Security breaches from cybercrime are more prominent than ever before, with businesses needing to adopt a range of robust and effective testing procedures to help deal with this real and growing threat. While investing in security prevention systems before the fact and incident response plans after the fact are both absolutely critical, it’s important to understand your weak points in order to prioritize your security resources.
Penetration testing, also known simply as pen testing, is the best way to find exploitable vulnerabilities before it’s too late.
What is penetration testing?
Pen testing involves the simulation of a cyber network attack against a specific IT system. Rather than sitting back and waiting for the inevitable, businesses can get all of their critical resources and systems tested by a professional company with no malicious intent. According to Search Security,
“Penetration tests are also sometimes called white hat attacks.”
Broad security measures will only take you so far, with every robust security solution based on the discovery of specific vulnerabilities by trained security experts. With pen testing, experts are trained to think like cybercriminals in order to find and patch problems before they can be exploited.
How often is pen testing needed?
In order to be effective, pen testing needs to be carried out on a regular basis. The system architecture, hardware, and software used in computer networks changes all the time, with dangerous exploits often found immediately after key changes have been made. It’s important to conduct pen testing right before a new system is put into operation.
However, testing too early in the development process is not ideal as the system is in a state of change. Generally speaking, the initial test should be carried out immediately before the system is deployed.
After that, additional tests are needed on a regular basis depending on the company size, access to sensitive information, company infrastructure, security budget, and regulatory environment. Larger companies often require more extensive testing due to a greater number of attack vectors. The same could be said for companies carrying sensitive information, where any breach represents a more significant act.
The working infrastructure of the company in question should also come into play, especially if data is stored on sensitive local servers. With more companies migrating to the cloud, individual companies do not always have the ability to test for vulnerabilities themselves.
Local, state, and federal laws also need to come into consideration, with different rules, regulations, and compliance standards set for different industries in different locations.
Costs vs risks analysis
Just like everything else in business, there are also budgetary considerations when it comes to pen testing, which is essential but often expensive. While smaller companies may not be able to carry out tests on a regular basis, it’s just as important that they remain safe in today’s security environment.
Any decision should be made after a detailed costs vs risks analysis.
The reality is, however, a successful exploit may be able to create significant financial damage, which far outweighs the initial costs involved. According to High-Tech Bridge Security Research, access to 70 percent of companies on the Financial Times 500 list can be found on the dark web.
Following through on the results
Pen testing is the first stage of a multi-stage IT process that also needs to include information aggregation, detailed reporting, and strategic decisions regarding network security. A pen test is only successful if the vulnerabilities uncovered can be understood and specific measures can be put in place to prevent any potential attacks.
Possible outcomes include the addition of new security applications or infrastructure, hardware or software updates, hiring new security staff, creating security patches, or changing employee or end-user policies.