Did you know that cybercrime costs the global economy over $1 trillion a year? That’s more than 1% of the global GDP! And that number is only going to continue to grow as we become more and more reliant on technology.
Cyber security threats come in various forms, from malware and ransomware to phishing and social engineering. And as a business, it’s important to be proactive in protecting your data from these threats.
One of the best ways to do that is by conducting penetration testing. Penetration testing, a focused form of ethical hacking, is the process of simulating cyber attacks against your network in order to identify vulnerabilities. By doing so, you can fix potential security holes before they’re exploited by hackers.
Are you looking to conduct a penetration test for your business? This guide will explain what a pen test is, the different types of tests you can perform, the process of conducting a pen test, and the benefits of doing so. We’ll also provide tips on how to choose the right penetration testing service for your business.
What is a penetration test?
A penetration test – pen test – is a process of identifying and exploiting security vulnerabilities in a system or network. The main goal of a pen test is to identify and assess the damage that could be caused by a malicious hacker if they were to exploit these vulnerabilities.
Pen tests can be used for a variety of purposes, such as improving IT security posture, identifying system vulnerabilities before they can be exploited (through a vulnerability scan), and compliance with information security regulations.
Pretty much any aspect of your IT infrastructure can be tested this way:
- Web and mobile applications
- Networks (wireless and otherwise)
- Cloud environments
- Physical security and more
You can choose whether you want an internal team to conduct the pen test or outsource it to a third-party provider.
Here is what a penetration test typically looks like.
The process of a penetration test
The process of a pen test varies depending on the size and complexity of the network or system being tested. However, in general, the process will follow these steps:
- Scoping and planning – This is where the goals and objectives of the test are defined, as well as the resources that will be needed and general test logistics.
- Reconnaissance – This is where information about the target system is gathered. The pen tester does this on their own, using all publicly available information about your business and systems, such as search engine queries, social engineering, tax records, and similar.
- Security vulnerability assessment and threat modeling – This is where the reconnaissance data is analyzed, and vulnerabilities of the target system are identified. The pen tester defines attack vectors and creates a map of the system’s attack surface.
- Exploitation – This is where the vulnerabilities are exploited to assess the damage that could be done if a hacker finds and uses gaps in security controls.
- Reporting and remediation – The final step is to produce a report detailing the pen test findings and recommending fixes for the identified vulnerabilities.
Every pen-testing provider has its own process, but most will follow a similar methodology outlined above. One of the main factors that impact the cost and duration of a pen test is the amount of surveillance that needs to be done – the more available data, the less time and money it will take to find vulnerabilities.
Based on the amount of data given to the tester beforehand, the following types of penetration tests can be conducted:
- Black box – This is where the pen tester has no prior knowledge of the target system. They rely entirely on publicly available information and whatever they can gather through reconnaissance.
- Gray box – The pen tester has some prior knowledge of the target system, such as the network topology or information about certain systems. This allows them to focus their efforts on specific areas that are likely to be vulnerable.
- White box – The ethical hacker has full knowledge of the target system, including its structure, networks, applications, and passwords. This allows them to perform a more thorough test, but it is also the most expensive type of test.
You don’t necessarily have to know what type of test you want or need – the penetration testing provider can help you determine that during the initial call.
Will there be any business disruptions during the test?
More often than not (in 95% of cases), the answer is No. There will be no business disruptions during the test, even if the test is performed on a live system actively being used by employees.
However, there may be some short-term disruptions in the remaining 5% of cases while certain vulnerabilities are being exploited. These disruptions can include bandwidth spikes, account lockouts, issues with form submissions, and system crashes in worst-case scenarios.
The important thing to remember here is that ethical hackers do not work in a vacuum. During the test, you should have direct access to them to address any issues immediately.
Is pen testing safe for my business?
If conducted by a qualified and experienced provider, pen testing is a safe way to improve your business’s IT security. For most companies, it is not only safe but also a necessary measure to take to protect their data and infrastructure.
You can rest assured that the pen testers will take all necessary precautions to avoid disruption or damage to your systems. They have a vested interest in ensuring the safety of your systems and will work with you to mitigate any risks. They will not go beyond the scope of what has been agreed upon and will stop the test immediately if any issues arise.
Remember that penetration testing is a service like any other. If you work with true professionals, there is no need for concern.
What are the benefits of pen testing?
You might be thinking that you don’t need penetration testing, that your business is too small, or that you’re not a high-profile target.
You would be wrong on both counts.
Small businesses are just as much of a target as large businesses – in fact, they may be even more attractive to hackers because they are likely to have weaker security measures in place. According to a Verizon report, around 43% of cyberattack targets are small businesses.
And every single business is a potential target. Even if you don’t think you’re at risk, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Here is why your business needs penetration testing, regardless of its size or industry.
Risk assessment and mitigation
If you’ve never conducted a pen test before, you likely don’t know what your cyber security vulnerabilities are. The most obvious benefit of a pen test is that it allows you to identify the weaknesses in your system so that you can fix them.
Once these vulnerabilities have been identified, they can be addressed and mitigated before being exploited by hackers. This protects your data and your customer’s data, which is essential for any business.
It is no secret that cyberattacks can be costly. In the United States, the average cost of a data breach is $4.24 million due to data theft, customer notification, legal battles, regulatory penalties, increases in insurance premiums, operational disruption, and more.
