What is Penetration Testing?
Penetration testing, commonly known as pentesting, is essential for organizations to assess and enhance their overall cybersecurity posture. The following paragraphs elaborate on the critical importance of penetration testing for an organization:
In the constantly evolving landscape of cybersecurity threats, organizations face a myriad of risks that can compromise the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of their systems and data. Pentesting serves as a proactive and systematic approach to identify and address vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by malicious actors. By simulating real-world attack scenarios, organizations can gain valuable insights into potential weaknesses in their networks, applications, and infrastructure.
Penetration Testing Steps
Think of a penetration test like a security drill for a company’s online defenses. To conduct this drill effectively, testers often use a framework called MITRE ATT&CK. This framework is like a guidebook containing information about how bad actors might try to breach a system.
In simpler terms, MITRE ATT&CK helps the testers act like different types of cyber attackers, imitating their tactics, techniques, and procedures. It’s a bit like practicing different plays in a sports game.
The framework breaks down attacks into twelve tactics, like strategies in a game plan. By following these steps, the testers can create a realistic model of how a potential cyber attacker might behave. This helps the company prepare and strengthen its defenses based on real-world scenarios.
- Initial Access: This is how hackers get into a system.
- Execution: It’s the way they make their harmful code run after getting in.
- Persistence: This is about how hackers stay hidden and stick around in a network.
- Privilege Escalation: It’s what hackers do to get higher-level access in a system.
- Defense Evasion: These are tricks hackers use to not get caught by the system’s defenses.
- Credential Access: Hackers use techniques to steal usernames and passwords.
- Discovery: This is how hackers explore and learn about the system and what they can do.
- Lateral Movement: Hackers move around to control other parts of the system remotely.
- Collection: Attackers gather specific data they’re after.
- Command and Control: This is about setting up communication between the hacked network and the hacker’s system.
- Exfiltration: It’s when hackers take sensitive data out of the system.
- Impact: These tactics aim to disrupt or harm a business’s operations.
Types of Penetration Testing
1.Internal Pen Testing:
Purpose: Checks how an attacker could move within your organization’s internal network.
Process: Identifies systems, finds vulnerabilities, exploits them, and tests for lateral movement within the network.
2.External Pen Testing:
Purpose: Examines Internet-facing systems for vulnerabilities that could lead to unauthorized access or data exposure.
Process: Identifies systems, discovers vulnerabilities, and assesses for potential exploitation.
3.Web Application Pen Test:
Purpose: Evaluates web applications through three phases: reconnaissance, discovery of vulnerabilities, and exploitation.
Process: Discovers information about the application, identifies vulnerabilities, and exploits them to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data.
4.Insider Threat Pen Test:
Purpose: Identifies risks and vulnerabilities exposing internal resources to unauthorized access.
Assessment: Targets weaknesses such as deauthentication attacks, misconfigurations, session reuse, and unauthorized wireless devices.
5.Wireless Pen Testing:
Purpose: Identifies risks and vulnerabilities associated with your wireless network.
Assessment: Checks for weaknesses like deauthentication attacks, misconfigurations, session reuse, and unauthorized wireless devices.
6.Physical Pen Testing:
Purpose: Identifies risks and vulnerabilities in physical security to gain access to a computer system.
Assessment: Evaluates weaknesses such as social engineering, tailgating, badge cloning, and other physical security measures.
When Should You Conduct a Penetration Test?
Organizations should consider conducting penetration testing at least once every 12 months.
Conducting a penetration test before a breach is crucial. Waiting until after a successful attack means losing data, intellectual property, and reputation. After a breach, a post-breach remediation pen test is recommended to ensure that mitigations are effective.
Best practices involve conducting pen tests during system development, installation, and just before production. Testing too late can be costly, as code updates are more expensive, and the window for making changes is often smaller.
Penetration tests are not a one-time event. They should be done whenever changes occur and at least annually. Factors like company size, infrastructure, budget, regulatory requirements, and emerging threats determine the appropriate frequency. Regular testing helps maintain a strong security posture and protects against evolving cyber threats.
How often should you perform a pen test?
Businesses are advised to carry out an extensive penetration test at least once a year. This not only allows for regular security upgrades and patches to be rolled out but also supports compliance with data security standards, for example, PCI DSS (Payment Cardholder Industry Data Security Standard).
However, testing bi-annually or even quarterly can highlight potential security risks more frequently – and before they become compromised – giving you a more comprehensive overview of your security status.
Penetration testing is designed to highlight specific vulnerabilities in a system or network. So, ideally, pen testing should be conducted on any new additions to the network infrastructure or whenever there has been a significant overhaul to key applications. This is when an environment is at its most vulnerable and weaknesses are most likely to be exposed.
Who Performs Pen Tests?
Penetration testing services are commonly offered by independent cybersecurity experts and businesses. While organizations can conduct in-house pen testing, external “ethical hackers” are often preferred for their unbiased perspective, as they possess no prior knowledge of the system.
However, the intricacies of this business present challenges. Legal considerations, especially surrounding any ‘hacking’ activity, demand careful handling of the entire pen testing process. In the United States, state and federal statutes now monitor and ensure the ethical and compliant conduct of penetration testing.
According to US legislation, companies must obtain consent through a formal agreement specifying the precise scope and depth of the testing. Failure to secure proper consent may lead to legal consequences, as some states still classify unauthorized penetration testing as a form of hacking, subject to penalties.
To ensure compliance, it is imperative to carefully navigate legal requirements, ensuring that all necessary documentation is accurately completed. Additionally, conducting thorough background checks on ethical hackers, with a focus on recognized industry certifications such as CREST and NCSC accreditations, helps verify the credentials and reliability of penetration testing firms.
What should you do after a pen test?
Penetration testing is about growing and developing your long-term security strategy, based on patching real-world, tested vulnerabilities.
Acting on the results of pen tests quickly is crucial for avoiding the downtime and disruption associated with cybersecurity breaches, as well as the hefty fines dealt to those who fall foul of data protection regulations.
After you penetration test, you should:
1.Review the final report and discuss the findings with both the external pen testing team and your in-house cybersecurity team.
2.Develop a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy and remediation plan to action the findings.
3.Use repeat tests and vulnerability scans to track the success and progress of your patches and upgrades long-term.
4.Pen tests are comprehensive by design. They provide detailed insights into the scope and severity of any potential weakness in your environment. So, there will always be plenty of actionable findings to help you bolster your security.