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What Is a Penetration Test and Why Does Your Company Need One?
Most organizations already take at least some security measures to protect their systems. But if there’s one thing that’s true about system security, it’s that it can never be perfect, no matter how perfect it might look from the inside.
Even the largest and most well-known companies have systems vulnerabilities. One study found that 84% percent of the organizations across finance, manufacturing, IT, retail, government, telecommunications, and advertising have high-risk vulnerabilities despite their substantial security apparatuses.
There are multiple weaknesses that cybercriminals can exploit to hack or damage your systems, and new ones are emerging all the time. When you need an objective understanding of your system security, penetration testing helps you identify vulnerabilities and fix them at scale.
What Is Penetration Testing?
Penetration testing, also known as ethical hacking or pen testing, is a systematic procedure where an ethical hacking group tries to hack your IT infrastructure in a simulated environment. The “hacker” then identifies vulnerabilities in the system and safely exploits them to demonstrate what could happen in the event of a cyberattack.
These vulnerabilities may exist in an operating system, an application configuration, or even in your access governance protocols. Beyond identifying problems within your system’s defense mechanism, a pen test also identifies how end-users use the system and how it could be exploited by bad actors internally.
A penetration test is a complex procedure, so companies with trained experts such as Uvation must carry out these tests. But they can help your business and organization stay updated with the latest security mechanisms to keep your IT infrastructure safe from cyber-attacks.
There are two primary categories of pen testing:
- Internal Testing
- External Testing
Internal and External Penetration Testing
External Penetration Testing assesses an organization’s external-facing assets, such as its website, user portals, and more. This type of testing allows you to see how strong your exterior defense mechanisms are and how resilient they are to cyber-attacks that occur from bad actors outside your network.
In this model, the assessor (or ethical hacker) tries to breach your system from the outside, usually with the help of automated software and attempts to gain access to confidential information through emails, file shares, your website, or other access points. Once the assessor successfully does so, the external pen test is complete—they can make an assessment and prescribe fixes.
Internal Penetration Testing allows the assessor to check how far they can traverse through your internal system and what levels of access they can reach by identifying and leveraging vulnerabilities from within your network. The assessor checks this by leveraging either exploitable assets discovered during the external penetration test or by accessing the network through an internal access point, such as through one of your employee’s workstations or connected devices.
Any type of penetration testing usually falls under either of these two categories. However, there are a few other methods to be aware of:
- Blind Testing: In this scenario, the ethical hacking company running the test is merely given the organization’s name to attempt a systems breach. This most closely resembles how hackers might exploit your systems, as they’d have to rely on their own intelligence.
- Double-Blind Testing: In this model, your organization’s security team has no idea when the simulated attack will happen. This way, they won’t have time to prepare for an expected attack. This also mimics how attacks and breaches might occur in the real world.
- Targeted Testing: In this model, both your company and the third-party penetration testers communicate in real-time to keep each other up to speed with the latest movements and updates on the testing. This method is more controlled and coordinated, and it usually targets a specific part of the system.
What Happens During a Penetration Test?
There are a few stages in the penetration test process. They are as follows:
In this stage, the scope of the test is discussed and agreed upon by both parties—the ethical hackers and the organization. They determine what areas of the network will be tested, how they will be tested, the end goals of the procedure.
Also known as “footprinting,” this stage is all about collecting as much information about the organization as possible and identifying assets that can be leveraged to breach the system. These may include email IDs, user base information, dumped data, and even intelligence gathered on the dark web
Scanning & Analysis:
This stage is to understand how the system under consideration will respond when a cyberattack or an intrusion attempt occurs. The third-party scans and analyses how an application code behaves while it is in a static state and compares it to how it behaves while it is running.
This stage is perhaps the most important one. Here, ethical hackers try to access the system and see how long they can maintain that access. They identify vulnerabilities, exploit them, and test the complete infrastructure by seeing how much of the network they can put under their control.
Report & Documentation:
In the post-exploitation stage, the hackers document all their findings and observations in the form of a report. This would contain information about the system’s most vulnerable areas, their risk level, and any recommendations they have on how the system can be secured
This stage is optional, but it is crucial for ensuring your system remains secure even after you finish a pen test and apply fixes.
During re-evaluation, the organization can solve the issues presented earlier or go through the entire penetration testing procedure once again to see where the system stands. Many organizations treat this as an iterative phase that can be carried out yearly or bi-yearly.
Why Is a Penetration Test Necessary for Your Organization?
Penetration testing has several benefits. Most importantly, it helps you identify system issues and solve them before bad actors can exploit them for their benefit. Often, even companies who believe their systems are secure discover that they have multiple vulnerabilities after a pen test.
This type of testing can also inform your staff on how to deal with security challenges, such as a breach, in real-time. This way, they don’t have to wait until the real thing to gain experience mitigating a cyberattack. Penetration testing can be stressful in this way, but it can also help to build camaraderie and teach your security team how to work together to solve problems.
Third-party penetration testing companies also must stay up to date on the latest security protocols, and they can lend that expertise to your organization. The threat landscape is constantly changing, so it pays to have cybersecurity experts examine your system to determine if it’s vulnerable to any of the latest threats.
Finally, a penetration test is an important way to build trust with your clientele, especially if your company is responsible for securing sensitive data like financial information. Most clients and customers will look favorably on a company that is willing to test itself to ensure its security measures are strong enough to withstand a cyberattack.
Run A Penetration Test Today
Your organization’s security needs to be cutting-edge so that you can stay resilient in the face of the latest cyber threats. Uvation is led by experts who understand the nuances of cybersecurity, and we can help you launch your penetration testing program.
Book a consultation today to find out more.