60% of small businesses that have suffered a cyber attack go out of business because they cannot afford to recover from the attack.
This is where penetration testing can be a life-saver. By identifying and mitigating your vulnerabilities before an attack takes place, you can save yourself a lot of money – and heartache.
Additionally, your organization’s reputation and the relationship with customers are also at stake. Regular pen testing can help strengthen both of these as well.
Compliance with regulations
Many industries have regulations in place that require regular software testing. For example, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires healthcare organizations to perform periodical technical and non-technical vulnerability assessments, which includes pen testing.
Suppose your business is regulated by HIPAA or other industry-specific regulations (such as ISO 27001, GDPR, PSI, and similar). In that case, you will need to conduct regular pen tests to remain compliant.
Landing bigger deals
Large corporations are wary of doing business with organizations that don’t have a developed cyber security strategy. This is because they understand the risk of being hacked and want to ensure that their systems are as secure as possible.
Take the example of Target; the well-known big-box retailer hacked in 2013. The attack resulted in the theft of the personal information of over 40 million customers and the cost of millions of dollars to remediate the damage. The point of entry for the hackers was a third-party vendor that Target had been doing business with.
By having a penetration test in your portfolio, you can show potential clients that you take cyber security seriously and are willing to go the extra mile to protect their data. This will help you land bigger deals in the future and strengthen relationships with existing clients.
How often should you conduct a penetration test?
Now that we’ve established the importance of pen testing, you may be wondering how often you should conduct one. The answer to this question depends on various factors, including your industry, the size of your business, and the number of devices connected to your network.
Generally speaking, it is good to conduct a penetration test at least once a year. However, if you are in a high-risk industry or your business is expanding rapidly, you may need to conduct tests more often.
Whenever you’re launching a new product or service, conducting a penetration test is also a good idea. This will help you identify any vulnerabilities that may have been introduced as a result of the changes.
Your provider should be able to help you determine the appropriate frequency for your organization.
How to choose a penetration testing provider
Finally, now that we’ve covered the basics of penetration testing and why it matters, let’s talk about choosing the right provider.
It is important to choose a managed detection and response provider with experience in your industry and who understands the specific regulatory requirements that apply to you. The provider should also have a proven track record of helping businesses secure their systems.
When selecting a penetration testing company, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
Know what you want
Before you start looking for potential providers, take some time to define what you are looking for. What type of test do you want? What is your budget? What is the timeframe?
These are all important questions that need to be answered before you start shopping around. You don’t have to have every detail figured out, but having a general idea will help you narrow down your options. It will also help the companies you talk to determine if and how best they can help you.
Creativity and experience are key
You may have heard that the credentials of a penetration tester are a deal-breaker. Indeed, what type of certifications they hold and where they went to school can be relatively important.
But don’t forget that creativity and experience are also key. Hackers are becoming increasingly more sophisticated, so your provider needs to be up-to-date on the latest attack methods.
They should also be able to think outside the box and develop creative ways to penetrate your system. Each penetration test has its fair share of automated scans and checklists that a tester must go through. Automated penetration testing is expected and is a critical part of the process. But a good provider will also be able to add value by providing their insights and recommendations.
Ask for sample reports
Pen testers who are just starting out or are not taking their work too seriously often struggle with writing reports. They don’t have the experience yet to properly articulate what they’ve found and what recommendations they are making.
As a result, it’s important to ask for sample reports from potential providers. This will give you a good idea of the quality of their work, their penetration testing methodology, and how well they communicate their findings.
If a provider is hesitant or unwilling to share their reports, it’s probably best to move on.
Check their reputation
On paper and during the call, a provider may seem like the perfect fit for your business. But it’s important to do your due diligence and check their reputation.
Do your research and check the provider’s reputation before signing any contracts. Ask for references from past clients and read reviews online. Some other ways to verify a provider’s legitimacy include looking for the following:
- Do they have any professional certifications?
- Do they have a website and social media presence?
- Are they a member of any industry associations?
- Do they offer any guarantees?
If you have any doubts, it’s always best to go with more established penetration testers. They may be more expensive, but they will likely be worth the investment.
Think long term
Don’t forget that security testing is not a one-time deal. You are looking for a company that you can work with long-term, and that will be there to help you as your business grows and changes.
The best providers are those that are willing to work with you to create a custom plan that meets your specific needs. They should also be available for ongoing support and consultation.
So, take the time to find the right provider, and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Your business depends on it.
Can’t I do a pen test on my own?
Plenty of businesses have their own internal IT staff and think they can do a pen test independently. While this is an option, it’s not always the best one.
Internal staff may not have the experience or the tools needed to conduct a proper pen test. They may also be biased towards their own work and not be able to see potential vulnerabilities.
Hiring a professional provider gives you the peace of mind that the test will be conducted properly and that you will receive a comprehensive report with actionable items.
The bottom line is that penetration testing is a critical part of any IT security strategy. Its main advantages include identifying vulnerabilities, helping to fix them, and preventing breaches. Your business will greatly benefit from hiring a professional provider who can conduct a comprehensive test and provide useful recommendations.
When choosing that provider, you should take your time and do your research.
There are plenty of qualified providers, but not all of them are created equal. So, ask lots of questions and make sure the provider you choose is the right fit for your business.