Every organization in today’s increasingly dangerous world should make it a priority to address its IT infrastructure’s vulnerabilities and how to protect it from all types of threats like data breaches. One key way to do this is via penetration testing, which is also sometimes called ethical hacking.
This refers to the practice of evaluating a computer system, web application, or network for security weaknesses (like software bugs, design errors and configuration errors) that a threat (like a hacker or malware) could potentially exploit. It is also a great way to assess an entity’s adherence to compliance requirements for security auditing processes (like PCI DSS and SOC 2), its security policy and its employees’ ability to tackle threats quickly and effectively.
Although companies in the financial industry most often conduct penetration testing, many other types of organizations (both small and large) can also benefit from this practice and have been increasingly using it. A 2015 study from WhiteHat Security found that 92% of the 118 organizations surveyed had performed pen testing at least once as part of their security protocol, while 21% of the organizations conducted a penetration test each year. Pen testing can be either performed manually or automated via software. The most frequently used pen testing tools include free or open-source software such as Nmap (network mapper), The Metasploit Project, Wireshark, and John the Ripper.
What Is The Penetration Testing Process & Its Purpose?
Ideally, organizations should perform penetration testing at least once a year. This process should especially be conducted whenever an organization:
- Adds new applications or network infrastructure
- Makes substantial upgrades or other changes to its IT infrastructure or applications
- Relocates to a new office
- Changes end-user policies; or
- Applies security patches
Other factors that determine when and how often an organization should perform penetration testing include:
- An organization’s size and degree of online presence
- A company’s budget
- Compliance and regulations
- Whether or not an organization’s infrastructure is in the cloud
Four Steps In Penetration Testing
Pen testing typically involves four essential steps. They are:
Planning & Goal Setting
This reconnaissance step involves the collection of preliminary data about a target so that a cyberattack can be more adequately planned. This step also includes establishing the test’s scope and deciding which evaluation processes to use. The five most common types of penetration testing methods are external testing, internal testing, blind testing, double-blind testing and targeted testing. External penetration tests focus on the assets of an organization that are visible online. In internal pen testing, meanwhile, a tester who has access to an application behind its firewalls simulates a cyberattack from a malicious person on the inside. In blind testing, a tester only knows the name of the target, and in double-blind testing, both the tester and the target are in the dark about the cyberattack. Finally, targeted testing involves security personnel and the tester collaborating and keeping each other informed of their respective actions.
This step primarily consists of identifying vulnerabilities. This is usually accomplished once a threat sends its victim probes and documents the target’s reaction to several inputs. This involves gathering any pertinent information about an application or system and its infrastructure. This could include data like business logic and privilege requirements. Tools like network and web security scanners can help significantly with this step.
In this step, a hacker or other similar threat acquires control of one or several network devices in order to use that tool to launch an attack and/or steal private data. A cyberattack simulation exercise helps uncover both known and new weaknesses by setting up defenses facing the same pressure they would in a real-world threat scenario. Certain controls to protect your system from threats should then be tested as well.
Perhaps the most important step in performing penetration testing involves the compiling of results in a detailed report that links each vulnerability to its corresponding threat. This can help company executives devise more specific solutions to its system’s weaknesses and build stronger defenses (like web application firewalls) against potential threats in the future to make sure no sensitive data is compromised ever again. Such an analysis should also note the amount of time the penetration tester was able to stay in the system undetected.
Seeking More Information On & Scheduling Penetration Testing
Speak to the experienced cybersecurity analysts at Vaultes Enterprise Solutions in Reston, Virginia, to learn more about how penetration testing can help improve your organization’s IT infrastructure.
Vaultes is a Veteran Owned Small Business (VOSB) that offers top cybersecurity solutions to both commercial and federal clients. Among the services it provides aside from penetration testing are IT risk assessments, risk and compliance guidance, vulnerability testing, cybersecurity controls assessments and cybersecurity maturity assessments. The types of cybersecurity compliance audits Vaultes performs include CMMC, FedRAMP, FISMA, ITAR, NIST 800-171 and NIST 800-53.