An overview of penetration testing and why it's important
In one of our recent blog posts covering ethical hacking, we briefly discussed the topic of penetration testing and how it’s a useful practice in the cybersecurity toolkit. However, the method deserves a more in-depth look, dissecting its many variations and benefits to businesses.
THE BASICS OF PENETRATION TESTING
Penetration testing involves an ethical hacker trying to identify the vulnerabilities in a given organisation’s systems or applications for cybersecurity purposes. The goal is to find the weaknesses and come up with solutions to fix them before a malicious attacker goes through the same process and compromises the given system.
While the general objective is to assess systems and applications, these tests can also be used to evaluate compliance with rules and regulations, employee awareness, and an organisation’s cyber response protocols.
Ideally, these tests need to be conducted once a year, but there are occasions when an assessment will be required regardless.
• The addition of new systems or applications • Upgrades or modifications to existing systems and applications • The launching of new offices or office relocations
Some other factors to consider before penetration testing are the size of the organisation, budgetary constraints, and industry regulations where assessments are required by law.
THE DIFFERENT TYPES
We briefly looked into the primary categories of penetration testing with the ethical hacking post, and now, we’re going to be taking a look into several other types.
• White box testing involves the hacking team having access to certain information such as IP addresses and network infrastructure schematics. The security personnel will assess vulnerabilities without having to do a tremendous amount of reconnaissance.
• With black box testing, the tester receives no such information. He or she goes in and finds vulnerabilities after a tremendous amount of reconnaissance.
• Blind testing is similar to the black box method, but the tester may receive a limited amount of information in advance.
-- A double-blind test is one where a few individuals within the organisation being tested know of the incoming ethical hack. This allows the internal security team to evaluate its overall monitoring and response protocols.
• A targeted test is carried out with the internal security team fully aware of what’s to come. It’s also referred to as the “lights on” approach.
• An external test will look at all the outward-facing systems, networks, and devices to understand how far in a malicious attacker can penetrate the defences.
• With an internal test, the idea is to simulate an attack from within your firewall, figuring out how someone like a disgruntled employee could unduly access various information systems.
Each style of penetration testing entails different advantages and disadvantages, some involving more time and expenses, while others do not. For instance, the black box assessment would take longer since the tester has no prior knowledge of a company’s security systems, which is unlike a white box assessment. To learn more about the differences and similarities between these two types, take a look at this resource.
BENEFITS OF PENETRATION TESTING
• The most apparent benefit is the identification of vulnerabilities, which then leads to proper remediation efforts. Naturally, an organisation is then able to avoid breaches that might have otherwise happened.
• In some instances, an assessment can reveal cases of regulatory non-compliance on the part of a business. Whether that’s PCI DSS or the NIST requirements, you’ll be able to improve your cybersecurity standards and avoid penalties.
• There are many costs associated with a data breach that can be avoided with regular assessments.
-- The direct costs associated with repairing and improving your cybersecurity measures after an attack -- The damage to the organisation’s goodwill and reputation -- Negative media coverage -- A decline in customer loyalty and retention rates -- Potential fines and penalties -- Potential lawsuits from external stakeholders -- The overall negative effect on revenues and profitability
Most of the benefits above have looked at the cost of inaction, but it must be noted that these days, robust and stringent cybersecurity standards can act as a badge of honour that draws in customers as well. With the increased number of data breaches affecting businesses, governments, and organisations, the general public would prefer knowing that security teams are doing the best they can to keep sensitive information protected.
THE NEXT STEP FOR BETTER SECURITY
With a proper understanding of penetration testing and its importance in today’s world, you might be considering the recruitment of a tester to find the weaknesses in your organisation’s defences. At Triskele, we conduct penetration tests for a variety of systems, applications, and devices.