What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration test being performed on a system

Penetrating testing, also known as white hat attacks, is a process where a cybersecurity expert attempts to find possible vulnerabilities in a system that could be used by a malicious attacker.

Penetration testing may be performed with automated tools or manually. Both methods will reveal information about the computer system and identify possible entry points, break in attempts , and create a report to patch up the vulnerabilities.

The main purpose of penetration testing is to adhere to compliance requirements and test an organization’s security practices. It is also used to bolster security awareness and the organization’s ability to identify and respond to actual incidents of security breach.

In most cases, the security weaknesses are identified and reported to the organization’s IT network managers, enabling them to prioritize remediation efforts and make informed decisions.

How Often Should You Perform Penetration Testing?

It is recommended for organizations to perform penetration testing on a regular basis, or at least once a year. This provides consistent updates for a system’s security so that it can stay one step ahead of malicious attackers. In addition to regular testing, penetration testing may also be run whenever an organization:

  • Adds a new application
  • Upgrades existing software
  • Modifies the application or infrastructure
  • Establishes new offices
  • Installs security patches
  • Makes significant changes to end-user policies

It is worth noting that penetrating testing is not a one-size-fits-all solution and a company should engage in it depending on various factors such as:

  • The size of the company. A larger online presence represents more attack vectors and opportunities for attackers.
  • Penetration testing may be too costly for businesses with smaller budgets.
  • Required by regulations. Businesses in certain industries are required by law to conduct routine security checks such as penetration testing.
  • Companies operating in the cloud may not be allowed to conduct penetration tests by the cloud provider. However, the provider often undertakes the task on their own.

Types of Pen Testing

Depending on their security goals, an organization may provide their testers with varying degrees of information to access the target system. In some cases, the pen testing team approaches the system based on a preliminary analysis. Once they become more aware of the system, the testing team evolves their pen test. In this case, there are three types of pen tests that can be used:

Black Box: The team does not know anything about the inner workings of the target system. They would act as any outside hacker would, scanning for exploits that could be used to break-in.

Gray Box: The team has access to credentials that could be used to enter into the target system. They also know about the internal code, algorithms, and data structures. Penetration testers can design tests based on detailed design documents such as the architecture of the target system.

White Box: White box testing involves access to the system’s source code, containers, binaries, and servers running the system. White box approaches provide the greatest degree of assurance in the least amount of time.

What Happens After Penetration Testing?

After completing their pen tests, the ethical hacker will share their report with the company’s security team. The information can be used to make key decisions about software upgrades and patching vulnerabilities discovered during the test. These upgrades may include new WAF rules, rate limiting, and DDoS mitigation.

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