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What is Penetration Testing and How Does it Work?

If there’s an opportunity to ask a cybersecurity service provider about the most important tool in their arsenal, they’ll most probably respond with penetration testing. These procedures provide benefits for all kinds of organization, regardless of size, industry, or complexity. It helps them list out their vulnerabilities, risk factor, and possible remediation measures, all in one go. This is especially useful for judging the security factor within these network infrastructural set-ups. 

Penetration tests are usually used for navigating a system with existing security measures and understanding how effective they are. They simulate hacking attempts within a controlled environment by trusted security experts in a manner similar to hackers. Pentesting is an important part of every company’s vulnerability management strategy, especially those with an online presence and beneficiaries of customer data. 

Beyond this, pentesting procedures are also mandatory for various certification standards and compliance requirements, both for international and government regulations. 

Why do you need Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing procedures are neither simple nor inexpensive. At the face of it, it seems a costly procedure that doesn’t bring in much apart from certifications as demanded by governments or industries. However, there are more reasons why periodic and good-quality penetration testing should be done:

  • Cybersecurity issues are many and the awareness is low. Besides this, new threats arise on almost a daily basis, which requires that the company’s network security architecture remains at optimal condition. This awareness shouldn’t just be limited to the IT team within your organization, but all stakeholders, from the upper to lower levels of management. A viable penetration testing report presents security status in the most lucid and digestible format so that even the non-tech savvy folks can understand and take action. 
  • An in-depth penetration testing report will help you strategize security better. This will also ensure that adequate funding is provided for ramping up security against cyber threats for strengthening existing barriers and implementing new ones. 
  • The next reason is the main one for penetration testing procedures – identifying vulnerabilities and security loopholes within the system. Infrastructural flaws can arise at any time, maybe due to a new feature being introduced or faulty coding, but it needs to be recognized on time. All incident response procedures and planning systems need to be suitably rectified in case of such security compromises. 

As to why penetration testing needs to be done on a periodic basis lies in the frequent changes within the company system. It may be more visible such as addition of features, changes in environment, etc. It could also revolve around new cybersecurity threats that need to be addressed. However, there could also be changes to assets within the network, new methods of attacking that are particularly damaging for the company, etc. The frequency is decided by the relevance of additions, asset strength, and threats to your organization.

The Working of a Penetration Test

While the underlying procedure and purpose remain the same, most penetration tests differ from each other because of unique company requirements. Many security organizations don’t resort to just one type of testing and often adapt within the testing process for optimal scrutiny. This is also because threats don’t remain constant either, so testing methodologies need to remain sufficiently adaptive and precise. 

Here are some standard inclusions of a penetration testing process:

1. A scanning procedure at the beginning allows the team in charge of the process to list out possible vulnerabilities

2. The team in charge is usually presented with a random date and time to conduct the testing process, emphasizing on the element of surprise. This is beneficial in identifying all external and internal threats to the system being tested. 

3. There’s a team in charge of the entire testing procedure, with skilled experts at the head. They organize multiple simulated hacking attempts in succession on all components of the company’s network. The initial targeting can be done against those issues found in the first step, and steps can be modified as more security risks are identified. 

4. Different kinds of attacks are organized and implemented in different capacities (with full, partial, or zero knowledge of the system to be tested). 

5. Finally, the organization’s response to such simulated attacks is also noted down. This is analyzed in real-time to understand the flaws of the response, possible inclusions, and other risk factors.

The stress on appointing trusted third-party penetration testing providers is due to the delicate nature of such a procedure. If not implemented carefully, even simulated attacks can cause real damage to the systems (e.g., congestion, crashes when testing network components, etc.). At Astra Security, we have trained professionals with years of experience dealing with new and trying situations – let us know how we can help!