Last Updated on 6 December 2022 by Alastair Digby
Penetration Testing (or Pentesting) is a security practice widely used by organizations as part of their vulnerability management program. Pentesting provides assurance that an organization’s applications, networks, and infrastructure are secure against cyber attacks. In this type of analysis, penetration testers simulate a real-world attack using an array of tools and techniques to uncover vulnerabilities that could be exploited by an attacker.
The dramatic rise in security incidents proves that cybercriminals are very much in a lucrative line of work and show no sign of stopping as attacks become increasingly sophisticated and destructive. Just as you’d secure your home from intruders, you need to secure your digital infrastructure from malicious actors.
Why is Penetration Testing important?
For most of us, technology is an indispensable part of our daily lives – both in business and personally. As we hurtle towards a progressively digital future, we become even more vulnerable to cyberattacks with heavier use of emerging IoT devices and cloud services.
With more services digitalized daily, organizations hold more data than ever before. This introduces further weaknesses for security breaches to occur. Thus, unsurprisingly, Penetration testing is an integral part of any comprehensive security program.
How does a Penetration Test work?
The strongest cyber defense starts with awareness of your current weaknesses
In penetration testing, ethical hackers use the same security tools and techniques to mimic an attacker. This is a systematic process, finding and exploiting vulnerabilities in your web applications and infrastructure. For example:
- Mobile devices
- Cloud services
- Operating systems
- Connected devices
Vulnerabilities can be introduced from a range of sources, from misconfigurations to software bugs, their presence is inevitable.
The main goal of penetration testing is to identify your real-world vulnerabilities. It provides both technical information on specific weaknesses and remediation steps, helping you mitigate weaknesses before they are exploited by an attacker. The following are common steps of a Pentest:
- Discovery of a vulnerability
- Planning the method of attack (threat modelling)
- Potential exploitation of the vulnerability (if safe to do so)
- Reporting on vulnerability (in real-time with Informer)
- Advise clients on how best to act on the finding and reduce their risk of exploitation.
Which vulnerabilities do Penetration Tests look for?
The main vulnerabilities that ethical hackers will test for are listed in the OWASP Top 10:
- Broken Authentication
- Sensitive Data Exposure
- XML External Entities (XXE)
- Broken Access Control
- Security Misconfigurations
- Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)
- Insecure Deserialization
- Using Components with Known Vulnerabilities
- Insufficient Logging and Monitoring
Remember though, penetration testing should be thought of as a method for gaining assurance in your organization’s vulnerability management strategies, rather than a primary process to find vulnerabilities.
What are the different types of Penetration Tests?
There is a variety of penetration testing to choose from, and they are not all created equal. Many organizations require tailored tests for their own requirements. For example, from meeting compliance standards to the deployment of new resources, or even to bespoke routine tests. You can pick the one best suited to your needs.
However, Pentesting is more than just a checkbox practice – they are a critical and ongoing tool needed to improve your security posture.
What is the difference between Penetration Testing and Vulnerability Assessments?
Penetration Testing Vulnerability versus Assessments: the distinct features are the time they take, their scope, and their cost.
Vulnerability assessments use an automated approach, offering a systematic review of potential risks by using a number of scanning tools to assess your IT infrastructure for any known flaws from a large data pool. It then provides a catalogue of vulnerabilities prioritized for remediation, usually with advice on how to fix specific ones.
On the other hand, Pentests have a specific, rooted goal in mind – whether it’s to hack into a specific system, breach a database, or simply probe as an attack to find hackable infrastructure. The core value is utilizing the manual expertise and experience of a skilled and qualified Pentester.
How often should you conduct a Penetration Test?
A risk-based approach to cyber security is essential, so routine Penetration Testing is critical for effectively protecting your digital perimeter.
Many organizations wait too long to schedule a pentest or don’t respond properly when vulnerabilities are discovered. Depending on the size of the organization, a Penetration Test should be done at least once a year to verify its ability to secure its systems, networks, your clients’ data from threats.
What type of penetration test do I need?
There are many different types of penetration tests, and the type that’s right for you will depend on a variety of factors, including the size and complexity of your organization, the systems and networks you need to test, and your overall security goals. As part of a modern security program your pen testing schedule should be clearly planned and delivered based on your business critical assets being tested regularly. A common approach is to map your attack surface to identify which assets pose the greatest risk if breached. From there you can focus on a phased approach spanning the various types of pen testing that make up your digital perimeter. Crucially ensuring vulnerabilities are remediated in a timely manner is key to get the most benefit from your pen test.
Get the most from a Penetration Test with Informer
Nearly 80% of senior security and IT leaders lack confidence in their cyber security posture, and growing dependence on emerging tech inevitably invites more opportunities for vulnerabilities to be both created and exploited. So, it’s time to get ahead of attackers.
As a dynamic platform with a client-first approach, Informer is designed to acclimate to an ever-changing digital world by reforming traditional security testing. Our manual Penetration Testing as a Services (PTaaS) options are integrated into our Attack Surface Management platform, allowing for seamless use of its tools and access to your results in real-time. Want to learn more? Get in touch today.