Today, cyber incidents are the norm, with the long list of consequences including the theft of finances and data, disruption of critical processes, and damage to a company’s reputation, among others.
As careful as your organization may be to protect against malicious actors, there is still the chance of an attack when you least expect it. Vulnerabilities in your network might have been overlooked during development or, in some cases, never discovered at all.
This is where penetration testing comes in.
Penetration testing, also known as a pen test, is a form of ethical hacking, in which a simulated cyberattack utilizes the same techniques a hacker would to breach your system. These techniques may include deploying phishing scams, exploiting open ports, creating backdoors, altering data, or installing adware.
The goal of a penetration test is to assess the network’s strength and uncover weaknesses or susceptibilities.
While pentesting is only one component of a comprehensive security plan and should not be relied on as the sole cybersecurity defense, an experienced penetration tester can locate security gaps a vulnerability scan may not. These might include unprotected codes from applications or software, improper security settings, and configuration errors.
Let's analyze some of the different types of penetration testing and the value it offers when used in conjunction with an extensive cybersecurity strategy.
Why Penetration Testing Matters
The phrase “knowledge is power” couldn’t be more true when it comes to cybersecurity. There were 2,013 confirmed data breaches in 2019, states Verizon’s “2019 Data Breach Investigations Report.” Those figures demonstrate the importance of having a solid security plan in place, and a penetration test is part of that by detecting security gaps, loopholes, and locating the weakest link in your network.
Overlooking this step could have devastating consequences for a business. The average total cost of a data breach was $3.92 million, according to IBM's “2019 Cost of a Data Breach Report.” Being proactive and assessing your company’s network regularly is one way to stay ahead of the hackers.
Penetration testing also carries with it other important benefits:
Penetration Testing Empowers Regulatory Compliance
Any company’s security strategy must comply with the auditing system and security regulations set forth. Some of the major security standards include the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI), and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), among others. Non-compliant organizations can be fined if there is a significant data breach. A certified penetration tester or security professional should be aware of all the relevant regulations required for your business.
Protecting Customer Trust and an Organization’s Brand
Worst-case scenarios entail sensitive customer data compromised or exposed as a result of a cyber incident that could have been avoided. This can lead to both the loss of trust among customers, and a tarnished image. Penetration testing helps keep an organization’s brand intact and retain the customer’s trust.
Types of Penetration Testing
There are a variety of penetration tests that can be executed—manually, automatically, or in tandem. Each is based on an organization’s specific needs. The most common include:
This targets the assets of a company visible on the internet, such as its website, email, domain name servers, and web application.
This is performed internally, and occurs when a tester with access to an application behind its firewall simulates an attack by a malicious insider.
A tester is only given the name of the enterprise being targeted, to enable security to see how an actual application assault would take place.
Security personnel have no prior knowledge of this simulated attack, similar to a real one.
The tester and security personnel work together in this valuable training experience and share critical feedback about a would-be hack.
How Often Should Penetration Testing Be Done?
The phrase “one and done” does not apply to penetration testing. Networks and computer systems are exposed to new threats daily. Frequency should therefore depend on the size of the company. A general rule of thumb is the greater a company’s online presence, the higher the risk of a cyber incident. How often an organization should undergo a penetration test also depends on its industry. Additional factors include:
- Significant Updates to Infrastructure or Applications
- New Digital Assets, Including Websites or Cloud Services
- Major Security Patches
- Updated or Modified End-User Policies
- New Office Launch
It only takes a simple breach to result in millions of dollars in damage. It is therefore vitally important to be vigilant and anticipate that a threat can take place at any time.
Part of a Larger Program
Finding software vulnerabilities through penetration testing is a vital step in safeguarding your company from cybercriminals and an essential part of an organization’s cybersecurity defenses.
However, it represents a portion of a company's cybersecurity position at one point in time.
A pen test is focused on specific goals and objectives and not designed to test security problems that are not vulnerability-based. In other words, there are many attack vectors out there that a pen test cannot realistically address. It also only tests your security at the particular time the test was performed. While everything may look secure at that moment, giving you a false sense of security, a new risk may arise within a month, or a year, of when the next penetration test takes place.
On top of these considerations, it is also important to understand that a penetration test is merely a tool to identify vulnerabilities. Such information only becomes useful when that information is acted upon and addressed with more updated security measures.
Leave It to the Professionals
As breaches become more prevalent, penetration testing is one of the ways to validate an organization's security position and identify where there are weaknesses. This makes such tests an important component of an organization's overall cybersecurity protocol.
Comprehensive cybersecurity, however, requires additional tools—the most important being 24/7/365 network and endpoint monitoring.
Humans get tricked, people make mistakes, and hackers are always advancing their techniques. Understanding new threats and being able to detect them when you are under attack is when visibility becomes crucial, and that is what a managed security provider can do. Implementing a 24/7/365 network and endpoint monitoring in your cybersecurity plan will alert you immediately of any malicious activity to ensure that the issue is contained.
Working with a team of skilled penetration testers, combined with experienced network and endpoint monitoring professionals, will give your company the peace of mind it needs.