What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing, or pen testing, is a method of evaluating a company’s cybersecurity weaknesses or vulnerabilities. It is a process that takes a broad look at the cybersecurity system a company has in place and highlights discrepancies or areas that can be improved upon.

1

Firstly, a company may perform pen testing is to verify that their system is secure. Many successful companies have firewalls in place to prevent intrusion, nevertheless, it is important to test the effectiveness of these measures. That’s when pen testing comes into play. It is very much a custom service, that will differ from company to company, but oftentimes it involves what is known as white hat hacking. We attempt to break into the system but unlike the black hat hackers of the internet, we do not steal any of the data. Instead, we produce a report which highlights the most vulnerable parts of your security system.

2

Secondly, a company may seek out pen testing is because it is unsure of how good it’s current security system is. Most companies that go with option A are confident that their system is secure, they just want to know where improvements could be made. Option B, on the other hand, is essentially a second set of eyes on your company’s security system. It offers the opportunity for our experts to ensure that your system is safe and that no key areas have been overlooked.

Why Is Penetration Testing Important?

Perhaps the most obvious reason a company may perform pen testing is to identify cybersecurity weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Although this is a key and valuable part of the process, pen-testing has many other advantages as well. It can also help companies to identify how they would respond in the event of a cyberattack. Moreover, it can also help to improve existing strategies and enable better responses in the event of a data breach. 

Pen testing also ensures company compliance with standards such as GDPR and it enables companies to decide on the areas of cybersecurity that are most crucial for it to invest in. 
Finally, many organisations have benefited greatly from performing pen testing, even the Pentagon! In 2016, the Pentagon began an initiative called “Hack the Pentagon” where it challenged hackers to find vulnerabilities within its system in return for a financial reward known as a bug bounty. 1,400 hackers uncovered more than 100 security issues.

Pen testing is so important because it provides a clear and comprehensive evaluation of a  company’s security system. Essentially it emulates what a hacker would do and outlines the system’s shortcomings. It is also important to note that pen testing is not a one-size-fits-all service. Every company’s vulnerabilities and threats are unique so unless you perform pen testing, you cannot be confident that your company is truly secure. 

pen testing

Who is pen testing aimed at and how often should it be performed?

Pen testing is a service that is beneficial to every company, big or small. Often big companies will engage us to perform pen-testing on a regular basis whereas small companies may only be able to perform pen-testing once every couple of years. Naturally, and with the ever-evolving field, the more often pen testing is performed the more prepared a company will be in the event of a cyberattack.

Nevertheless, whether performed once every two years or once every two months, pen testing is vital to ensure a company’s cybersecurity measures are optimised. For any company that processes and stores sensitive data, pen testing is essential. If you value data security, it is certainly something to consider.

How Does Penetration Testing Work?

Although pen testing can be classified under two headings, A and B, it is far from a one-size-fits-all product. Pen testing involves close cooperation between our company and yours.

Before we begin, we try to understand what your concerns are and what you hope to achieve from doing this. Pen testing is not simply about the results contained in our final report, the process is just as important.

Pen testing can be easily equated to a process known as white hat hacking. White hat hackers are “the good guys” who break into systems in order to expose their vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Imagine if a bank hired someone to dress up as a robber and break into a vault, pen-testing works in a very similar way. 

Any attempts they make can be monitored and any successes can be used to improve existing security measures. There are many different kinds of pen testing that can be performed but they all work towards the goal of establishing weaknesses and working to ensure that the company is not vulnerable to attack.

What are the different kinds of pen testing?

White Box Pen Testing

Those performing the pen testing are provided with some information about the company before carrying out the test. They may have access to IP addresses, network information, etc.

Advantages:

  • Provides a comprehensive assessment of all company software 
  • It is extremely thorough and ensures that no company software is left untested 

Disadvantages:

  • It is not always necessary to test every aspect of a company’s software as some will be more vulnerable to attack than others

Black Box Pen Testing

Those carrying out the test do not have access to any company information before performing it. Typically, the tester will only know the name of the company and will not be provided with any further background information.

Advantages: 

  • The tester works independently from the company so they are not subject to bias or prejudice 
  • The tester is working from a user’s point of view 

Disadvantages:

  • It is possible that the tester may repeat some tests that have already been performed by the programmer 
  • This process can be time-consuming as reconnaissance is required before carrying out the test

Grey Box Pen Testing

This is a form of pen testing that is performed without the tester having detailed knowledge about the company but with limited access to certain company information. It is, in essence, the middle ground between white-box testing and black-box testing.  

Advantages:

  •  The tester has access to similar amounts of information as an attacker that has gained access to a user account 
  • It is a less time-consuming process than black-box testing because the tester has access to some company information 

Disadvantages:

  • As with black-box testing, the programmer may have already run similar tests and there may be a duplication of effort

What happens after a pen test is performed?

Following a pen test, our team draws up a report outlining the key cybersecurity vulnerabilities of a business. Pen testing is not a one-size-fits-all process so our report will differ company to company and highlight in detail the specific weaknesses that each company has. What is detailed in this report is dependant on the scope outlined by the customer, however, it usually outlines how we identified vulnerabilities as well as possible remediations.