What is Penetration Testing?

In basic terms, penetration testing is a cyber security method in which ethical hackers identify, test and highlight vulnerabilities in an organization’s security.

This process involves planned attempts to breach application systems and networks. These ethical hackers work with organizations to plan attacks and attempt to gain access to a network or hardware in the real-world.

This is similar to hiring a security company to attempt to break into your building. By using common methods to access your computer system, they can find your vulnerabilities and suggest equipment and practices to prevent others from attempting to exploit vulnerabilities.

Why Does Your Business Need Pen Testing?

In our modern digital world, cyber security is more important than ever. For every business with an internal network or that hosts user data, it’s vital to have a robust security system in place, along with a reliable and thorough response protocol.

The consequences of a cyber attack, such as ransomware and phishing, are severe. They can include:

  • The spread of stolen personal data
  • Legal consequences, particularly lawsuits and bankruptcy
  • Massive fines, not only from legal action but from failed protocols

In essence, consistent and reliable pen-testing keeps you and your livelihood safe. It can give you a proactive solution to security vulnerabilities you may not even be aware of. Knowledge is power, and there’s no greater knowledge than experience.

Cyber security is a necessity. With that IT knowledge in hand, you can make informed decisions about your company’s cyber security efforts.

What Are the Types of Penetration Testing?

There are many ways to conduct a penetration test. They vary by what method security professionals use and how informed they are about the network beforehand.

Which one you choose all depends on what device or network you’re testing along with the level of security your organization needs.

Black Box Pen-Testing:

Black Box penetration testing searches for vulnerabilities in your network the same way an external attacker would. The test is done without credentials, so the security professionals probe the environment without logging into the systems.  The test results are based on what can be found in open ports and weaknesses in the configuration of the devices. Black Box tests are most similar to attacks carried out by malicious hackers that would not have user/admin access.

Gray Box Pen-Testing:

This method of penetration testing is described as non-intrusive, cooperative and unbiased because the person conducting the test does not have access to source code. The developer and tester must be two separate people for this method. This test is similar to black box testing because the analysis must be done from the outside. The tester knows how the system components interact but does not have prior information about internal program functions and operations.

White Box Pen-Testing:

During this test, the security professionals are given full access to each workstation’s registry, software and device configuration. This allows for a comprehensive scan of your business’s security strengths and weaknesses. The personnel conducting the test enter the scanner directly and do not need a password. This method is more accurate and in-depth because the testers are allowed more trust to dive deeper into systems.

In addition to the three main testing categories. You can focus the scope of your penetration testing on a number of things. Many cyber security companies help you figure out what kind of operation you’d like to explore on your system. Here are some of those specific testing examples:

  • Social Engineering: This test imitates attacks that company employees could experience such as phishing, vishing and smishing to attempt a breach.
  • Telework Testing: Telework assessments such as NIST 800-46 are performed in order to ensure your remote access, home devices and workspaces are all secure.
  • Application Testing: This form of ethical attack reveals the effectiveness of an application’s security controls by highlighting risks posed by actual vulnerabilities.
  • Wireless Testing: This test is designed to analyze wireless devices such as tablets and laptops to pinpoint any issues.
  • Client-Side Testing: The goal of these tests is to pinpoint security threats that emerge locally. Such as, a flaw in a software application running on a user’s workstation.
  • Security Information and Event Management (SEIM): Cyber security consultants perform multiple attack simulations on your business’s IT environment to observe how your company reacts and responds to threats.
  • Operation Technology (OT) and Internet of Things (IOT) testing: These tests are performed to evaluate the risk posed to OT and IOT devices before working on securing the devices and any networks or clouds they are connected to.
  • Dark Web Credential Search: Your business may have weak or breached passwords that need to be updated in order to keep out hackers. Cyber security experts can search your credentials for any vulnerable passwords.
  • Tabletop Exercise: This exercise is used to evaluate your organization’s cyber crisis response processes, tools and proficiencies. Your business is put through realistic experiences in order for cyber security professionals to judge your organization’s response.
  • Red, Blue and Purple Team Testing: The red tests are offensive attack simulations, while the blue tests are defensive reaction simulations. The purple team reviews the forensics throughout a testing and training event.
  • High Value Targets and Crown Jewel Assessments: During this test, cyber security professionals identify what assets are most important to your business and then work to understand the related threats.

What Are Common Areas of Focus for Penetration Testing?

Network vulnerabilities can be broken down into three basic categories: hardware, software and human. When analyzing specific types of cyber security systems, we can better understand which of these factors is causing a problem.

The 4 commonly analyzed security risk areas reviewed through penetration testing are:

1.   Web Application

These are the websites, application protocol interfaces (APIs) and mobile applications we use every day. Whether you have a publicly accessible website that stores customer data, or an internal API that your employees rely on, there’s always the chance for a detrimental security vulnerability.

2.   Network and Systems Security

Your internal network connects your offices to ensure everyone internally has access to everything they need. Without proper security protocols, malicious actors could have that same access. Penetration testing for networks looks for exploits in different types of networks and physical devices like weak passwords or poorly optimized assets.

3.   Cloud Security

Cyber security teams work directly with cloud service providers and third-party vendors to test vulnerabilities in cloud-based systems and applications. This involves checking the validity of cloud deployment and determining the likelihood of a breach.

4.   IoT Security

For all of your physical devices connected to a single network, known as the Internet of Things (IoT), it’s important to test for security vulnerabilities. By analyzing your individual devices and components and accounting for their specific nuances, a security team[1] can figure out how to reduce vulnerabilities between their interactions.

What is the Process for Conducting Vulnerability Tests?

While every cyber security firm and contractor has their own method for conducting pen-tests, there are some broad-stroke processes that everyone follows. These steps are fairly standard and ensure that your tests check for as many vulnerabilities as possible, while also providing the most effective solutions.

The process includes:

  1. Information Gathering
  2. Threat Modeling
  3. Vulnerability Analysis
  4. Exploitation
  5. Post Exploitation
  6. Reporting

By following these steps, a security team can understand exactly how your security protocols respond to unprompted attacks from a variety of areas. The most important part of this process is the analysis, which is used to resolve any vulnerabilities and prevent future attacks.

What Are Your Next Steps?

It’s not enough to receive the report and call it a day. You need to understand your security vulnerabilities and how to best prevent them. It’s important to schedule time to look through the report and create a proactive and actionable plan to prevent future attacks.

Make sure to speak with the team conducting the penetration test to ensure you understand how they performed the test and exactly what they found. By having a deeper understanding of your technology, you can more easily prevent cyber security attacks.

By openly communicating the dangers to your organization, providing effective solutions and holding everyone accountable, you can transform your business through improved cyber security standards.

Penetration Testing Tools Available 24x7x365

Now that you understand what pen-testing is, it’s time to see how testing can help your business’s cybersecurity.

NTS offers comprehensive penetration testers for organizations of any size. From single-building offices to multinational enterprises, we create personalized vulnerability assessment and actively work with you to improve your security posture.

View our specialized and certified pen-testing process to learn how we can protect you from all manner of digital threats.

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