A penetration test will help you understand your technical vulnerabilities. But, that’s not all. It can also help you better understand your overall security posture by highlighting the potential risks your organisation is facing and helping you prioritise areas of investment for remediation and further improvements.
What is a Penetration Test?
First things first, what is a penetration test?
Penetration testing is a method of identifying possible areas of weakness—or vulnerabilities—in your networks and applications. These gaps in IT security could be exploited, exposing your business to potentially serious consequences.
By simulating the behaviour of malicious intruders, in a controlled manner, a Penetration Tester can pinpoint the areas that are most likely to lead to a breach. Once gaps have been identified in your systems and networks, the Tester will provide expert advice for strengthening your defences.
Now, for the six things you can find out about your organisation with a penetration test:
1. Identify network vulnerabilities
During the penetration testing process, a Tester works with the client to define the goals of the test (such as accessing sensitive data), reviews available information, identifies the target systems, and then undertakes various activities to achieve that goal. A penetration test can help determine whether a system is vulnerable to attack, if the defences are sufficient, and which defences (if any) need remediation.
After a penetration test, a comprehensive report will highlight any key areas of risk—detailing the exact methods used to gain access—and recommend mitigation strategies.
2. Determine strength and maturity of security measures
There is a tendency in organisations of all sizes to have one penetration test, act on the report and consider their problems solved. However, today’s IT environments are incredibly complex and rely on hundreds of different components working together. New vulnerabilities are discovered daily, and penetration tests will highlight areas that require attention and where a cyber security strategy is deficient.
Additionally, ongoing testing is a sign of a mature cyber security strategy and not only ensures that new vulnerabilities are detected and reported for remediation, but also shows where a company needs to focus resources to ensure that an acceptable level of security is maintained. Much like your annual check-up at the doctor keeps you healthy, an annual penetration test keeps your systems healthy.
Read further: Are you ready to be hacked?
3. An up-to-date picture of your IT environment
Corporate IT infrastructure is an ever-changing landscape and the larger the organisation, the harder it can be to keep track of who is working on what. A penetration test can find assets and services that should have been disabled prior to deployment that the change control process may have missed.
For example, development environments and assets can often have extra functionality that is not used as it’s not required. That extra functionality can potentially introduce an entry point for a malicious threat actor to exploit and gain unauthorised access to corporate assets.
4. Identify inefficient processes and misconfigurations
A penetration test can also highlight any services or tools that aren’t performing the task for which they were purchased. As an example, PGI recently completed work with a client who had invested a six-figure sum and deployed a site-wide end-point protection system which was found to be incorrectly configured and not protecting the end-points at all.
Having the right tools is important, but if they aren’t configured correctly, they are largely pointless. Identifying tools or programs that are inefficient or misconfigured allows you to know where your gaps are and act accordingly to achieve the maximum level of protection.
5. Security of customer data
It is vitally important to keep customer data secure. A penetration test will help identify if there is a risk that customer data could be accessed and copied without your knowledge – the threat of this happening could come from external or internal actors.
Should a data breach occur, your brand reputation, share price and bottom line could suffer. Some companies never recover from a major breach – TalkTalk’s share price has continued to fall since hackers exposed 1.6 million users’ details in 2015.
On a more positive note, providing potential clients/customers with proof of steps towards becoming secure will inspire confidence and demonstrate the company’s commitment to ongoing security.
Read further: GDPR: Where are we now?
6. Understand your ability to detect intruders on the network
A Penetration Tester and a real intruder have similar goal – to find and exploit security weaknesses. While the purpose for each is different, a lot of the behaviours, such as enumeration (information gathering), will look the same to an IT administrator.
Working with the IT Team while a penetration test in underway can help the team to recognise where attacker-like behaviour is being missed. As an example, a port scan (an important part of the information gathering phase) of the Active Directory server should only ever occur during scheduled testing; so, if the port scan performed by the Tester is not detected, this means you wouldn’t be able to detect a real intruder performing that activity.
What did you find out?
A penetration test produces more than just a report – it enables you to understand your security posture and mitigate cyber risk. A good Penetration Tester will work alongside the client to highlight areas of potential risk, with the aim of improving overall security controls and processes, while validating spending on current and future cyber defences.
A final note of caution
If you’re being told that your organisation’s systems are sufficiently robust, it might be worth reminding yourself that the world of cyber security marches on relentlessly, with the threats becoming more sophisticated and harder to detect. Where once an annual review of your organisation’s cyber resilience was sufficient, we believe you owe it to yourself to have your finger on the pulse all the time.
PGI’s penetration testing experts have worked with clients across a range of sectors to identify their vulnerabilities and improve their security posture.
Talk to us today about how we can help you.
Cyber 101: Cyber Awareness Month
Over the years, we have developed a range of content with the aim of educating organisations on cyber security threats and helping them defend their assets and reputation, so for us every month is Cyber Security Awareness Month.
Hacks and Libel - Digital Threat Digest
On 26 September, Semafor published a lengthy article written by Jay Solomon claiming that a series of Iranian-American analysts and advisors to the Biden administration had been compromised as part of a long-running Iranian influence operation.
How to manage the digital frontier? - Digital Threat Digest
These days, there seems to be a variety of digital technologies on the horizon that are poised to disrupt the way we live our everyday lives.