Importance of Penetration Testing in Cybersecurity

September 14, 2023 Zack Prichard

Security Expert engaged in penetration testing.

Uncover Security Gaps with Proactive Pen Tests

The battle of cybersecurity is more of a game of chess than a warzone. As our reliance on digital platforms intensifies, so does the sophistication of attacks. And as cyber-attacks become more intelligent, our cybersecurity technology evolves in hopes that we can stay ahead of malicious actors before they access digital assets and personally identifiable information (PII).

But is it enough? Even with incredibly thorough security measures, there are still likely to be holes in any company’s attack surface. The only way to plug them is to find them—and the only way to find them is to use penetration testing.

What is penetration testing?

Penetration testing is a deliberate and approved cyber-attack on a computer system, carried out to assess and improve the security of the system.

Unlike actual cyber attacks, which aim to exploit systems for malicious intent, pen tests are conducted to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses before bad actors do. These tests provide invaluable insights into potential attack vectors, enabling organizations to bolster their defenses and ensure data remains safe.

What are the types of pen testing?

Each type of penetration test offers important approaches to proactively find and address potential vulnerabilities. No test is fully comprehensive, so a mix of different types of tests is the best way to ensure a comprehensive review of your cybersecurity posture. Let’s explore these distinct methodologies.

  • Black Box Testing: Here, the tester has no prior knowledge of the target system, mimicking the approach of real-world attackers who have no internal knowledge of the system.
  • White Box Testing: Testers have full knowledge of the system’s architecture and source code. This approach is exhaustive and helps identify vulnerabilities deep within the system.
  • Gray Box Testing: A middle ground between black and white box testing, testers have partial knowledge of the system. This testing is efficient in highlighting vulnerabilities from both internal and external perspectives.
  • Red Team Testing: A dynamic approach where a group of ethical hackers simulate real-world cyber-attacks to test an organization’s detection and response capabilities.
  • Blue Team Testing: Opposite to red teaming, blue team testing focuses on defense. Blue teams defend against simulated attacks and hone their incident response strategies.

Benefits of penetration testing

On average, 57% of attackers can complete an end-to-end attack in less than a day. While the basic benefit of pen testing is clear—uncovering vulnerabilities before they are exploited by malicious actors—there are many reasons why pen testing is valuable.

  • Simulates real-world attack scenarios, giving an authentic picture of potential security breaches.
  • Maintains compliance with regulations to avoid potential legal consequences.
  • Demonstrates a commitment to security, which increases customer trust.
  • Saves significant costs that might come from ransom payments, data loss, legal implications, penalties and lost business.
  • Ensures that an organization’s defenses adapt and grow in tandem, always a step ahead of potential attackers.

The 5 phases of pen testing

The process of penetration testing is typically divided into five sequential phases. Each phase ensures your approach to testing is methodical, enabling you to identify security gaps so you can improve your security posture. Here are the five phases of penetration testing:

Pen Test Phase 1: Planning and Reconnaissance

Before the actual test, the objectives, scope and methods of the test are defined. This phase includes determining the systems to be tested and establishing the boundaries of the test.

From there, the tester begins reconnaissance by gathering as much information as possible about the target system. This could involve identifying IP addresses, domain details and network services. The idea is to find potential entry points and understand the system’s architecture.

Pen Test Phase 2: Scanning

This phase aims to identify how the target system will respond to various intrusion attempts. Testers can use tools and methods to detect vulnerabilities both statically (by analyzing application code) and dynamically (by evaluating the system while it’s running).

Pen Test Phase 3: Gaining Access

Now, testers try to exploit the identified vulnerabilities. This means they’ll attempt to hack into the system, mimicking potential real-world attacks. This phase demonstrates what type of data could be accessed or stolen from a successful breach.

Pen Test Phase 4: Maintaining Access

This phase simulates what cyber attackers do after they’ve breached a system. The goal is to understand if the system can detect and resist prolonged unauthorized presence. Testers attempt to create a “backdoor” for themselves, emulating how malware might operate to stay undetected within a compromised system.

Pen Test Phase 5: Analysis

Post-testing, this phase is all about documentation and feedback. A detailed report is generated, outlining vulnerabilities discovered, data accessed, methods used and the duration of the testers’ unnoticed presence in the system. The report also typically includes recommendations for securing the identified vulnerabilities, providing organizations with actionable insights to bolster their defenses.

Penetration Testing with OneNeck

Penetration testing is an important part of OneNeck’s suite of cybersecurity solutions. Our real-world risk assessment includes the execution of full-scope Red Team exercises, mimicking tactics and techniques employed by even the most recent threats. These tests go well beyond a standard checklist, revealing business-specific risks present in your network and infrastructure.

With OneNeck, you can keep moving forward because we’ve got your back. Learn more about our penetration testing solution or reach out for a free quote.

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