What Is Penetration Testing?

Posted on Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Penetration testing is a valuable tool in your company’s cyber security toolbox. It involves inviting a trusted party to test your security protocols.


As penetration testing is carried out, any vulnerabilities or weaknesses in the cyber security framework are exposed and highlighted.


These controlled breaches allow for patching to occur under measured conditions, rather than while suffering through a genuine attack. This article outlines some of the benefits to penetration testing, the potential procedures and types of testing that can occur.


We’ll also talk about how often you should schedule penetration testing for your business.


Why should your business conduct penetration testing?

There are a number of reasons why identifying security weaknesses is a smart decision to make. The consequences of data breaches can be wide-ranging, up to and including the loss of your entire business.


Penetration testing allows for strategic management of known threats. Once security weaknesses have been identified, they can be prioritised and addressed in order of urgency. This can help businesses with less flexibility in the budget, and narrows the focus to the most vulnerable areas of infrastructure.


It can reveal weaknesses in neglected areas of IT operations. Detailed penetration testing can check every touchpoint of the digital environment, from mobile devices, applications, endpoints, servers, databases, to wireless networks and network devices. If any of these areas are blind spots to your team, they will quickly be identified.


Penetration testing can reveal likely pathways to attacks. When testers attempt to break through security protocols, it will highlight typical methods and starting locations. Strengthening these areas may deter casual attempts, and will help to focus your response plans for times when breaches will occur.


Security breaches and unscheduled downtime impact the bottom line. When sensitive data is compromised or your company website goes down, the impacts are felt across a number of areas. Regulator fines may be levied, your public reputation may be damaged, client trust can be eroded and trading losses may occur.


Remain compliant with new GDPR regulations to avoid significant fines. The GDPR comes into effect in May 2018. Companies that experience security breaches may be fined up to €

20 million, or 4% of their global annual turnover. Penetration testing will go a long way toward closing potential weaknesses in your security framework.


An overview of penetration testing procedure


Penetration testing can involve diverse procedures that investigate both digital and physical security strength. We’ll focus on cyber security here. Generally, a thorough penetration test contains 5 steps.


Planning includes identifying the scope of the tests, as well as test objectives. This should also specify the systems to be tested and how they will be tested.


Probing, or scanning involves testing codes to measure how applications may respond to various types of intrusion.


Breaching the security frameworks is next. There are many different ways to attempt this. Testers should try to exploit any identified weaknesses to test how deeply they can impact operations.


Maintaining access to the systems after an initial breach mimics persistent threats that can operate within a system for extended periods to mine newly generated data.


Evaluation is the final step. The records from the penetration testing are analysed to highlight identified vulnerabilities and the data that was accessed. How long testers remained inside the network without detection is also examined.


Types of penetration testing


Approved attempts to breach company security can occur using a number of methods. Each style will highlight different areas of attack preparedness.


Internal tests simulate an attack that occurs from inside the company firewall. This investigation style is driven by the fact that phishing attacks are becoming more common, although rogue employees can also present a potential threat.


External tests push against any outward-facing company presence online. This can include company websites, applications, domain name servers (DNS) and email.


Blind tests require a tester to start with nothing but the name of the company. Observing how the tester seeks out vulnerabilities can give insight into how a true breach may occur.


Double blind tests occur when IT staff are not alerted to the planned incursions. This style of testing gives a very honest assessment of security strength, as no preparation can be undertaken in advance.


Tandem tests have both parties (testers and company IT team) working at the same time and observing each other’s movements. As the company watches breaches happening in real time, it can give great insight into timeframes, weaknesses and also areas of strength.


How often should you conduct penetration testing?


Penetration testing should be a regularly scheduled event in your cyber security calendar. Conducting regular testing will help to keep the environment safer, as potential security vulnerabilities will be short-lived.


There are also times when it’s prudent to conduct additional testing. These usually involve changes on the structural level. When your business experiences any of these, run tests to assess the adaptations:


  • A new office location is connected,
  • End-user policies are updated,
  • Software and security patches are updated,
  • New network infrastructure is added, or current infrastructure is modified.


Choose your partners wisely


Finally, it is critical that you select the right team to conduct penetration testing for your business. Tales of hackers-turned-good who offer penetration testing based on experience are enticing, but beware.


Building relationships in order to be given the keys is not beyond a determined actor. Instead, ally your business with a reliable IT company that has a proven track record of compliance and trustworthiness.


Seek out verifiable testimonials from other satisfied clients as reassurance. Finding the right partner to conduct your penetration testing is critical to its success and your company data security.


About Mustard IT, your cyber security partner


Mustard IT provide the design, build, and installation of secure IT servers and networks, along with detailed penetration testing services. Our trusted team are experienced and able to explain complex issues to you in a language you’ll understand. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.