Today, cyber-attacks on organizations are almost unavoidable given the prevailing circumstances in the cyberworld. Despite the proliferation of cybersecurity regulations all over the world, security breaches continue unabated. It’s become imperative for organizations to take measures to test the controls that are supposed to secure their networks to see if they are working. One of these measures is penetration testing.
Penetration testing, also known as pen testing, is a formal procedure aimed at discovering security vulnerabilities, flaws, risks, and unreliable environments. A pen test is a simulated cyber attack against your computer system to check for exploitable vulnerabilities. Information indeed is power; when you know potential security leaks and gaps in advance, you can preempt any prospective cyber-attack that can cause big damages to your business. About 3.5 billion people were the victims of data breaches in the top two biggest breaches of this century alone.
Wondering if you are conducting enough penetration testing for your network? Get all your questions answered about pen tests with our complete guide and discover the best routine practices to secure your networks.
Why Conduct Penetration Testing?
Organizations conduct penetration testing to locate network vulnerabilities and to prevent attacks that can cause system downtime, data loss, and damaged reputations. While other measures exist, conducting penetration testing is a vital part of any effective, holistic security strategy. It’s the best way to determine system vulnerabilities that can then be remediated to prevent hackers from accessing mission-critical systems.
Apart from preventing an eventual security breach, organizations conduct penetration testing for the following reasons:
- To determine the weaknesses in hardware infrastructures, software applications, and human errors so as to create adequate controls.
- To expose security bugs in the existing software. While you can eliminate bugs by installing patches and regular updates, patches and updates can also bring along new vulnerabilities.
- To ensure that controls have been implemented and are indeed effective.
- To identify gaps in security controls.
- To discover “backdoors” and misconfigurations.
- To test an organization’s ability to respond to an actual breach quickly and effectively.
Does Size Matter in Penetration Testing?
In case you are wondering if the small size of your organization can deter cyber-attackers, then you need to pay attention here. The reality is that the size of an organization is no longer a factor that evades cyber-attacks. Both small and large establishments suffer attacks every year. It is reported that a staggering 60 percent of small companies close within six months of being hacked. According to CNBC, 43 percent of attacks are aimed at small businesses, but only 14 percent are prepared to defend themselves.
What Are The Types of Penetration Testing?
There are several types of penetration testing available today that organizations can take advantage of to bolster the security of their networks. They include:
- Blackbox Testing
This is a testing technique in which functionality of the Application Under Test is assessed with a focus on the inputs and outputs without knowing their internal code implementation.
Black box tests are typically used on showcase sites as no additional information would be necessary for the hacker to go further and attack.
It operates similarly to the way an attacker would exploit vulnerabilities in an application. It is combined with other testing tools to successfully identify and remediate more vulnerabilities.
- Graybox Testing
This is similar to the Blackbox testing, except that the tester has a partial knowledge of the internal workings of the systems being tested.
Gray Box Testing enables the tester to test both the presentation layer and the code part. This method is used for commercial sites or non-commercial sites that have a member area or customer area.
The tester can more effectively simulate attacks and go beyond what he could do in Blackbox testing. Although the greybox greatly minimizes potential risks, it has its own limitations. A hacker can still discover a new hacking tactic and an exploitable loophole.
- Whitebox Testing
This is also known as Transparent Box or Structural Testing. The tester has total access to all the information about the system and its internal workings.
The most noticeable drawback is that the penetration tester needs more skills. Also, systems may require more frequent testing as new hacking methods emerge.
You need not worry about the type of penetration testing to use at your organization. There are cybersecurity experts whose job is to help you choose the penetration testing type that best suits your security needs by considering certain vital factors.
What Are The Factors That Indicate Penetration Testing?
Many companies will conduct pen testing given its massive benefits, but the costs and concern of inadequate protection are just some of the drawbacks. The following are some of the factors to consider when determining whether or not to perform a penetration test:
Size of the company: It’s no question that companies operating predominantly in online businesses are more vulnerable to repeated cyber-attacks. The greater the online presence, the more attractive their attack surface is to hackers. Thus, an organization that has a large online presence will definitely need to conduct penetration testing to determine any vulnerabilities before the hackers exploit them.
Infrastructure: If an organization’s network is a flat architecture, there is little protection in the design for sensitive data. Penetration testing should definitely be conducted and then a plan for remediation through segmentation and segregation devised. If the organization employs a third-party cloud service like SaaS, PaaS, or IaaS, then proof should be supplied from the service provider that it is in compliance with some nationally recognized set of standards for penetration testing.
Compliance with Regulatory Laws: Regulations, rules, laws, and compliance requirements determine the routine, practice, and how often you should conduct penetration testing. Based on the type of business, penetration testing requirements vary.
For example, if a business accepts credit cards, they must comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) 3.2.1. Requirement 11 of the PCI DSS states that “system components, processes, and custom software should be tested frequently to ensure security controls continue to reflect a changing environment.” The Standard requires that penetration testing should be performed at least annually or whenever there is a significant upgrade or modification of the infrastructure and applications in use.
How Often Should You Conduct Penetration Testing?
Penetration Testing is not a one-time activity. Penetration tests should be conducted at any time one or more of the following issues arise:
- When you install new infrastructure or web applications to the network.
- When a business physically moves or adds another site to their network.
- When you apply security patches.
- When IT Governance requires it.
High-profile companies that are often mentioned in the media can’t be reckless about their security systems because they are the target of various continuous cyber-attacks. Their testing should occur regularly.
Are There Any Limitations In Penetration Testing?
It’s important to concede here that there are a few security problems that penetration tests will not be able to identify. For instance, in penetration tests that are carried out as “black box” exercises, the tester doesn’t have all the information about the system being tested. Thus, it’s difficult to discover hidden vulnerabilities.
It can only identify those problems that it is designed to look for. Penetration tests may not identify a vulnerability that is obvious to anyone with access to internal information about the network. It then follows that when a service is not tested, there will be no information about its security or lack thereof. Penetration testing is unlikely to provide information about new vulnerabilities, especially those discovered after the test is carried out.
In general, the penetration test expert may compromise a device with vulnerabilities that they have successfully exploited. Hackers and intruders need only find one hole to exploit when penetration testers need to find all if not as many as possible holes that exist.
While limitations definitely exist, penetration tests offer great protection against cyber-threats and cyber-attacks. Undoubtedly, there is no perfect shield against security risks, but they can be kept to a bare minimum, thereby reducing their catastrophic effect. Penetration testing is popularly acknowledged as an important aspect of cybersecurity. Compared to other security measures such as vulnerability scans, it employs a more invasive approach. The vulnerability tests only look at the potential vulnerabilities in your system, while penetration tests attempt to exploit the weaknesses in the system.
If you need further guidance, RSI Security is here to help you with that. Our penetration testing services don’t just let you know where and how hackers could infiltrate your network, but also lets you know their possible lines of action once they get in. RSI Security’s cybersecurity penetration testing services will get you right in the heads of hackers so that you’re always a step ahead of them and nothing catches you by surprise.
You can preview our wide-range of penetration services by visiting our website. Contact us today for a free consultation!