You’ve probably heard a horror story about a data breach where the bad guys find a way to get into someone’s online infrastructure and ruin their reputation. The very thought of it happening to you might send shivers down your spine.
While most businesses are at risk of getting hacked, a penetration test is resource-intensive. Therefore, we don’t recommend it to everyone. This article will help you determine whether to get a penetration test for your business or not.
What Is A Penetration Test?
Almost any business that collects a large amount of data and exposes that data to the internet could experience a cyber-attack. Your network security relies on consistent testing to protect your information from harmful actors. Not to mention, your specific industry might be affected by security regulations making it mandatory for you to conduct pen tests by law.
Penetration testing is a process that makes use of diverse techniques to exploit your network. In testing these techniques, a penetration tester mimics the actions of a real-life hacker who is trying to find and exploit every weakness in your company’s IT infrastructure.
A penetration test is all-inclusive, and a proper one might include a simulated brute force attack, a test of your security controls, and the use of malicious code to gain access to your systems.
Criteria For Deciding Whether You Need A Penetration Test
Ideally, your business won’t ever have any security incidents. In reality, they’re a lot more common than you think. Almost half of all companies in the US suffered a cybersecurity attack in 2022. Should such an attack happen to you, it’s best to be prepared.
That said, the extent of your preparation will depend on your business activities. Penetration testing is only one part, albeit a significant one, of developing your organization’s security operations. Here are 6 potential instances that would call for a penetration test.
You Recently Suffered A Security Incident
Foresight is better than hindsight, but hindsight is better than nothing. Following a security breach, one of your first duties is to ensure that such an incident never happens again and mitigate the potential downsides if it does. Plus, the penetration test might help you identify the original reason why the breach happened.
You Must Comply With Industry Regulations
Failure to comply with the prevailing regulations in your industry will result in you getting banned. A penetration tester will know exactly the extent that you need to comply with these security regulations and construct a test accordingly.
Here are some cases where businesses might need to adhere to a particular regulation:
- Companies operating in the EU must adhere to the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR for short. If you collect personal data in this region, you’ll need to ensure that this information is sufficiently protected.
- Healthcare companies collect a lot of customer data. Therefore, they are subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which requires regular risk assessments and vulnerability testing.
- Financial institutions must adhere to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) and the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) guidelines, which require regular penetration testing.
There are several other types of regulations. Consulting a pen tester will help you understand which ones affect you and which do not.
You’ve Made Significant Changes To Your IT Infrastructure
It’s best to get a gut check immediately after making substantial IT infrastructure changes. After all, things won’t work exactly the same way as they did before. All those new features interact with each other differently than before, presenting new opportunities for hackers to take advantage of.
You’re Evaluating Third Party Vendors
Depending on the level of integration third-party apps have into your system, you might be unknowingly exposed to malicious software or other attacks through this vector. To protect you from these novel attacks, penetration testers will explore the weaknesses of these integrations, and make recommendations about the best third-party software to use.
You’ve Recently Relocated
Moving your company to a new office will reset your security posture in some way. During the moving process, your network experiences extensive downtime. Not to mention, you might not have reconfigured your network correctly.
You’ve Implemented New Security Patches
Similar to the relocation case, new security patches are the perfect chance for you to ensure that everything in your organization was set up right. It’s a backup plan to see whether your developers missed anything.
Some Scenarios Where You Don’t Need A Pen Test
You might not need a penetration test just yet. Oftentimes, small businesses can start with a vulnerability test since these are less time-consuming and costly.
When You Don’t Have An Online Presence
Not every business is collecting mountains of customer data online. If you own a restaurant with a small website, full-scale penetration tests are overkill. Similarly, a small-time eCommerce store that processes everything through Shopify or some similar platform is unlikely to require anything but a basic security assessment or vulnerability scan.
Non-internet Facing Infrastructure
If you have a bunch of data that is protected from the outside world in an isolated, air-gapped environment without connection to the internet, then the attack surface on such a system is limited. A penetration test wouldn’t make sense in this scenario.
When A Pen Test Just Isn’t Enough
On the opposite end of the spectrum, pen tests can be a small piece of the puzzle for a large organization with lots of data exposure. A major government agency or financial service subject to some of the regulations we discussed earlier likely requires a detailed audit and perhaps even an in-house security operations center.
Inside A Penetration Test
So, what does a penetration test look like? Such tests are extremely methodical and analytical, so we can show you how they look step by step. In our experience, there are 5 stages to a proper penetration test. One that goes beyond simple automated scanning.
Part 1: Planning
To plan for the penetration test appropriately, we start by outlining the scope of the test. We define which assets, both hardware and software, you must protect, and develop thorough tests to push your systems to the fullest extent.
Part 2: Vulnerability Scanning
To start a penetration test, we usually begin with a vulnerability scan. Many people choose to run automated vulnerability scans. However, it’s better to use a dual approach that combines both an automatic and physical scan. A physical scan involves an examination of your underlying code and running it to see whether any gaps exist.
Part 3: Breaking In
After collecting as much data as possible, a penetration tester will try to bend and break your weaknesses to gain access to your system illicitly.
Part 4: Maintaining Access
Should the penetration tester gain access to your system, they will try to take things as far as they can. This is how you get to check your internal security controls for vulnerabilities. The ultimate goal of the penetration test is for the tester to gain administrative authority over the entire system. Of course, that’s not what you want. But we try to do it for your own sake.
Part 5: Post-test Analysis
Afterward, we analyze what the penetration tester did to gain access to your system and the various security elements that you did right and wrong. You would receive a post-test report that delineates the consequences of your security failings and some measures you should take to address them. The report will include recommendations for security technologies to assist with threat detection in the future. It’s your first step to putting an intrusion prevention system in place.
5 Concrete Ways Penetration Tests Benefit Your Organization
Know Your Strength
Knowing how ready you are for a data breach isn’t just useful for planning your cyber security strategy, it also gives you peace of mind. It’s better to know that you could be in trouble than to be completely oblivious.
Create A Mitigation Strategy
Of course, planning your future intrusion prevention system is a must. The pen tester will help greatly in this area and propose security software for you to use in the future.
Protect From Social Engineering Attacks
One specific example of where pen testers can act in your favour is to prepare you for a social engineering attack. Such attackers typically request personally identifiable information from your employees by posing as one of their coworkers. They could do this over the phone, or they might even come to your physical office and sneak their way in somehow. Secretaries are often your first line of defence in this scenario, rather than software programs.
Phishing attacks are one of the easiest ways for intruders to gain access to your company’s infrastructure. Therefore, a pen tester will examine the weaknesses in your spam filters, which are often poorly configured, and attempt to break in using malicious email addresses.
Bolster Your Firewall
Similar to the way a pen tester treats spam, a firewall also requires deep testing and analysis. These firewalls are once again sourced from a third party, and therefore, many weaknesses appear when they aren’t configured correctly.
Still Wondering Whether You Need Penetration Testing?
Look, as someone who isn’t familiar with cybersecurity, the decision on whether you should purchase a pen test isn’t clear-cut. Oftentimes, you go to the doctor not knowing if you need surgery. Instead, the doctor makes a diagnosis and prescribes the best course of action once you’re in their office. Similarly, a cybersecurity expert must learn about your company to accurately diagnose your situation.
Elitesec will conduct a 30-minute consultation for you, free of charge, to see what exactly the issue with your system might be. Thanks to our rich body of knowledge, we’ve improved the security posture of numerous clients.
We would be more than happy to discuss this topic further and help you build out your own security controls for your organization. Contact us today and we’ll be happy to chat with you!