IT Support 23 August 2022

What is penetration testing, and why is it important?

What is penetration testing, and why is it important?

Rosie Andrews

Cybersecurity is a growing concern for businesses, yet many aren’t taking the necessary steps to secure their systems from threats. In 2021, 4 in 10 companies reported cybersecurity breaches. Worryingly, around 27% of these businesses experienced breaches at least once a week.

Therefore, implementing effective cybersecurity measures is more important than ever. But first, you need to understand what risks your business faces using penetration testing. Whether or not you’ve heard of pen testing, you’ll find all you need to know here. We’ll deep-dive into why penetration testing is necessary for businesses and how it works to protect your systems from threats.


What is penetration testing?


A penetration test (or pen test) is a simulated cybersecurity attack designed to expose holes or security vulnerabilities in your systems. These could be anything from an insufficient network firewall to a database leaking important information.

Penetration testing considers all aspects of your IT systems. It assesses wireless networks, devices, applications, servers, and anything else you use as part of your day-to-day business. However, it usually only focuses on specific areas at once.

Usually, pen testing combines manual and automated assessments. Manual has more human involvement where people are assigned to test specific systems and look for certain threats. However, automated processes continuously disrupt systems to look for vulnerabilities using machine learning and AI. These scanners tend to run in the background, notifying you of potential problems as they occur.


Why perform penetration testing?


You may wonder why a business willingly wants to exploit its systems with cybersecurity threats. But, you can learn a lot from a pen test.

In particular, pen testing allows you to find holes in your security systems. If anything is working incorrectly, you’ll know about it. For instance, tests may reveal that someone has unauthorised access to your network or company device. Or that a hacker can quickly get into your business email inbox.

Remember, some cybersecurity threats may be obvious—for example, you know if an employee’s work laptop is stolen. Other flaws are less easily identifiable. You may think your network firewall is working efficiently, but pen testing could reveal it’s littered with malware. That’s why it’s so important to run regular tests.

Penetration testing also ensures your business meets regulatory requirements, especially protecting important data you hold about employees and clients. You have certain obligations to ensure any sensitive data (like dates of birth, addresses, or financial data) is secured appropriately, keeping it safe from access, leaks, and theft. If any data is at risk of exposure, a pen test will highlight where.

Once you’ve identified all vulnerabilities, you can determine the risks for your business and decide where improvements are needed. So, penetration testing is crucial for increasing confidence in your business’ security strategy and ensuring it does its job.


What are the stages of penetration testing?


So, how does penetration testing work? It’s a five-stage process requiring careful planning and execution. These stages include:

  • Planning and investigation – Decide on the goals of the test, the types of testing to be used, who will be running the test, how much information is already available, and anything else needed for adequate preparation.
  • Scanning – Use scanning tools to gather information, such as IP addresses, user profiles, and stored data, and determine where weaknesses may lie.
  • Penetration attempt – Carry out penetration attempts using agreed methods to gain access and exploit vulnerabilities among systems, servers, devices, and anything else that forms part of your IT infrastructure.
  • Analysis – Produce a report containing details of the process, which vulnerabilities were found, where, and what happened, then evaluate findings.
  • Clean up – Remove any traces of pen testing to avoid further compromising systems, then start prioritising vulnerabilities and taking necessary action to patch up loopholes.


What are the types of penetration testing?


You can use different penetration methods depending on the goals of your test. Some businesses may prefer to run tests using little to no information, while others want to assess security based on specific vulnerabilities. Here’s a run-through of the different types.


For an internal test, the individual must access systems and applications held behind a firewall. For example, your business email inbox or intranet. These tests assess how easy the firewall is to bypass, what a hacker could gain access to, and what damage could be caused internally.


External pen tests look at publicly-available information and systems, such as your website and email domain. The tester attempts to see what valuable data they can gather or steal through weak security.


In blind testing, an individual is given the name of your company, but no other information about your security processes or possible weaknesses. Then, the tester attempts to simulate a real hacker attack to identify security vulnerabilities. Generally, employees are aware that testing is being carried out.


Double-blind testing means that very few people in your business are aware of penetration testing. Like blind testing, the tester is only given the name of your company and uses publicly-available information to find flaws.


Targeted testing is the most planned type. Testers work with your IT team to provide feedback on testing procedures and give real-time updates from a ‘hacker’ view. This is a valuable training exercise for your business as it shows them how a hacker can find loopholes and what they’re looking for.


Penetration testing methods


Penetration tests usually assess one or more areas of your IT infrastructure rather than everything at once. Doing so allows testing teams to look deeper into specific vulnerabilities and evaluate which remedial action is needed.

The areas assessed ultimately depend on your goals for the pen test. Generally, testing focuses on one or more of the following:

  • Web applications – Assesses web applications’ security, looking for weaknesses such as coding errors, web browser flaws, user access control, encryption levels, and authentication.
  • Network security – Looks for loopholes in your network or systems that could compromise your network, including firewalls, password management, connected devices, and routers.
  • Cloud security – Checks for cloud insecurities, for example, weak passwords, server misconfigurations, compromised APIs, and outdated software.
  • IoT security – Analyses the security of different IoT devices by looking into outdated software, source code errors, integration of applications, and other threats.
  • Social engineering – Uses techniques such as phishing emails to gain access to sensitive information and assess non-quantifiable security risks, such as employee awareness of threats.


What happens after a penetration test?


The post-pen test stage is equally as important as the pen test itself. Afterwards, you should take time to review and discuss your results to put the necessary remedial action in place. For instance, the pen test may have found a vulnerability in user password management. Therefore, you might ask all employees to change their credentials or introduce new password rules, such as changing passwords monthly. Any changes you make should be reflected in your business’ cybersecurity policy.

Once you’ve decided on the measures to put in place, you should run another pen test. This will ensure your implementation strategies have been successful.


Who can carry out penetration testing?


Professionals, such as an IT company or an ethical hacker, should carry out pen tests. These testing teams understand what security risks to look for and know how to exploit systems to uncover vulnerabilities. While your business IT team may have some knowledge, it’s best to leave pen tests to a hired contractor who can ensure nothing is left unturned.


How Fabric IT helps with penetration testing


At Fabric IT, we’re cybersecurity experts. We help businesses elevate cybersecurity practices to keep their assets, networks, and company safe.

As part of our security services, we offer intense penetration testing alongside the help of an accredited third party to identify and evaluate security vulnerabilities. We’ll work with you one-on-one to mitigate risks and safeguard your business from threats using advanced cybersecurity measures, from dark web monitoring to user awareness training. Are you ready to take your business’ cybersecurity to the next level? Speak with a member of our team today by calling 01625 443 110.

Rosie Andrews

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