Sept 21 2019 / i-Tech
Penetration testing is a form of ethical hacking where a computer system, web application, or network is tested for security vulnerabilities that could be exploited by an attacker. This type of testing, also called pen testing, can be automated using software applications or manually performed.
Penetration testing is now more relevant than ever with technology becoming a prominent part of how customers interact with businesses, increasing the need for reliable IT tech support. In 2018, Security Metrics reported data breach statistics on their predictions from the previous year, describing how e-commerce breaches would continue to increase in number due to the tightening of security measures surrounding theft of physical credit card information. The prediction was attackers would turn to obtain it through e-commerce instead. This was affirmed by a report revealing “80% of payment-card-related investigations we did last year were of e-commerce data breaches.”
How penetration testing works
The process of penetration testing involves gathering information about the target before the test takes place, identifying potential entry points, attempting to break in — either for real or virtually — and reporting the results back to the business owner or IT tech support professionals.
During pen testing, the main objective is to identify any potential security weaknesses that may exist, so critical data won’t be compromised across organizations and platforms. This type of testing is also used to test the security policy of a company, how well it is adhering to required compliance stipulations, employees’ awareness of security risks, and how well the company can identify and respond to possible security breaches should they occur.
Security lessons learned from a multitude of pen tests in 2019 alone revealed crucial information as reported in a recent article by Under the Hoodie.
“Most (96%) engagements that involved either a network or application assessment saw at least one vulnerability exposed to attackers, which reaffirms our belief that penetration testing is an essential component of a holistic vulnerability management strategy.”
Any information concerning security weaknesses found through penetration testing is aggregated then given to IT network and system managers of the organization who can utilize IT tech support resources and take corrective actions. This helps intercept major problems before they occur and can potentially save companies a great deal of money in the long run.
As reported on the Daxx blog in 2018, cybercrime continues to be a major problem everywhere. “According to Cybersecurity Ventures, the overall global cost of cybercrime damages is estimated to be around $6 trillion annually by 2021 (twice as much as in 2015).” You should protect the confidentiality of your data with security testing to minimize the threat and keep your business safer on every level.
The purpose of penetration testing
The primary purpose or goal of a penetration test is to identify the weak spots in the posture of an organization and measure security policy compliance so corrective steps can be taken before disaster strikes. A penetration test is also designed to focus on finding areas where security can be improved. For example, a company may have a security policy in place to detect and prevent an attack on its computer systems, and there may not be processes in place to keep a hacker out.
Once penetration testing is complete, a report is generated that includes the details organization leaders need to prioritize future investments that will result in greater security. Application developers can also use this report to create apps that are more secure as a whole. When developers can understand how hackers were able to break into a particular application, they can further enhance their knowledge of security best practices and safer approaches to avoid future breaches.
Frequency of penetration testing
Penetration testing should be performed regularly to stay ahead of any possible security weaknesses that can occur at any time. Testing once a year is typically a good idea, to ensure greater consistency with IT management and network security.
In addition to mandatory regulatory analysis and assessments, penetration testing is also recommended when:
- Significant modifications or upgrades are made to an organization’s infrastructure or applications
- New infrastructure or applications are added
- Offices are established in a new location
- End-user policies are modified
- Security patches are applied
The specifics surrounding penetration testing will differ greatly from one organization to another, so other factors should be included, such as the size of the company, its budget, compliance, regulations, and more.
Penetration testing should be specifically tailored to individual organizations and industries. Evaluations and follow-ups should occur to ensure any known vulnerabilities are noted in subsequent tests.
“When developers can understand how hackers were able to break into a particular application, they can further enhance their knowledge of security best practices and safer approaches to avoid future breaches.”
Who should perform penetration testing
Penetration testing should be conducted by experts who understand computer system security and the many ways it can be breached. It’s best to have a pen test performed by someone who has little to no prior knowledge of the company and how the systems work in order to expose blind spots missed by the developers.
Contractors are typically brought in to conduct pen testing and are frequently referred to as “ethical hackers” because they are hired to legitimately hack into an organization’s system to help increase security. Many of these contractors are experienced in developing software and hold advanced degrees and certifications in penetration testing.
Types of penetration tests
There are several types of pen tests that can be performed on a computer system. They include:
- White Box: the tester is given some information prior to testing regarding the security information of the organization.
- Black Box: is also known as a blind test where the tester is not provided with any background about the organization except its name.
- Covert test (also called a double-blind test): very few people in the organization are made aware the pen test will occur, including IT professionals who will respond to the attack. Here, the tester must possess the scope and all test details in writing prior to conducting it to avoid possible subsequent issues with law enforcement.
- External Pen Test: this is where the tester attempts to hack into the organization’s external technologies like their external network servers or website. Such a test may need to be conducted remotely rather than on-site.
- Internal Pen Test: this is performed from within the organization’s internal network and is helpful in finding purposeful damage caused by a company employee from behind the existing firewall.
How penetration testing is administered
Penetration testers begin by gathering the information and data they will use to simulate the attack. Focus is then placed on gaining access to the target computer system.
A wide range of tools is needed for such a simulated attack including software for producing SQL injections or brute-force attacks, hardware specially designed for conducting pen tests, and more. This hardware can come in the form of small inconspicuous boxes the tester can plug into a network computer to receive remote access.
Social engineering techniques are also used to find security vulnerabilities. These might include sending phishing emails to employees of the organization or, in some cases, gaining physical access to the company building disguised as someone there to conduct business.
The tester completes the process by covering any tracks left by the penetration testing efforts. Here, any embedded hardware is removed, and the target computer system is left exactly how it was found to avoid detection. The tester then shares any findings with the organization’s security team who can then use this information to implement tighter security methods that will stop existing vulnerabilities from becoming a real issue in the future.
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i-Tech Support named 2022 Fast 50 Company, “Ultimate Newcomer” to the Golden 100 by Orlando Business JournalWhy this is a milestone for i-Tech.Read More »
Microsoft is Disabling Basic Authentication and Requiring Use of Modern Authentication under OAuth 2.0 starting October 1, 2022*This may impact apps.Read More »