If you only find out where your security weaknesses are after they’ve been exploited, you’ve found out too late.
What is Penetration Testing?
A penetration test is an authorized attack on your business’s IT system. It is conducted by cyber security experts who simulate the methods of would-be hackers.
The tester will use the tools and techniques employed by illegal attackers, so that you can evaluate your business’s cyber security and identify any vulnerabilities.
Once the test is done, you’ll know where your system’s weaknesses lie and be able to remedy them.
Imagine that you’re building a safe. You want it to be as secure as possible. Once you’ve made the safe, you could say you’re done – you’ve used all the latest lock technology and built it from the most resilient materials. But how can you be sure that no-one can break into it? What if the robbers have thought of something that you missed?
A penetration test is like hiring a professional to do whatever they can to crack that safe. It’s a proactive way to ensure that your security is up to the necessary standard.
If you have an expert conducting the test, then you’ll find out if there were any security weaknesses that you missed or did not know you had to look for in the first place.
Penetration testing lets you identify these risks before criminal hackers do.
While vulnerability scans are automated and are intended to flag potential weaknesses in your system’s security, penetration tests are actively conducted by security experts to exploit those vulnerabilities in your system and ascertain to what extent a hacker could take advantage of them.
Both are key to a robust security strategy.
Types of Penetration Test:
White Box Penetration Test
- Full access to the network and system information
- Most affordable
- Least time-consuming
Black Box Penetration Test
- No access to the network and system information
- Completely simulates a malicious attack
- Most accurately mirrors how a hacker would exploit your system
Grey Box Penetration Test
- Limited information and access
- More comprehensive than ‘white box’ tests and less resource-intensive than ‘black box’ tests
The Five Penetration Testing Phases:
The first stage of the planning process concerns both the team conducting the penetration test and you, the client. You’ll work together to make sure that you’re on the same page in terms of what you want from the exercise.
- What are you hoping to target?
- Is it a black, white, or grey box test?
The second part of the plan is sometimes known as ‘reconnaissance’. The team conducting the test will gather all the information they need to penetrate your system. Their techniques will mirror that of a malicious attack.
They’ll collect data from employee details to IP addresses and operating system information. This data is used to scope out potential vulnerabilities and will inform where the team will direct their focus.
Once all the necessary data has been gathered, the team will use a tool to scan the system for vulnerabilities. This process is mostly automated and will identify open ports and network weaknesses.
The team have now gathered their intelligence and have conducted a scan identifying system vulnerabilities. They’ll use this information to form their attack strategy. They’ll decide what tools to use and which areas of your business’s IT system to focus on.
For example, if they’ve found that your system has open port vulnerabilities, they’ll plan how to best take advantage of that. If they’ve established that you have an insufficient email safety protocol, they might draw up a phishing email to send to your employees.
4. Access and Exploit
The team now turns all the time spent planning and strategising into action. This could be anything from implementing malware to gaining access to a server and extracting its data.
Whatever method they use, their focus is now on exploiting any security weaknesses that your system may have, and establishing how severe those weaknesses are – in other words, figuring out how open your vulnerability has left you.
The team will first gain access. This means that they will exploit your system’s security weakness and infiltrate your IT infrastructure.
After gaining access, they will attempt to maintain it. It’s one thing to infiltrate your system but it is another matter entirely to use that initial access to leverage further security breaches.
By doing this, the penetration testers will not only alert you to your external vulnerabilities, but they will also be able to identify what a malicious hacker would be able to do once they have gained access.
Finally, the penetration testers will draw up a report on your business’s cyber security posture. It will show where they gained access, how they were able to do so, and what the severity of the breach was.
A report should also show you what steps you should take going forward:
- How can you secure your system’s vulnerabilities?
- Does your staff need cyber security training?
- How competent is your security software, if you have any? Do you need to update it, or change providers?
Why is Penetration Testing important?
Protecting your business’s IT infrastructure isn’t as easy as locking your shop up and setting the alarm. Malicious attackers are constantly on the prowl for innovative ways to take advantage of your system’s vulnerabilities.
The best way to ensure that your system is secure is to hire a professional to break into it. That way, you’ll get a clear understanding of your system’s weaknesses, and what you can do to prevent real attacks.
Who should carry out a Penetration Test?
If you want to evaluate your cyber security through a penetration test, you need to decide who will conduct it.
You can either use your in-house IT department or third-party cyber security experts.
Your IT department will know your system inside-out, but that may not be what you require. If the test is conducted by a third-party, they’ll be able to find weaknesses your in-house team have missed.
Outsourcing your penetration test means that you’re hiring experts. Cyber security experts stay up-to-date on the latest infiltration techniques, as well as the most effective ways to protect your business.
If you’re looking for a trusted IT partner to help you and your team build strong defences against cybercriminals, reach out to us today on +44 203 034 2244 or +1 323 984 8908. Alternatively, you can contact us online.
Our friendly team will help guide you through your options and will help ensure that you
get the right penetration tests for your organisational needs.
We have engineering bases in the United Kingdom, Europe and Southern California and our group of highly experienced engineers are available 24/7 to assist and ensure that your business remains secure in an ever-changing threat landscape.