Penetration testing is a simulated cyber attack designed to check exploitable vulnerabilities in a system. A team of ethical hackers creates friendly fire then writes an actionable report at the end of the test, pointing out all the areas that need improvement. And, you’ll be surprised at the number of businesses that don’t really understand the importance of regular penetration testing.
Do You Need Penetration Testing?
The short answer is yes. A pen test will expose any vulnerabilities that an attacker can target. Web application firewalls are usually the starting point of most pen-testing sessions as they’re the “checking point” of the system. The team of ethical hackers will use all the possible exploits to crack the firewall and collect evidence to prove the weakness.
Ideally, you want to secure all the externally-facing controls with the latest security protocols and hardware. Maybe you have an application that collects credit card data and personal information from clients, and you want to see how much damage a bad actor can cause.
It’s also worth noting that pen testing is not a one-time exercise. The tech space keeps evolving, and no system is 100% secure. That’s why you need to have a team of friendly hackers that check for vulnerabilities in your system periodically.
Common Objectives of Penetration Testing
Cybercrime has been on a steady rise for a long time now, and it’s showing no sign of slowing. That’s why most companies with outward-facing systems have opted to hire pen testers to check for weaknesses before the bad guys find them.
Here are some of the common objectives of penetration testing.
Effectiveness of security policies: Employees are usually the weakest link in any high-security system. Maybe they don’t understand why the security policies are in place, and they end up messing things up. For example, you might ask employees not to use a WiFi network to log into the company system, and then they do. This exposes the credentials to anyone with the right tools and knowledge, compromising the system. The penetration testing report will outline this as a potential problem and provide a solution.
Meeting compliance requirements: Some businesses have to meet regulations such as HIPAA and PCI to remain in business. And a penetration test is one of the best ways to know if you’ve met these standards or not. You will also get solid advice on how to protect your company from hackers in the final report.
Incidence response: Sometimes, a company’s top management may surprise the IT team with a simulated attack. Most people in the company will not know about it, and that is a great way to see what your incidence response looks like. While this simulation might result in downtime, it’s probably the most exciting penetration testing objective there is.
Types of Penetration Testing Strategies
Pentesters use different tactics depending on the situation. Here are some of the most common strategies they use.
Targeted Penetration Testing: This strategy combines efforts between the pen testing team and the IT department. And it causes the least disruption because of its planned nature. That allows the internal team to learn the latest offensive strategies from professional, ethical hackers.
External Testing: In this objective, a pentester with no system privileges tries to scan for open ports, vulnerable services, and leaked information. The IT department might be aware of this exercise, but they will not be combining efforts like they would in a target pentest. The purpose of this test is a report on the possible entry points, including FTP servers, mail, and any outward-facing devices.
Internal Testing: The pentester gets a low-level account in the system, and they are tasked with finding out how much damage a rogue employee can cause. The pentester will try to get as much information from the system and even attempt to complete admin tasks. That test helps you know what can happen if login credentials fall into the wrong hands.
Black Box Testing: This test simulates an attacker who randomly picked your company as a target. The pentester gets limited information about the company, such as the domain name and perhaps an IP address. They have to find everything else themselves to determine how much sensitive data is available to the public.
White box testing: For this test, pen-testers have access to the entire system. They get an IP address, source code, system configurations, and documentation. This information allows the testers to catch vulnerabilities faster and suggest solutions depending on the situation. This test is crucial when implementing a new system that works great but is not tested for compliance and security.