In a concise read, independent expert M. Tim Jones details the generalized hacking process
which he calls a "plan in evolution" that "beging with a goal and ... results in options and subsequently exploits over those options to gain access to a system." The process consists of
Reconnaissance: Identify the target
Probe: Identify the list of touchpoints that have the potential for exploitation
Exploit: The entry points to the target
Stealth: Conceal your identity
Jones doesn't leave it there, though: He flips the scenario on its head and demonstrates how to use these techniques to prevent vulnerability exploits. He explains how you can use both the hacking process and penetration testing to shore up weak spots in your security wall.