Penetration Testing: what benefits it offers for cybersecurity

By July 18, 2023 App World

The progress of the digitization is now evident in every industry and business environment. Whether SMEs or large multinational corporations, the changes taking place follow the same path. In fact, processes are becoming increasingly computerized and systems interconnected, as well as applications are being used on mobile devices and new data moved to the cloud.

All of this obviously opens up other unpredictable cybercrime scenarios and potential cyber attacks. This is possible because the data have become a valuable asset to be defended against intrusion and attempted appropriation. It is clear then how digital transformation offers new insights into IT security and requires protective measures from the IT department.

In this regard, the penetration test, which is a multi-step process designed to assess the vulnerability of a computer system or network to detect dangerous flaws.

These tests can be automated or done manually, and the reports produced allow for the following feedback the enterprise needs to better target its investments. But how does a penetration test work and what benefits does it ensure for companies? Let's find out together.

What is a penetration test

In the field of computer security, penetration testing or pentest is an activity of great importance as it aids in prevention against hacking attacks by criminals who surf the Web looking for weaknesses and vulnerabilities to exploit to compromise corporate data.

The goal of this kind of testing is to perform a simulation of an aggressive action to understand where any anomalies arise and how they can be remediated. Companies should perform a penetration test at least once a year, but in some cases it can also be done at shorter intervals.

Performing a penetration test is especially critical at the most sensitive and important times for the company. For example, when adding new applications or network infrastructure, upgrades to existing applications, or if additional offices are opened in new locations, if new security patches are applied, or if end-user policies are changed.

In any case, since the penetration test is not universal and applies to everyone in the same way; the need to use it is related to different factors such as the size of the enterprise, the budget available and the use of clouds.

Contract and role of the penetration tester

The process of penetration testing is based on an active and passive analysis to find flaws, flaws, and weaknesses arising from system design or management. Thus, the ultimate goal is to prevent malicious attackers from attacking computer systems, compromising the integrity of data and resources.

Identified problems will then be presented to the system owner via a detailed report, along with an impact assessment, solution or remedy to mitigate the critical issues. In order to perform a penetration test on systems that are not owned, one must work by prior contract that goes to demonstrate consent and authorization for the activity, defining objectives and timelines.

Such contract must include confidentiality clauses, the IPs from which to begin testing, the people involved, and cooperation with outside operators, if any. Those conducting the test must ensure non-interruption of normal activities and loss or modification of client data.

All operations that are not regulated by appropriate agreement are to be considered illegal. This is because the objectives must be decided at the time the agreement is made, and it is the owner of the computer system who decides what data to share with the penetration tester. It is also possible to create a specific user for the analysis activity by providing temporary credentials to the person performing the test.

How many types of penetration tests are there?

The use of different penetration testing strategies allows testers to focus on computer systems and have a greater understanding of the most dangerous cyber attacks. Let us then see what are the main techniques for performing penetration tests:

  • External penetration testing: external penetration tests aim to understand whether a hacker can compromise a computer system and how far they can penetrate inside. With such tests, one analyzes everything that is visible on the network to unearth access points such as backdoors, bugs, and so on. Usually such pentests are carried out without knowing the company's infrastructure, but starting right from the web and search engines. Among the things analyzed are DNS, web applications, websites, and more;
  • Internal penetration testing: internal testing is performed by a person inside the company. For example, if a hacker manages to acquire an employee's access keys and data, he or she could easily enter internal systems that are generally available only to the employees. A pentest is then used to test such case histories by identifying internal flaws in employee access;
  • Blind testing: is the most realistic methodology, but also the most costly for the company, both in terms of money and time. It is a blind test in which the only information given to the tester is the company name. Starting with this element, the tester will have to enter IT systems through various hacking techniques;
  • Double blind testing: similar to the blind test is the double blind test which differs that an additional level of confidentiality. In fact, the IT department is not aware of the conduct of the penetration test. In doing so, it simulates a real cyber attack keeping key corporate IT operators in the dark;
  • Black box test: is the test in which the pentester has no information on the IT infrastructure and will have to start from scratch as a real hacker;
  • White box text: In this test, information is provided to the performer such as. codes, IP addresses, protocols and more before starting with the pentest;
  • Grey box test: The test consists of trying to force a computer system with a limited amount of information On the IT infrastructure. One goes to simulate an attack that could be launched by a partner or an employee of the company.

The steps that make up a penetration test

The execution of a penetration test must be particularly accurate as it responds to precise methodologies that ensure the quality of the conclusions and protection of the tested system. Mainly such a test consists of 3 segments: preparation, execution and delivery.

  • Preparation: there is a preliminary or kick off meeting to decide what is going to be tested. It then goes on to request permission from the host, back up the data, and prepare the testing materials;
  • Realization: we engage in information gathering to get to the actual testing and identify ways to exploit hypothetical vulnerabilities found;
  • Delivery: Once the penetration test is completed, a verification report will be completed and given to the business owner. Finally, there will be a final meeting to present the results.

The advantages of penetration testing

Through penetration testing, the company is able to identify all possible vulnerabilities, as well as all hypothetical scenarios that may lead to a compromise of the IT system. In the concluding report all the details about the dangerous situations, risk analysis and useful recommendations for a proper action plan are provided.

Penetration testing thus fits into the processes of risk management and encourages the adoption of appropriate countermeasures to contain vulnerabilities to an acceptable level. Here, then, are the main benefits of penetration testing:

  • Identification of vulnerabilities: hackers often have a computer preparation advanced, but the same can be said for pentesters. With their testing, these specialists detect flaws and defects of all kinds. This allows the IT team to gain a cybercriminal's perspective and give solutions to quickly fix vulnerabilities;
  • Requirements to be met: according to one's economic sector, there are different standard to which enterprises must adhere. As an example, if you receive customer payments through a credit/debit card system, you must comply with the PCI protocol, which requires one penetration test per year. Complying is essential to avoid fines and penalties;
  • Making corporate management aware of risks: In many companies, management does not fully grasp the risk that such vulnerabilities may pose. Thus, it may not attribute the right economic resources for the implementation of corrective measures. The final report will give the management team a valuable tool to understand the importance of cybersecurity today;
  • Contain financial losses: penetration tests are economically expensive, but cyber attacks also have the power to cause leaks greater than the cost of a pentest. There are cases where cyberattacks are so invasive that they cause the company to shut down or deplete its potential. Here, then, penetration tests are vital to containing risks from the Web.

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