What is Penetration Testing?

Every security system has flaws. The only way to keep them effective is with regular testing, monitoring, and patching. When it comes to testing, many organizations use what is known as penetration testing, or pen testing. This is a test n which an ethical hacker will try to breach a system’s security and then report to the organization how effective their overall cyber security is.

The main goal of a penetration test is to find the exploitable issues in an organization’s security controls, but it can also do quite a bit more in telling a company what they need to work on. Security professionals can use pen testing techniques to evaluate the overall effectiveness of security policies, their regulatory compliance, employees’ security awareness, and the company’s ability to respond to security incidents in real-time.

The penetration test is a way for security professionals to assess the general effectiveness of a company’s cyber security. They test for vulnerabilities in web applications, networks, and endpoint security. The goal is to be proactive and find potential entry points before the attackers do.

When looking into web applications, the pen test will look for common exploits such as SQL injection, buffer overflow, and cross-site scripting. For network security, the penetration test looks to close unused ports, eliminate security loopholes, and calibrate firewalls. The pen test will also often look to gain access to sensitive information that the organization thought was already secured.

Penetration tests can be instrumental in keeping sensitive information secure and protected from hackers and their increasingly creative methods of attack. The tester will use current methods to ensure your security isn’t outdated and can stand up to today’s most potent attack methods.

Penetration Testing Methods

Each pen test is going to be catered to what the organization needs from the test itself. Even still, there are some common methods used by testers to get the information they need.

  1. Targeted Testing. Targeted testing is a method in which the testers have knowledge of the network design and testing activities before the test ever starts. This test is also known as the lights-turned-on approach and requires far less time than other tests at the cost of detailed information outside of the specific target areas.
  2. Blind Testing. Unlike a targeted test, the blind test is used to most accurately simulate a hacker’s attempt to breach an organization's security. The testers have no information about the target other than what is publicly available such as the public website and domain name registry. This is designed to accurately identify where the company’s weak points are from a hacker's perspective.
  3. Double-Blind Testing. This is very similar to blind testing only the organization is largely unaware of the test. Only key individuals are involved in the testing process, meaning the rest of the employees are subject to social engineering attacks that specifically aim to capitalize on human error. This also allows the organization to gauge how well their teams respond to attacks in the moment to minimize the effectiveness of the attack.
  4. External Testing. These attacks are designed to test a company’s vulnerabilities from external sources specifically. Things like the internet and extranet are used to gain access to private data.
  5. Internal Testing. Many attacks happen from within an organization. These tests are used to identify vulnerabilities to attacks from hackers who already have access to the internal network.

If you are thinking of running a penetration test on your organization, understanding the strategies used by the testers will help you determine what your company will benefit the most from.

Manual Tests vs. Automated Tests

When it comes to the pen tests themselves, there are a couple of ways to go about performing them. While it may seem more valuable to have a manual test run to better simulate the tactics of human hackers, automated tests have been shown to provide more accurate and consistent data. Manual testing can take longer and can potentially report false positives that divert attention away from the real security threats.

Automated testing can be performed continuously without human aid, meaning the system is tested quickly and accurately at any time. They can gather pertinent information can report it to a security team much faster and at much lower costs than manual tests all while providing more detailed data on the state of the security itself.

Ultimately, the need for an automated test over a manual test will have to be determined by your own security team. The state of the cyber attack world is evolving quickly and automated tests can be easily updated to match the speed of the evolution in hacking methods. There are many tools for automated penetration testing available such as:

  • Web Application Assessment Proxies
  • Port Scanners
  • Application Scanners
  • Vulnerability Scanners

Companies like Trava offer high-end vulnerability scanners that can get your company on track and in compliance with important security regulations.

Penetration Testing Standards

Penetration testing has become essential to the cyber security industry. This means that there are organizations and standards committed to maintaining the quality and effectiveness of pen tests. The Open Web Application Security Project, or OWASP, is an organization that offers penetration testing methodologies, guides, and frameworks to utilize in the event of a pen test. Most importantly, the OWASP offers a Penetration Test Execution Standard (PTES) that effectively breaks down penetration testing into seven categories to help guide companies all over the world in their penetration testing efforts. The seven categories are:

  • Pre-engagement interactions
  • Intelligence gathering
  • Threat modeling
  • Vulnerability analysis
  • Exploitation
  • Post-exploitation
  • Reporting

These seven categories are designed to cover and standardize the process of conducting effective pen tests in industries all over the world.

Why do you need a penetration test?

Now that you know what a penetration test is, you may be wondering why you might need one at all. The short answer is yes, you do. ever y company that holds any type of sensitive data digitally needs to stay on top of pen testing to help ensure their security measures are genuinely effective. Understanding where you are likely to be attacked is a major upper hand when it comes to protecting your data.

Even the best security systems will become ineffective if they are not properly maintained. Hacking methods are fluid, always changing and adapting to advances in security technologies and software. The purpose of a pen test is to determine where the security is weakest and provide methods to reinforce the weaknesses and prolong the life of the security controls in place without having to overhaul the entire system every few months when newer threats find cracks.

Penetration tests are not the only type of test you will need to bolster your defenses, but the reports produced from pen testing are vital as you continue down the path of fortifying your system. They are the first step toward a comprehensive security evaluation. Automating the process, as stated above will not only provide you with the information you need but are significantly more cost-effective and accurate than manual testing. Trava’s vulnerability scanner is a great example of a pen testing tool that can work on demand to provide detailed reports of your network vulnerability.

A fundamental necessity

Cyber attacks are on an exponential growth trend, meaning your organization is at a constantly increasing risk of becoming a victim of an attack. Waiting too long to secure your data could result in millions of dollars worth of damages, repairs, and loss. If you can’t remember the last penetration test your system underwent, you are long overdue. Being proactive is the best way to stay ahead of the fluidity of the cyber threat landscape.

Remember that you are not only simply testing a security system with simulated cyber attacks, but you are testing your staff and their response to attacks. Human error is a major target for hackers. This means that you can’t rely solely on the effectiveness of your security without accounting for the many employees who constantly have to access the information being protected. Security is a company-wide commitment, so a pen test will take all of that into account.

Trava understands the importance of quality penetration testing in today’s cyber security world. With a user-friendly interface, your teams will be able to interpret test reports easily to take action where it is most necessary. There is no substitute for high-quality testing and reporting, and Trava’s vulnerability scanner is the perfect tool for any company looking to stay up to date with their cyber security. For information on Trava’s vulnerability scanner or on any of their other security testing and reporting tools, click here.