When it comes to developing cybersecurity strategies, planning and assessing existing infrastructure only goes so far. To create an airtight security plan, you also need to view your company from the perspective of a hacker. That’s the role of a penetration test.
You’d rather find out about vulnerabilities in your software or systems before a hacker can exploit them. If you’ve spent some time developing your company’s defenses, you also need to verify that they actually work.
When properly conducted, a penetration test can convey valuable insights into the strengths and weaknesses of your company’s cyber defenses. Read on to discover what a penetration test is and five reasons why every business should conduct one.
What Is a Penetration Test?
A penetration test, also called a pen test or ethical hacking, is an authorized cyberattack performed on a business. Unlike simulations, a penetration test will seek to breach the company’s defenses for real to discover real-time vulnerabilities or assess a network’s strengths – before a criminal does.
Often included as part of a security audit, a penetration test is one way that a company can gain a true sense of a company’s security defenses. Ideally, such a test uses the same techniques as a hacker would while attempting to breach a part or all of the system. This may include simulated attacks like phishing, identifying open ports, creating backdoors, altering data, or installing adware.
Penetration tests are valuable because they provide insight into a company’s defenses from a hacker’s perspective. They may identify areas that security professionals have overlooked during development or draw awareness to vulnerabilities that are much harder to spot from the inside.
How Often to Schedule Penetration Tests
Penetration testing may be considered part of the hardening process, so it should be conducted periodically. In general, aim for at least an annual test. However, it is best practice to perform a penetration test whenever:
- Significant upgrades to infrastructure or applications occur.
- Major security patches are applied.
- End-user policies are updated or modified.
- New offices or office locations are established.
- New digital assets, like websites or cloud services, are launched.
5 Reasons Your Business Needs a Penetration Test
Penetration testing is more than just a vulnerability scan or a compliance audit. (And the difference is something you’ll want to know before talking with a customer’s security auditor.) Pen tests are designed to analyze the real-world effectiveness of existing security controls against a skilled attacker who might be using multiple attack methods to exploit a weakness. That’s valuable because it allows you to: null
1. Find Vulnerabilities Before Criminals Do
Finding vulnerabilities before criminals do is critical to remaining secure – and a big part of why security patches are so common in software today. A penetration test can illuminate vulnerabilities that a cybersecurity strategy may not have considered.
However, a penetration test isn’t like a vulnerability scan. Since it uses a human attacker who may be using multiple vectors, a penetration test can reveal vulnerabilities that:
- Only appear through the combination of lower-risk vulnerabilities that need to be exploited in a particular sequence.
- Rely on other human actors, such as in the case of social engineering or employee error. (Showing where you need more security awareness training.)
- Are impossible to detect with automated network vulnerability scanning.
2. Test the Abilities of Your Network Defenders
According to the Ponemon Institute, the average time required to identify a data breach is 197 days. The longer that a breach goes undiscovered, the more time that criminals have to make off with sensitive data and install malicious applications. They can also steal more of your confidential data over time by installing a rootkit or stealing resources with cryptojacking.
A penetration test may analyze the ability of the people or programs charged with monitoring your network for intruders. This can help reveal whether or not automated intrusion detection programs are working properly. Or if your IT professionals have the tools they need to spot and respond to an attack.
3. Assess the Potential Damage of a Successful Attack
In 2019, the average cyberattack cost a small business upwards of $200,000. That encompassed a combination of fines, lost revenue, and the expenses associated with hiring professionals to fix the security hole or update business infrastructure.
However, businesses sustain more than just financial impacts after a successful breach. Identifying these impacts ahead of time can not only allow a business to take steps to mitigate them but plan for these impacts during the disaster recovery phase.
A successful attack can have many impacts on a company. These may include:
- Disruption of critical processes
- Damage to brand reputation
- Loss of key business data and backups
- Loss of business infrastructure
4. Prove Security Effectiveness to Customers or Executives
With data breaches becoming everyday news, customers are increasingly concerned about whether their data is being safely stored with a company. A penetration test can help prove to them that a company is airtight by providing one more layer of evidence. Penetration tests are a common topic on security assessments before vendor deals are signed.
Likewise, penetration tests can also prove effective for securing a security budget for an IT department. By presenting the results of the test to executives, IT professionals have one more documented reason to invest in cybersecurity for defending critical company assets.
5. Reduce Remediation Costs and Network Downtime
Scrambling to fix security holes following a breach is expensive and may cause a major outage for your business operations and customers. However, by addressing the vulnerabilities that a penetration test discovers before a cyber breach occurs, fixes are faster and far less disruptive for your company.
Amplify Privacy and Security with Penetration Testing
Effective cybersecurity is becoming foundational for business success. Penetration test results are now a very common question on vendor security questionnaires and something that you should expect to conduct if you wish to ensure – and prove – that your system is secure. Unlike other vulnerability detection strategies, a penetration test uses the same techniques that an actual criminal might attempt when breaching your defenses.
Many skilled security professionals offer penetration tests that vary in scope and range. You can find many service providers for pen tests, including in our Securicy Marketplace. So, it’s not necessary to wait until a criminal breaches your defenses. Reach out today to identify what your cyber defense team is doing right and where there are opportunities to improve.
Forewarned is forearmed – in the era of cybercrime, that can make a difference.