Cybercrime is at an all-time high and cybercriminals are showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, it’s predicted that cybercrime damages will cost the world $6 trillion. Their hacking methods evolve constantly, making it imperative for organizations to have strong security programs in place.
A penetration test, also known as a pen test, is a simulated attack conducted against an organizations infrastructure, and is a great way to ensure a strong security posture. A penetration test replicates the types of actions a malicious attacker would take, giving you a more accurate representation of your security posture at any given time. Penetration testing is not simply a “vulnerability scan” or a “security assessment” as they are designed to uncover AND actively exploit vulnerabilities. Organizations of every industry and size can benefit from a penetration test, even those that are compliant, as every organization may still be vulnerable to skilled attackers.
We’ve outlined six reasons why it’s important to perform a penetration test.
1. Discovering Misconfigurations and Vulnerabilities
Some of the most complex infrastructures with large security teams often contain severe misconfigurations and vulnerabilities. A third-party organization with specialized testers can perform penetration tests against your environment and uncover vulnerabilities an internal security team may have missed.
Like a vulnerability assessment, a penetration test reveals potential vulnerabilities and provides recommendations for remediating those issues. However, a penetration test uses a formalized methodology to not only identify but validate and test each vulnerability. Exploitation of the vulnerability verifies the potential attack vectors allowing testers to provide more accurate recommendations.
2. Improving Internal Strategies
Want to know how equipped your internal security team is to successfully detect and respond to attacks? A pen test conducted by an outside entity verifies the security of your systems AND measures your security team’s efficiency and ability to respond to threats in real-time. It will identify key individuals and escalation procedures to better prepare you for attacks from real threat actors.
Specialized types of engagements such as Red Teams, test an organizations’ security resilience even further by employing advanced stealth techniques. Penetration test reports can be used to recreate the attack chain or validate newly implemented controls.
3. Testing Multiple Attack Vectors
One of the biggest bangs for your buck with a thorough penetration test is the identification of complex vulnerabilities which often go undiscovered. An advanced penetration tester may often use multiple attack vectors to identify higher risk vulnerabilities which result from the combination of lower risked vulnerabilities. Additionally, vulnerabilities are often discovered which can be difficult to detect via traditional scanning methods.
4. Keeping Management Informed
The security of an organizations’ IT assets is ultimately the responsibility of management, as only leadership can decide what the acceptable level of risk for their organization is. Penetration tests assess the magnitude of potential business and operational impacts of a successful attack.
This information is then compiled into a penetration test report, which summarizes findings and provides insight about the organizations security posture in non-technical terms. This information is key for management as it is evidence to support for increased investments in security personnel and technology.
5. Prioritizing Risk
There is a vast degree of security risk to contend with and it is critical IT decision makers appropriately prioritize their risk management efforts, but where to start?
Penetration tests provide a reliable way of prioritizing risk management efforts in order of importance. Each test provides a detailed overview of an organization’s vulnerabilities, including its potential impact and actionable recommendations to remediate each issue. Isn’t everybody more effective with a prioritized to-do list?
6. Meeting Compliance Requirements
Common compliance frameworks such as PCI DSS, NIST and HIPPA, pertaining to the payment card, technology and medical industries respectively, require regular penetration testing. Performing annual penetration tests demonstrates information security diligence which can ensure an organization remains compliant.
Companies understand that avoiding data breaches, remaining trustworthy in the eyes of customers and staying out of the headlines is of utmost importance. Given that the methods of malicious attackers around the globe are always evolving, maintaining a strong security posture can feel overwhelming. Penetration testing is a great place to start. The results of a penetration test can help companies prioritize the steps they need to take to strengthen their security programs, and ultimately, better protect the individual, private data of their customers.
About the Author
Sammy Marar is an information security associate and skilled penetration tester at Tevora.