The importance of Penetration Testing
Cyber security has become a major concern for all organisations, especially with the increase of remote working and working from home. One successful cyber attack can lose your business and destroy customer trust. It is, therefore, more important than ever to carry out vulnerability scans and penetration testing. Penetration testing, or pen testing, is a core element in your cyber security policy.
From reading this article, you’ll understand the importance and benefits provided by pen testing.
What is penetration testing?
Pen testing is a way of checking your IT system by attempting to break through some or all of your system’s security, using the same techniques as a hacker might.
It’s like a third-party audit that assures you your company’s cyber security processes are up to scratch. Ideally, the tests should verify what you already know or suspect.
However, using experienced pen testers can often reveal more subtle issues your internal IT staff may not be aware of. You can use pen testing to improve your company’s internal vulnerability assessments and management processes.
Penetration testers can perform a wide range of testing, which we’ll look at below, including:
- Whitebox penetration testing
- Blackbox penetration testing
- Greybox penetration testing
- Vulnerability testing
- Web application testing
- Mobile application testing
- Automated penetration testing
Types of penetration testing
Pen tests vary in their approach and the weaknesses they try to exploit. Your specific situation and requirements will determine the best approach and extent of the testing.
Whitebox penetration testing
This is where the pen tester is fully aware of all your network and system information. They’ll have full knowledge and access to any source code and your network environment. Therefore, whitebox tests can often be more in-depth, providing more targeted, detailed results.
Blackbox penetration testing
In this case, no information is provided to the test at all. It can be seen as the most authentic as it demonstrates how an attacker with no inside knowledge may target your business systems.
Greybox penetration testing
As the name suggests, greybox testing is somewhere between white and black testing. It’s where only limited information is shared with the tester. This might be login details, for example.
Greybox penetration testing is often used to highlight the level of access a privileged user can gain and the potential damage they could cause to your systems. It’s also used to simulate a cyber attack that has breached your network perimeter.
What’s the difference or relationship between vulnerability testing and penetration testing? Vulnerability testing or scanning evaluates security risks in your software systems to reduce the probability of threats. It looks for vulnerabilities in your IT systems and reports potential issues.
Penetration tests go a step further – they exploit these vulnerabilities in your network and report the level to which a hacker may gain access. A vulnerability scan is usually automated, whereas a pen test is often performed manually.
Web application testing
As web technologies and web applications advance rapidly and they become increasingly integral to our daily lives, there’s even more exposure to cyber security risks through these web applications.
Web application pen testing is the process of identifying vulnerabilities in your company software or website, for example. These vulnerabilities may arise through insecurities in the design, coding and publishing stages of the web application.
Web application testing can check for things like:
- Secure user authentication
- Weaknesses in your website code and structure
- Secure configuration of web browsers
- Web server and database server security
Mobile application testing
iOS and Android apps can throw up a unique set of security risks compared to desktop apps.
For example, the design and implementation of the mobile app itself, plus any APIs it uses will need to be tested. Protection from data theft by other applications on the device or the device user (think payment information or apps that offer in-app purchases) becomes an issue.
Pen testing mobile applications can also discover and exploit security vulnerabilities in your apps functionality or your software development lifecycle, for example.
Automated penetration testing
As hackers become more sophisticated than ever before, it becomes increasingly difficult for you to know where your cyber security vulnerabilities are. At BlueFort we try to mimic hackers’ techniques. This involves automated penetration testing, to continuously stress test and validate your cyber security controls.
Here at BlueFort, we partner with the recognised market leaders PCYSYS to provide an automated penetration testing solution. You can also watch an example of our live automated penetration using PenTera here
Why penetration testing is important
Easy. Cyber security is essential for your business. You don’t want to suffer:
- a loss of business data,
- a leak of sensitive information or
- a lack of customer trust.
And penetration testing is a crucial part of cyber security.
Therefore, pen testing is vital for the security of your business IT systems, network, servers, devices and web applications. Let’s look at some of the benefits of penetration testing.
Penetration testing benefits
Your IT infrastructure covers your entire network, mobile devices, Virtual Private Networks (VPN), remote access, servers, databases, desktop computers, even networked scanners and printers.
Pen testing your infrastructure is an essential step in keeping the security of your employees, company resources and customers fully protected and intact. And as your infrastructure evolves, you need pen testing to ensure new vulnerabilities are dealt with.
Existing cyber security assessment
As your company systems evolve and cyber attacks become ever more sophisticated, you must continually assess your cyber security. A pen test will show how well you’re protecting the data and infrastructure specifically targeted by the test.
Various regulations and standards have components specifically related to system auditing and security.
Here are some examples:
- PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard)
- Set up to help businesses process card payments securely.
- It states regular penetration testing is required to identify security issues.
- ISO 27001
- Performing a penetration test is an essential part of ISO 27001 compliance.
- ISO 27001 says that “Information about technical vulnerabilities of information systems being used shall be obtained in a timely fashion, the organisation’s exposure to such vulnerabilities evaluated and appropriate measures taken to address the associated risk.”
- GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)
- This is the data privacy and security law that provides greater protection and rights to EU individuals and their personal data.
- It states there should be a “…process for regular testing, assessing and evaluating the effectiveness of technical and organisational measures for ensuring the security of the processing”.
Cyber security risk assessment
Pen testing will detect, discover and assess security risks before they are exploited by an attacker.
For example, insecure data storage might contravene GDPR as described above, so pen testing can be used to pick up these crucial weak spots.
Identify security enhancements
Pen testing is vital for ensuring your IT systems and digital assets are tested for any security flaws. BlueForts penetration test services are carried out by experienced, expert security consultants. They’ll assess the vulnerabilities and provide comprehensive advice to improve your security.
Mobile app data leakage identification
Pen testing can identify where mobile apps make user data vulnerable to access from other apps or hackers. As mobile apps often handle sensitive information or are a gateway to your backend system, they are perfect targets. Therefore, mobile app security is vital – from their development processes to deployment.
Authorisation and authentication issues revealed
The three-step security process of identify, authenticate and authorise ensures that individuals accessing corporate data and systems are who they say they are. But are there weaknesses in your system? Have out-of-the-box default settings been left in place? There’s an issue right there.
Pen testing, of course, can target and pick up authorisation and authentication issues in your network perimeter and internal systems too.
When to conduct penetration testing
So, the big question. When should you pen test and how often? Well, it’s not a one-off task.
Many factors can influence your pen testing schedule, including budget size and availability.
Generally, pen testing is typically used:
- Before an application or system is deployed.
- When a system has stabilised and isn’t being constantly changed or updated.
- Before apps and systems are used in mission-critical applications.
How often you carry out pen testing depends on a few factors, such as:
- Company size. Bigger companies may be seen as more attractive to hackers.
- Budget. Pen tests can be expensive. Therefore, a small budget might mean you pen test once every couple of years.
- Regulations and compliance. Depending on your industry, you may be required to perform testing to meet certain regulations.
- Infrastructure. If all your infrastructure is essentially in the cloud, your provider may already conduct pen tests internally.
Remember, you can watch an example of BlueFort’s live automated penetration testing here.
By now you will have got the message – penetration testing is vitally important for businesses. You need a company that has years of experience and real expertise in conducting effective penetration testing. It can be a bit of a minefield.