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Covert security testing (also known as black hat testing)

takes an adversarial approach by performing testing without the knowledge of the organization’s IT staff but with the full knowledge and permission of upper management. This type of test is useful for testing technical security controls, IT staff response to perceived security incidents, and staff knowledge and implementation of the organization’s security policy. Covert testing may be conducted with or without warning.[1]


The purpose of covert testing is to examine the damage or impact an adversary can cause — it does not focus on identifying vulnerabilities. This type of testing does not test every security control, identify each vulnerability, or assess all systems within an organization. Covert testing examines the organization from an adversarial perspective, and normally identifies and exploits the most rudimentary vulnerabilities to gain network access.[2]


  1. NIST Special Publication 800-115, at 2-5.
  2. Id. at 2-5 and 2-6.