Penetration testing is a vital checkpoint in your cybersecurity journey. The penetration testing process involves simulating real-world cyberattacks on your systems, networks, and applications to uncover vulnerabilities before malicious actors can exploit them. You can use this critical insight either as proof of your cybersecurity success or a way to make a list of things to work on. Each stage of the process is important and you should be aware of all of them before undertaking pen testing:
Scoping is the initial consultation between your organisation and the penetration testing company to outline the initial rules of engagement. This stage is to decide what the possible target(s) will be for the penetration test and what kind of information you want to collect from the testing process.
The signing of the NDA
A non-disclosure agreement (or NDA) is a contract that protects confidential information concerning clients, customers and staff. Reputable companies will make this a priority in the early stages of your working relationship.
During this phase, the testing company will use a variety of methods to learn about the targets you have discussed. This includes internet research and building up intelligence of relevant threats. The penetration testing team will search through all available public information (also called open-source), as well as more specific information that you might be asked to provide.
As covered last week, the information and intelligence provided by the client will vary greatly depending on the security operations being conducted. These would include internal penetration tests, external penetration tests, and tests where the testing company is provided with varying levels of information beforehand.
The amount of information that you give your penetration testing team will depend on the nature of the targets you are testing.
After understanding the landscape of your business and collecting all the necessary information, the tester will do more practical work to see how vulnerable your system is. This often involves sending probes to target networks, using the information to conduct additional probes and deciding what part of your network/systems would most benefit from a full-scale penetration test.
The proposal will formally state, with a degree of specificity, how tests will be executed. This includes agreed actions, processes, timings and costs.
The testing team will get permission from server and firewall hosting providers (anything that traffic might pass through) to create a full-scale and realistic testing environment.
Once there is a clear plan of action, the next step is to execute the penetration test. Experts, sometimes called ‘ethical hackers’, use their skills to infiltrate networks and gain access to places that they shouldn’t be able to.
Not every vulnerability outlined in the preliminary intelligence and probing will show issues that have to be resolved. A good penetration tester will focus their efforts on vulnerabilities that are specifically relevant to the target system.
Most tests begin with an executive summary; listing the risks found within your system and the testing strategies used to identify them. There will be a rating system of low, medium and high for your team to quantify how critical each risk the testing team found and how badly it could affect your business. This will help your business make important decisions and choose which threats to focus on addressing.
The report will also list more detailed technical information. Your technical team will use this part of the report to take action and fix the security issues that were brought to light during the penetration test.
Once the vulnerabilities in your systems have been identified, and action has been taken to strengthen them, you may decide to retest your systems. After all, a penetration test is the only real way to determine whether or not your system is impenetrable. There is also the unfortunate possibility that new vulnerabilities may arise.