A penetration test, otherwise known as pen test or ethical hacking, is an authorised simulated cyberattack. It Is performed to evaluate the security of a computer system and look at the potential for unauthorised parties to gain access into confidential and private data. Penetration tests can pre-enable consequent full risk assessments to be completed thereafter.
The central objective of pen tests is to identify security weaknesses. In the UK, every 19 seconds a small UK business is successfully cyber-attacked. The pen tests work to identify these weaknesses to prevent this from taking in the first instance.
Penetration testing in cybersecurity terms has been likened to a financial audit. A company’s finance team typically tracks their expenditure and income day-to-day. An audit conducted into this by an external group works to ensure that the internal processes are working sufficiently. A penetration test similarly operates to ensure internal security measures are adequate. The findings report of the test should help to improve a company’s internal security processes and management.
An external party should be brought in to perform the test, otherwise known as an ‘ethical hacker’. It is both advised and important that the organisations use penetration testing companies that are included as part of the CHECK, CREST, Tiger or Cyber schemes. The ethical hacker gathers relevant data and information that can be used to plan the simulated attack. They then gain access to the targeted system and work to find any internal vulnerabilities. The ethical hacker then finishes by covering their tracks and leaving the target system as it was before. They then share their findings with the company’s security team and advise which security upgrades should be consequently implemented.
There are a number of different penetration tests that can be conducted and it is something that can be offered by penetration testing companies such as Jumpsec.
Common tests usually take place in the form of open-box tests. Here, the ethical hacker is provided with some limited information concerning the company’s security prior. A closed-box test is where no background information is provided besides the company’s name. Additionally, a covert test takes things one step further. Almost no one within the company is made aware that the test is happening.
Regular penetration tests are essential for the functioning of any company that wants to safeguard its data securely. There are a number of reasons that can be used to support this. For instance, the tests are useful for a company to prove its existing security infrastructure. If this infrastructure expands, it is then important to test whether these changes may have affected security or anything that could have been missed.
Penetration tests are especially important for organisations and companies that need to prove their compliance with particular regulations such as PCI DSS or ISO 27001. In these instances, testing is in fact a standard requirement.
The tests can further be used to map additional improvements to be made to a company’s security system. With this information in hand, it allows internal personnel to evaluate which areas need designated focus to reduce external risk levels. It can thus be used to justify a security budget increase, providing evidence of critical flaws that require attention.
Penetration tests should be conducted relatively regularly. This means when changes are made to the company’s infrastructure, new sections of the business are acquired, or even just annually as threats do develop continuously.