The security of corporate data is not something to be careless about. As the number of data breaches happening to both large corporations and small businesses is increasing, performing security tests is the best way to make sure your chances of getting hacked are low.
Penetration testing has proven to be one of the most efficient ways to reveal unknown vulnerabilities, the ways they can be exploited, and the potential damage that can be done by a data breach.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at what penetration testing is and why penetration testing is required to ensure you will be ready to detect and respond to a real-world hacker attack.
Let’s start with the ‘what’ before all the ‘whys’ to be on the same page. What is penetration testing? You might’ve heard that it is similar to vulnerability testing. This is the misconception that we encounter the most. Vulnerability tests are not the same as penetration tests. The former ones are performed to discover potential vulnerabilities present within the system.
In turn, penetration tests have one primary goal – to determine what a real-world hacker attack would be like. This means that one or several security experts are tasked with breaking into your system. This is like a fire drill, except for testing software. The purpose of penetration testing is to:
Penetration testing is also sometimes referred to as “ethical hacking”. It is performed by one or several certified security professionals that act like real-world hackers - except they have to comply with the agreement they sign with you. This agreement is required to ensure that the attack will not cause any real damage and to determine the time frame and budget constraints among other things.
Ethical hackers are not given access to any of the source code. It is up to you to decide how much information you are going to provide them with – it could be as little the name and the address of the company. Alternatively, you could ask testers to test a solution you haven’t launched yet and give them a task to break in or to cause maximum damage.
There are several types of penetration tests. They match different needs and requirements a company may have, so it is up to you to decide which one you prefer. Penetration tests can take the following forms:
If you want to find out more about the subject, check out the essentials of penetration tests.
After a simulated hacker attack is concluded, you get a detailed report that contains information about critical vulnerabilities that represent a high risk for the system security and how they can be exploited. Using this information, you can get rid of those vulnerabilities before a real-world hack happens.
How often should you perform penetration testing? Well, as our experience has shown, you should test your system regularly once per half a year or a year and, what is more important, after every significant change in the system.
There many kinds of attacks: malware, including cryptocurrency-mining malware, ransomware, phishing, and DDoS attacks. Among the companies that were attacked, you can find such corporations as Adidas, Whole Foods, Forever 21, Delta, etc.
The importance of security testing can be illustrated by one of the attacks in 2018. In April, Sears informed its clients that their credit card information was stolen. This data breach affected up to 100,000 Sears clients that bought items online from September 27, 2017, to October 12, 2017.
Failing to protect your systems from a hacker attack will cost you money. However, there is even more to this than just losing money – it’s losing your reputation. If you are unable to protect your corporate data or your customers’/clients’/users’ personal data, you risk losing existing and potential customers.
There is an opinion that if you are a small enterprise, hackers won’t make you their target – instead, they aim for the big fish, i.e. corporations with millions in their bank accounts. However, that is a misconception - 43% of hacker attacks target small businesses. Furthermore, large corporations have enough resources to recover after the attack, but small businesses may not have this luxury.
So, why do penetration testing? Why is this particular type of testing worth your investment? We have taken a look back at our experience and identified 5 main reasons why penetration testing is necessary.
Vulnerability testing doesn’t reveal all the potential weaknesses present in the system. This is why penetration testing is needed – it reveals those vulnerabilities that your security team is not aware of. This is especially important when you update your software – changes in the code mean potential new weaknesses.
Moreover, penetration testing is an excellent opportunity to get an ‘outsider perspective’ on your system security as a whole. Testers imitate the actions of a hacker, and they often think, unlike other security specialists. As a result, they may find vulnerabilities where your security specialists wouldn’t even think to look for them.
2. It Helps You Prioritize Vulnerabilities By Their Exploitability
Penetration tests are really good at determining the potential impact of certain vulnerabilities on the system. This is why ethical hacking is necessary – you will be able to prioritize which vulnerabilities should be fixed immediately and which changes you should make in the long run.
Besides, penetration tests reveal if exploiting several low-risk vulnerabilities in a particular order results in huge damage (which can rarely be determined by simple vulnerability testing). This gives you a full picture of what should be fixed and in what order – this allows you to spot vulnerabilities that seem to be low-risk on their own.
3. It Determines Gaps In The Security Policy
Social engineering is not as uncommon as you may think when it comes to hacker attacks. Penetration testing, if it is double-blind, reveals whether your employees are prone to social engineering. Consequently, you can use this information to train your employees to respond to hacking attempts.
One of the reasons why ethical hacking is essential is because it shows if there are any gaps in the standard protocols regarding how your security team detects a data breach and reacts to it. It may turn out your employees were unable to identify the data breach or respond to it properly and minimize the damage.
Our experience shows that some companies focus primarily on preventing and detecting hacks - not reacting to them in real time. When a system is attacked, it is crucial to cut the hacker’s access and restore its security.
4. It Is Required To Comply With Regulations & Standards
This is quite a popular reason why penetration testing is required for some companies. We would like to emphasize that penetration testing is beneficial for any company regardless of whether it needs this particular type of testing to comply with a regulation.
However, if you do need to comply with such regulations or standards as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard or General Data Protection Regulation, you have to meet the compliance criteria. They may include performing regular (often annual) penetration tests and testing systems after significant changes.
5. It Helps You Stay Up-To-Date Regarding The Risk Level
Last but not least, penetration tests are performed to find out the extent of potential damage that can be done. This information is vitally important to the top management because it allows understanding what areas require investment to prevent future attacks. Knowledge is power, and knowing the weaknesses of your system can help you avoid getting hacked.
No system is perfectly secure; no system is without flaws and weaknesses. If you are convinced yours is safe and sound, you just don’t know about potential vulnerabilities yet. This is why penetration testing is one of the best decisions you can make to secure the future of your business.