This guide will tell you what penetration testing (pen testing) is and what types of pen testing there are, give some examples of how your organisation can utilise it and assess how essential it is to your business.
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What is meant by penetration testing?
Penetration tests are intentional attacks on your IT system. They expose the weak spots in your system’s defences, including cross-site scripting, source codes, logic, and network configurations. Penetration tests give your IT team an understanding of the vulnerabilities in your infrastructures.
What is penetration testing?
Penetration tests (or pen tests) are attacks on your companies’ software and hardware systems, carried out by ‘ethical hackers’ to expose your system’s vulnerabilities. One example is a web application pen test. Web apps, browsers and plug-ins can house sensitive financial or personal data, so hackers are increasingly putting their efforts towards gaining access to them. The test would examine the endpoint of every web application.
What are the types of penetration testing?
They are four types of penetration testing:
- External network pen tests involve an ethical hacker (hacking on behalf of you instead of themselves), trying to break into your organisation.
- Internal network pen tests are similar, but the IT professional doing it has a degree of existing network access.
- Web application pen tests investigate the weakness of web apps, browsers and plug-ins, as they often house sensitive financial or personal data.
- Social engineering pen tests identify vulnerabilities in your workforce or workplace.
The benefits of penetration testing
- Identify weaknesses
- Prevent attacks
- Protect sensitive data
- Protect reputation
- Avoid fines and ransom costs
Is penetration testing difficult?
Some experts have compared penetration testing to a financial audit. Your financial team does their day-to-day work to track profit, loss and income, and an external group comes in to confirm that the internal team’s methods are up to scratch. Though your internal IT team may be skilled and experienced, penetration testers are specialists. It is essential for the survival of your business that you are as prepared as possible for risks to your day-to-day operations.
What skills does penetration testing require?
First and foremost, a comprehensive and in-depth understanding of system vulnerabilities that extends past merely using specific tools or search software. Not that software isn’t necessary, but an expert should be able to identify risks that don’t have an ‘exploit code’ that explicitly identifies what they are. Otherwise, testers are entirely reliant on whatever risk-searching software they are using.
A good pen tester isn’t supposed to be an expert on every aspect of testing, but they should be open to learning and keeping on top of what is happening in cybersecurity. A tester with an ability to code (not necessarily to production quality level) would find the job easier and are likely be able to work with greater speed. Though coding languages change as time goes on, today’s pen testers should have at least a basic understanding of Python, Perl, Powershell and Bash. It is important to remember that not all the skills and experience that make a great pentester are technical.
The ability to write readable reports, work within a team and communicate potential risks and solutions to clients are essential skills. After all, clients hire pen testers to see where their company may be vulnerable and to outline an actionable plan to fix it. To find a reliable pen tester, organisations like CREST (the penetration testing accreditation body) are great for quickly finding pen testers that are guaranteed to be of an industry-recognised high standard.
How long does a pen test take?
The time that penetration testing takes depends on the size and complexity of your organisation’s system structure, as well as the scope of the test itself. For the ‘average’ company, a network penetration test should take around three days. For a merchant processing millions of credit cards a year, for example, a pen test will take over a week, or possibly two.
What is the goal of penetration testing?
The purpose of a penetration test is to check that your IT system is secure. Penetration testing should take place after your organisation has been fortified by your (internal or external) IT security team, as a way to gain assurance of your organisation’s safety. A penetration test is essential for your BC/DR plan and for guaranteeing information protection. A penetration testing team is there to make sure that your system is secure, imitating the actions that a malicious hacker would take, to identify vulnerabilities.
What is GREY box penetration testing?
Grey box testing, as you might guess, is a hybrid of black box (testing without any information) and white box (testing with full access to the system) testing. Clients provide the testing company with snippets of information to assist in the testing process. This method is significantly more extensive than black-box testing but more cost-effective than white box testing.
- CREST certified
- Remedial support
- Straight forward reporting
- Fixed price proposals
- Little to no disruption to your day to day operations
- NDA – your information and findings are known only by your company and us
What is CREST accreditation?
CREST is an internationally recognised body that certifies cybersecurity companies as competent for providing penetration testing and cyber incident response services. A CREST accredited company is highly trusted, skilled, and knowledgeable, meeting industry benchmarks and working to the highest codes of conduct.
Just as you would only trust a gas engineer on the Gas Safe Register (previously CORGI) to work in your home, you should only choose a CREST-certified cybersecurity company. Accreditation is the only way your business knows a cybersecurity company is competent to perform a penetration test.
What software do you use?
Our penetration tests are not limited to running automated software alone because many vulnerabilities, such as manual exploitation, would not be discovered. Our approach leverages the manual expertise of our pen testers, blended with software tools such as SQLMap, Metasploit, NMap, Cobalt Strike, Nikto, SSLScan, Nessus, and Qualys.
Do I pass/fail?
You do not pass or fail a pen test. Once testing is complete, you will be issued a report that will help inform you of any found issues and their severity ranging from low, medium, high, and critical. You will also be given a written report explaining our findings in greater detail.
What are the stages of penetration testing?
- Scoping – This defines your intent for penetration testing, enabling technical resource, time, and approach planning
- Pre-assessment – A confirmation that all pre-test requirements have been actioned and your environment is accessible
- Assessment – Penetration testing takes place as defined during scoping
- Post assessment – Pen testing results are collected and compiled, and the test environment is closed
- Reporting – The results form the basis of the report identifying issues and their risk levels
- Remediation discussion and support – The issues and vulnerabilities are discussed with recommendations and support for remedial actions
How long does an assessment take?
The time is usually defined during the scoping part of the engagement process. This is affected by multiple factors such as company size, network size, applications, devices, and whether we will be testing your internal network, external network, or web application.
How often should I get a Penetration Test?
This will depend on two things:
- The findings of your most recent report – If the report contains high or critical errors, we advise retesting as soon as possible. If there are little to no issues, you can leave it for as long as 12 months.
- Changes to your infrastructure – If there are any significant changes to your digital infrastructure, it is recommended to get retested as new vulnerabilities could arise.
What kind of test do I need?
There is no direct answer to this question. We recommend getting in touch with one of our cybersecurity experts, who will help you determine the best course of action for you.
What is the difference between a pen test and vulnerability scanning?
Although often used interchangeably, pen testing and vulnerability scanning have different goals and methodologies. Vulnerability scanning is an automated tool-driven approach to discovering a network’s security weaknesses, focusing on common issues such as local misconfigurations and patch levels.
Penetration testing goes further by replicating real-world attack approaches and tactics, from a hacker’s viewpoint, often with no inside knowledge. Vulnerability scanning usually precedes penetration testing, enabling pen tester effectiveness and focus at a greater depth.
How much does a pen test cost?
The penetration testing cost depends on the facts identified during scoping, such as the agreed time, goals, technical resources, approach, and remedial support.