Arraya Insights | April 19, 2022
As we continue our deep dive into security assessments, we’re turning our attention to penetration tests.
Many business owners only have one reason to conduct penetration tests: compliance. However, they’re not taking advantage of the full value of these assessments.
In this blog, we’re going to be putting penetration testing under the microscope so businesses can ensure they’re getting the biggest bang for their buck while strengthening their security controls.
What is a penetration test?
A penetration test, better known as a pen test, is a “cybersecurity technique organizations use to identify, test, and highlight vulnerabilities in their security posture. These penetration tests are often carried out by ethical hackers.” These are conducted to test your security measures and exploit weaknesses so they’re addressed before malicious actors can get to them.
Pen testers will conduct these vulnerability assessments by first getting into the easiest accessible systems and then shifting to the highest privileged systems in the easiest way possible. This doesn’t mean they will test your entire environment and every control in place. Instead, the security testing will be completed in accordance with a previously agreed-upon scope.
Penetration testing vs vulnerability scans: What’s the difference?
It’s important to understand that a pen test is not the same as a vulnerability scan. These are often confused with one another.
A vulnerability scan looks for security issues and known vulnerabilities within your systems and reports on potential exposures. Unlike a pen test, these are a passive approach to vulnerability management as they’re not completed manually by experts.
Separately, a penetration test is a hands-on approach as analysts or ethical hackers search for these vulnerabilities directly and try to exploit them.
How can businesses get the most value out of pen tests?
Conducting a vulnerability scan prior to your pen test is a good way to make your pen test results more effective. A vulnerability scan will scan your entire computer system or environment and provide a reasonably accurate list of all exploitable vulnerabilities with remediation guidance. This allows businesses to make their pen test scope more specific and the results more effective.
Penetration testing is now a regular requirement of many security compliance standards. This means many businesses, especially those who collect consumer payment information and must comply with PCI DSS standards, must conduct these tests and provide reports on an ongoing basis.
These tests are conducted in five steps:
- Scoping: Your team and the pen tester will go over your specific requirements to define the testing scope.
- Discovery: The pen tester will identify your network assets within the defined scope.
- Evaluation: The pen tester will test your network, applications, tools, and techniques for security vulnerabilities within the defined scope.
- Reporting: The pen tester will evaluate the results of the testing and put together a report with the results.
- Retest: After remediation of known vulnerabilities, the network and applications are retested to ensure the problems previously identified are now resolved.
We can’t emphasize the importance of the initial step (the scoping conversation) enough. This is where you’ll ensure your business is getting the most value from this investment. The more specific your requirements of the testing scope, the more useful the results will be.
It’s important to understand that a pen test is not the same as an attack simulation and the pen test will not be conducted the same way a real cyber-attack will come through. The pen testers will be limited by the requirements set out during the scoping period and the period of time that has been specified. As such, not every possible method of attacking your network will be attempted.
Once your pen test is complete, analyzing these results for specific types of threats, such as social engineering, phishing attacks, and ransomware, will provide a new perspective and may offer information that was previously missed.
Result analysis often stops at completing patches, but this isn’t always deep enough. In some situations, it’s worth looking at the bigger picture and asking if there is a business case for all externally facing services. Does everything need to be internet-facing? It may not be necessary to expose certain parts of your network at all.
How often should pen tests be conducted?
Security environments are always changing, and these assessments represent only one, single point in time. As such, continuous penetration testing is the best way to stay on top of your vulnerabilities
The frequency in which pen tests should be completed will vary depending on the individual business, their data/level of risk, and the compliance requirements they face. For example, PCI DSS compliance requires that businesses conduct pen tests every six months. Regardless of the frequency in which your business is required to conduct these tests, what’s important is that they are ongoing.
However, giving your business a realistic time frame between pen tests will allow you to appropriately correct any identified vulnerabilities before your next test. For this reason, pen testing one area of your network or system at a time is a good way to ensure you’ll have the time and resources to address any newly discovered vulnerabilities in a timely manner.
Next Steps: Capitalize on Your Compliance Penetration Testing
Penetration testing provides results beyond compliance. When completed appropriately, these tests can help your organization ensure you have the strongest available defenses, a sound investment plan in your security strategy, and the trust of your consumers and clients.
At Arraya, we offer a partnership that provides you with the information and guidance you need to conduct this testing in a manner that’s constructive to your overall business strategies.
To learn more about penetration testing or security risk assessments in general, contact one of our cyber security experts today.
Visit https://www.arrayasolutions.com/contact-us/ to connect with our team now.
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