How can penetration testing help organisations
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What is Penetration Testing?
Penetration testing (pentesting) is an authorised simulated cyber attack against your computer to see where exploitable vulnerabilities may lie. An ethical hacker is hired to see if they can break into your systems. If the hired hacker finds their way into your systems it’ll give you an idea of where your flaws lie and what needs tightening in your security measures.
Penetration testing requires planning, objectives must be set. Such as what are the goals of the pentest and what are the targets? Secondly there is the establishment of boundaries to consider, there are legal and ethical ramifications that need to be considered since the attacks are real and have the ability to disrupt functions. There is also the matter of informing employees on a need to know basis. Since there will be some social engineering to the test it is wise to inform security teams so that no one is arrested during the test.
Stages of Pentesting
- Reconnaissance - This is the first stage of the test in which intelligence will be gathered about the target. This can be done passively or actively. Passively means that information will be collected without the target being contacted and actively means the target will be contacted directly and information will be requested.
- Scanning - This stage is where the pentester uses one or more scanning tools to gather more information about the target. Various scanners such as network mappers and vulnerability scanners allow the hacker to collect vulnerabilities and in turn help to attack the target in a more sophisticated manner.
- Gaining Access - During this stage the pentester tries to establish a connection with the target and exploit the vulnerabilities found in the previous stage through methods such as a Denial of Service Attack (Dos) or a buffer overflow attack. The hacker is extracting information and data by gaining access using different tools.
- Maintaining Access - At this stage the pentester will try to create a backdoor for themselves to help them identify any hidden vulnerabilities in the system.
- Covering Tracks - The last stage of the attack is to try and remove all traces of the pentester ever being in the system, by removing all logs and footprints that might indicate their presence.
Pros and Cons of Penetration Testing
Pro - Pentesting can help to identify a range of vulnerabilities to your system
Con - If not conducted correctly pentests have the ability to cause a lot of damage
Pro - They can identify potentially large risks that are a result of several smaller risks
Con - You must find a pentester that you trust to attempt to break into your systems
Pro - Once completed, reports will give specific advice on how to fix vulnerabilities and lower the risk of an attack to your systems
Con - If test conditions are unrealistic then results will be misleading, if employees know an attack is coming they will prepare and that will make the organisation seem stronger than it really is, genuine attacks come with no warning and are hard to plan for due to the creative nature of cyber attacks
Why Use Penetration Testing?
Most organisations or businesses are designed and maintained by people with limited or no knowledge of cyber security. Penetration testing performed by a cyber security expert could allow your business to identify and document the possible presence of risks to your company. The reports generated from a pentest will give you the opportunity to remediate the risks before a real attacker has the chance to exploit them.
Risks of Penetration Testing
Although pentesting is a simulated attack there is still the possibility of real damage or inconclusive results, for example a false negative. A false negative may occur due to the pentesters tools being unable to detect certain vulnerabilities, this is because some software is better at detecting specific risks than others and may miss something crucial and thus in turn the missed vulnerability could be exploited. To mitigate this risk you should rotate penetration testers as different teams will use different tools and may find a vulnerability that went unrecognised. It is also important to establish good security practices and keep software updated to patch any hole in your security.
Another prime risk to consider is unethical hackers. Unfortunately in the cyber industry there are hackers with questionable motives. They may be activists who believe they are fighting for a cause or they could simply be financially motivated, either way they are the type of people who you don’t want to allow access to your network. To mitigate this risk it is important that you hire testers from a well-known and reputable company and ask for a background check on the individuals hired.
How Can Securiwiser Help Businesses?
Securiwiser can help your business by evaluating your cyber security posture and flagging up any vulnerabilities it finds during the course of its round the clock security monitoring. You will be able to find where your specific risks lie and patch them before hackers have the chance to exploit them.
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