What Is Penetration Testing and Why Is It Useful

What Is Penetration Testing

Penetration testing, sometimes referred to as ethical hacking, is the process of evaluating your computer system’s applications to identify vulnerabilities and susceptibility to threats like hackers and cyber-attacks.

Why It’s Important

Cybercrime can be incredibly damaging and costly to organisations. The days of businesses being able to set and forget when it comes to cybersecurity are long over, and penetration testing is an essential aspect of proactive business cybersecurity.

Benefits of Penetration Testing

1. Identify weakness in your IT systems

The purpose is to identify weak points in your system defences to help you understand ways you may be vulnerable to cyberattacks, such as hackers gaining unauthorised access to your sensitive data. This can include identifying specific channels in your applications or business that are most at risk or help you identify system weaknesses you may have not even have recognised.

2. Provide fire-drill training and development for your IT people

It helps your IT team or IT provider learn how to handle any malicious attack or ‘break-in’. It can also assist developers in making fewer errors. When developers understand exactly how an attack is launched on a system, software or application, it can help them reduce future security mistakes.

3. Learn how to expel intruders

It can also provide solutions that will help organisations prevent and detect attackers and expel intruders from systems efficiently.

4. Save on cyber security insurance

Being able to demonstrate that your IT systems and processes are effective against cyberattack may reduce cybersecurity insurance costs.

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Types of Penetration Testing

There are several types of penetration testing, and every kind of testing provides a different level of access to your systems and applications. Each type of test requires specific knowledge, tools and methodologies, and should align with your security goals.

These goals could range from identifying software code flaws in real-time, meeting compliance regulations, or to improving employee awareness of social engineering attacks.

Network Services

This is the most common type of penetration testing and is designed to protect your business from network-based attacks. It aims to identify the most exposed vulnerabilities and security weaknesses in your network infrastructure before they can be exploited.

Physical Penetration Testing

This simulates a real-world threat whereby a tester attempts to compromise physical barriers such as locks, barriers, cameras and sensors to access business infrastructure, systems or employees.

Wireless Penetration Testing

Wireless penetration testing identifies and examines the connections between all devices connected to an organisation’s wifi. It includes smartphones, tablets, laptops and any other connected devices. The aim is to identify any weakness like data leakage or unauthorised access in the wireless network.

Social Engineering Penetration Testing

A malicious actor attempts to trick or persuade users into providing sensitive information such as usernames and passwords through a social engineering attack such as phishing. Social engineering attacks are the most popular form of cyberattack. Internal users are one of the biggest threats to network security.

Employee education and training is the best form of social engineering prevention and should be incorporated into your cybersecurity strategy.

Web Application Penetration Testing

This is used to discover vulnerabilities or security weaknesses in web-based applications. It uses different penetration techniques to try to break into the web application itself to identify weaknesses within web-based code applications and components like source code and database.

Client-Side Penetration Testing

Client-side penetration testing aims to identify security weaknesses in client-side applications such as email clients, web browsers, and programs like Adobe and Microsoft Office. These tests aim to identify specific cyberattacks such as form hijacking and HTML injection.

Penetration Testing Methods

Internal Testing

Internal testing involves a tester with access to an application behind a firewall simulating a malicious attack. An example could be an employee whose credentials were stolen via a phishing attack.

External Testing

External testing targets organisational assets visible on the internet to gain access and extract valuable data — for instance, a company website, a web application, or email and domain name servers.

Blind Testing

In a blind test, the tester is only provided with the name of the organisation that is being targeted. This allows security personnel a real-time view of how an actual assault would take place.

Double-blind Testing

Double-blind testing means security personnel have no prior knowledge of the simulated attack, so they don’t have any time to prepare for an attempted breach.

Targeted Testing

In targeted testing, security personnel and the tester work together and communicate their actions, which is a valuable training exercise providing real-time feedback from a hacker’s perspective.

Who Should Conduct Penetration Testing

All types of organisations can benefit from penetration testing, as all companies are vulnerable to cyberattacks. However, the frequency and type of penetration testing required can depend on your organisation and industry.

It should also be customised to your specific organisation needs, include specific reports detailing potential or actual vulnerabilities, and recommend new security tools to implement and protocols to follow. Ideally, you should also conduct further vulnerability testing for patched weaknesses.

How Often Should You Conduct Penetration Testing

All businesses should regularly conduct penetration testing to ensure their infrastructure remains strong and well protected. If you are in an industry that is more vulnerable to cyber-attack such as technology or financial services, you should ideally conduct penetration testing more frequently.

Some factors that may influence your testing frequency include:

  • Company budget
  • Your online and e-commerce presence
  • Industry regulations, compliance and vulnerability
  • Whether you access cloud infrastructure.

It’s also wise to conduct additional penetration testing if you have recently upgraded or changed IT systems, moved offices, applied security patches or modified your user policies and access.

Speak to an expert

If you need cybersecurity or penetration testing advice for your business, contact Surety IT today.

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About the author:

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Ash Klemm

Ash has over 20 years of experience in sales and marketing. His journey from a casual salesperson at Chandlers to State Manager at a national IT distribution company, while battling health issues, including a double lung transplant in 2015, gave him the experience, know-how, tenacity, and marketing insight, to find solutions and help businesses grow. After spending several years in the ivory tower of state management, Ash missed the genuine connection of face to face meetings and helping make a difference to businesses in need. His authentic, conversational, and easy-going nature helps our customers feel at ease and shows them we are a brand to trust. Ash spends his days advocating for our customers to ensure they receive the best possible service in a timely fashion. Ash is also the in house chair builder. His curiosity and natural problem-solving ability make him the perfect first call for all our new customers to help determine what is wrong, how Surety IT can help and what the best solutions are moving forward.
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