Penetration Testing Explained
Keeping workplace technology up and running is vital to any organisation’s success. While this task seems feasible, it’s growing harder and harder each year as cyber-criminals expand their reach. It’s not enough to simply protect workplace technology with software and security protocols – it’s also critical for your organisation to test the overall effectiveness of these protocols on a regular basis. Penetration testing does the exact job that is needed.
Essentially, penetration testing consists of an IT professional mimicking the actions of a malicious cyber-criminal to determine whether an organisation’s workplace technology possesses any vulnerabilities and can withstand their attack efforts. Conducting a penetration test can help your organisation review the effectiveness of workplace cyber-security measures, identify the most likely methods used for a cyber-attack and better understand potential weaknesses.
This article will cover what penetration testing is, what the benefits are, and the best steps that you can adopt in order to have a successful run.
What Is Penetration Testing?
Penetration testing refers to the simulation of an actual cyber-attack to analyse an organisation’s cyber-security strengths and weaknesses. This testing usually targets a specific type of workplace technology, such as the organisation’s networks, website, applications, software, security systems or even physical assets (eg computers and smart devices). Penetration testing can leverage various attack methods, including; malware, social engineering, password cracking and network hacking.
Generally speaking, penetration testing is often performed by a professional from a contracted IT firm who is not in any way associated with the organisation being assessed. This helps the cyber-attack simulation seem as authentic as possible. Penetration testing is typically either external or internal in nature. The primary differences between these forms of testing are as follows:
- External penetration testing requires the IT expert to attack an organisation’s external-facing workplace technology from an outside perspective.
- Internal penetration testing allows the IT expert to attack an organisation’s internal-facing workplace technology from an inside perspective. This form of testing can help the organisation understand the amount of damage an aggrieved employee could potentially inflict through a cyber-attack.
In addition to these testing formats, there are also two distinct types of penetration tests. How much information an organisation provides the IT professional prior to the cyber-attack simulation will determine the penetration test type. Specifically:
- An open-box test occurs when the IT expert is given some details regarding the organisation’s workplace technology or cyber-security protocols beforehand.
- A closed-box test occurs when the IT expert is provided with no details other than the organisation’s name.
Ultimately, the penetration testing format and type should be selected based on the particular workplace technology elements or cyber-security measures that an organisation is looking to evaluate.
Benefits of Penetration Testing
Penetration testing can offer numerous advantages to your organisation, including:
- Improved cyber-security evaluations—By simulating realistic cyber-attack situations, penetration testing can help your organisation more accurately evaluate its varying security strengths and weaknesses, as well as any particularly vulnerable areas, and reveal the true costs of any security concerns.
- Increased compliance capabilities—Conducting these tests may help your organisation remain compliant and uphold sector-specific expectations.
- Bolstered cyber-security awareness—Mimicking real-life cyber-attack circumstances will highlight the value of having effective prevention measures in place for your employees, thus encouraging them to prioritise workplace cyber-security protocols.
Steps for the Most Effective Practice
Consider these steps for executing a successful penetration test within your organisation:
- Establish goals. It’s crucial for you to decide what your organisation’s goals are regarding the penetration test. In particular, be sure to ask:
- What is my organisation looking to gain or better understand from penetration testing?
- Which cyber-security threats and trends are currently most prevalent within my organisation or industry? How can these threats and trends be applied to the penetration test?
- What specific workplace technology elements or cyber-security protocols will the penetration test target?
- Select a trusted IT professional. Consult an experienced IT expert to assist your organisation with the penetration test. Make sure to share your organisation’s goals with the IT professional to help them understand how to best execute the test.
- Have a plan. Before beginning the penetration test, work with the IT expert to create an appropriate plan. This plan should outline:
- The general testing timeframe
- The people who will be made aware of the test
- The test type and format
- The regulatory requirements (if any) that must be satisfied through the test
- The boundaries of the test (eg which cyber-attack simulations can be utilised and what workplace technology can be targeted)
- Document and review the results. Take detailed notes as the penetration test occurs and review test results with the IT expert. Look closely at which cyber-security tactics were successful during the attack simulation and which measures fell short, as well as the consequences of these shortcomings. Ask the IT professional for suggestions on how to rectify security gaps properly.
- Make changes as needed. Based on penetration test results, make any necessary adjustments to workplace technology or cyber-security protocols. This may entail updating security software or revising workplace policies.
- Follow a schedule. Conduct penetration testing at least once every year and after implementing any new workplace technology.
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