Penetration testing in security
For cybercriminals, cyberattacks mean huge business. For their victims, they mean incredible losses – in terms of money, data and reputation. One of the best ways to avoid them is via regular penetration testing. Let’s look at what it is and how to use it to your advantage.
What is a penetration test in security
Penetration testing, also known as pen tests, is a simulated, authorised and controlled cyberattack, needed to evaluate the security of an IT infrastructure and various apps. Performed by cybersecurity specialists who use the same tools as hackers, it is an indispensable way to get to know vulnerabilities in the system or in an app and address them before they get exploited by actual criminals.
To give you an example, pen testing is like asking someone to dress as a burglar, cover their face and try to get into your home when you are out, so that you can learn whether your locks are really as effective as you imagine them to be or if your alarm works the way it should. If not, you can change them or add some additional protection, and greatly improve your security.
Why are pen tests so important?
To fully understand the importance of pen tests for every organisation, it’s enough to go through some basic cybersecurity statistics.
According to Norton, cyberattacks happen every 44 seconds during the day and the average cost of such an attack equals $1.85 million. The researchers from University of Maryland say that cyberattacks happen ever 39 seconds while Cybit Solutions reports that in 2021 a typical data breach caused $13 million worth damage.
With so much to lose, it is no wonder pen testing became one of the most indispensable elements of the cybersecurity world. The benefits of penetration testing include:
- Identifying security vulnerabilities within the infrastructure,
- Understanding the weakest points of the cybersecurity side of the organisation,
- Addressing the vulnerabilities so that they cannot be exploited in the future,
- Suggesting security measures that will help to prevent any future attack,
- Increasing securing awareness within an organisation.
Who performs pen tests?
As important cybersecurity tests that are vital to the safety of the organisation, pen tests should be performed by a testing team, composed of experienced and skilled IT and cybersecurity professionals.
Pentesters start with getting to know the organisation they are about to assess and the systems used, they then conduct the tests and check the organisation’s security posture by using exactly the same tools as hackers. Finally, they come up with a list of vulnerabilities, problems and the ways to address them to achieve the best possible level of security.
Pen testing tools
Penetration testers use a variety of different tools to better understand the infrastructure and to find as many security vulnerabilities as possible. Those tools are divided into two groups:
Manual pen testing tools
Penetration tests are often done manually. Pentesters use their knowledge and experience to find vulnerabilities and weaknesses that are difficult to spot, they test business logic and identify false positives which are reported by automated testing. Such a complex result cannot be achieved via automated tools only.
Automated testing tools
Even though pen tests are often done manually, there are still some important automated tools that penetration testers use on a daily basis. They support cybersecurity specialists, giving them more time to perform manual tests.
The best approach is to combine both manual and automated tools to get the most accurate picture of the organisational security posture.
Strategies for penetration tests
When it comes to strategies used by penetration testers, the most common ones include:
Statistics show that the most dangerous cybercriminals are employees. Internal tests mimic an insider attack conducted by a user with access privileges and allow to assess the scale of damage an employee who decides to attack your system may do.
External testing allows to estimate how far an external attacker can get by attacking servers and devices exposed in public network by an organisation.
Blind tests mean tests conducted by people who have no prior knowledge of the company and its security systems. Very often the only information they get is the name of the organisation they are testing, which allow them to behave the way cybercriminals do.
Double blind tests
Double blind tests are blind tests taken to the next level. They mean that the pen testers do not have any information on the company they are assessing and that only a limited number of people within the organisation (often just one or two) know about the test.
How often should you conduct pen tests?
The cyberworld keeps evolving and cybercriminals are coming up with new ways of attacking every day. This is why it is of paramount importance to conduct pen tests on regular basis, making sure no new viruses or malicious strategies will compromise the safety of your organisation, its data and money.
The best approach is to do pen tests every time there is a substantial change of the app or the infrastructure. But pen tests are crucial even if there are no changes – in such cases it’s best to perform them at least annually to check if the updates process is working fine and whether there are no new vulnerabilities, born as a result of new techniques used by cybercriminals.