Cатсн²² (in)sесuяitу / ChrisJohnRiley

Because we're damned if we do, and we're damned if we don't!

Getting your message across: Screenshots

Since I’ve finally started doing something with pentestreports.com I thought it was time to write-up some interesting content. Seeing as this one has been bugging me for a while, I thought it would make an interesting starting point. As always, comments are welcomed and encouraged!

Getting the message across in a penetration testing report isn’t always the easiest thing. Explain in 500 words or less, to somebody who may or may not know what TCP is, how you used a forged HTTP request header to inject falsified log requests into their database and perform stored cross-site scripting on administrators… yeah, it’s not easy. So, a picture is worth a thousand words, and we’re going to need to use all the options available to us to convey the issue at hand.

The problem is… people don’t always spend as much time thinking about that picture as they would writing 500 words! and they should! Here’s a few of the screenshot-crimes I’ve seen over the last 10 years or so in technology. These aren’t restricted to Penetration Testing… so should be applicable for any graphical representation!

The lazyboy

Well I guess it gets the message across… but I’m not really sure what that message really is! A screenshot is designed to help get a message across and prove that something was achieved. This kind of screenshot does nothing more than show that you can press a few keys and take a screenshot. Did I perform an XSS in your website, was it reflective? stored? second-order? Who knows…

This screenshot shows nothing.


Is that bigfoot? Nope, it’s hard to see, but that’s actually a screenshot! Crop people… no, don’t think, just crop. At least you’re getting more of the message across than the lazyboy, but you’re not helping yourself here. Make sure that when you take a screenshot everything you NEED to show is in a small area that will be easily visible and readable when the screenshot is cropped. A full screen capture is fine for note taking, but the final version needs to be cropped and annotated if needed.


OMG where do I look first! 3 screenshots layered one on top of the other… does it tell a story? without any annotation or further information then it’s just a jumbled mess of text. This is a perfect candidate for multiple screenshots, or at the very least a few boxes to focus the reader in on the places where the REAL information is!

Side-note: Screenshots of code are mostly a waste of time… copy/paste the effected code and highlight the section effected.

Click Happy

You may think I’ve gone off the deep-end on this one… but I’m afraid not. Some people actually think that photos are a replacement for a good, well-formed screenshot! Sometimes you just can’t avoid a photo, but think carefully. Easy to do badly! Hard to pull off.

Exceptions to this last one are obvious really. Physical security tests/results, or anything that can’t be screenshotted. Just remember, if you can use a screenshot, it’s going to look a whole lot better than a photo.

Note: If you NEED to do photos… don’t use your phone! Buy a digital camera and learn how to use it!


Take time to think out your screenshots. Not only if you need one, but how you can best show the issue(s) and how a reader will view it. The viewer may not have your technical knowledge, and may not know what the issue really is. Make that screenshot count!

2 responses to “Getting your message across: Screenshots

  1. @RobertWInkel April 8, 2012 at 05:05

    That all makes sense, but what about some examples of GOOD screenshots?

  2. ChrisJohnRiley April 10, 2012 at 09:47

    I was thinking about that, but a good screenshot goes hand-in-hand with the content of a finding. I’ll make sure it include that in a future post about reports though!

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