teaching you about penetration testing.

To give you an idea of the scope of this methodology, take a look at the FreeMind map that they posted, converted here to PNG for your viewing ease.


Go ahead and click on it, you’ll need to load the whole thing then zoom. It’s enormous.

Every one of these entries in the mindmap are backed up by some direction in the Technical Guidelines. Granted, PTES doesn’t hold your hand in all places, but for the devoted student of pentesting, this is invaluable stuff.

Now, to be fair, PTES is not the only game in town. There are other methodologies worth mentioning; I’ll write more about the later, but here’s an overview.

OWASP is another open source pentesting framework, but it’s focused at the web application layer. 18F, the folks behind and other cool stuff, requires the use of an OWASP automated scanner called ZAP as part of the ATO process.

ISSAF is another cool methodology, but it’s even harder to navigate than PTES. You can download the rar archive, or navigate the individual .doc files. At some point I hope to map PTES and ISSAF steps to one another to identify gaps in the former and contribute back to the project.

As much as I like it, PTES could really use a little TLC. There are incomplete sections. And a more modern interface would help, possibly even a migration to a GitHub Pages model, which would make community contribution easier. A D3 directed graph (example) would make for a nice, interactive mindmap.

But despite its shortcomings, I’d say it’s still the best open source pentesting methodology out there. Go check it out.

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