The best way to detect network risks and other vulnerabilities from dangerous invasion is to test—penetration test, that is. Why bother testing any other way than turning a hacker (an ethical one) loose on your network to search for ways to penetrate and cause harm?
Welcome to the everyday business of pen testing.
Penetration testing, or “pen” testing for short, is a process by which vulnerabilities within a network are sought and accurately detected. But it doesn’t stop there.
Pen testing doesn’t just find the vulnerabilities; it exploits them and validates the damage that they could cause. An ethical hacker (often referred to as a “white hat” hacker) has the skill and savvy to find compromises within a network that allow access—both to insiders and outsiders—and potentially wreak costly damage.
Penetration testing can be conducted on hardware, software, or firmware components and may apply physical and technical security controls. It often follows a sequence of a preliminary analysis based on the target system, then a pretest identification of potential vulnerabilities based on previous analyses. Once that is complete, a pretest may help determine the exploitation of the identified vulnerabilities.
In general, all agree to a set of rules before the pen test scenarios are launched. The testing rules include those scenarios anticipated by attacking adversaries. This is all performed in collaboration with known organizational risk and the goals and constraints set by the company who is sponsoring the testing.
Ultimately, pen testing is applied to a company’s network and informs them about susceptibilities. The testers follow up with reports and recommendations to adequately mitigate the discovered risks and vulnerabilities. Pen testing goes beyond the actions of one individual ethically hacking. It also employs complex commercial tools to help them do the job. Ultimately, the whole process adds value and benefits the security of their assets.
In general, penetration testing is a very effective way to discover, identify, and subsequently prevent the exploitation of network vulnerabilities. Safeguarding against such weaknesses and mitigating the risky pathways open to malicious intent can:
• Avoid financial exploitation and subsequent fiscal damage.
• Avert the possibility of a disruption in service or seamless operation.
• Prevent the confiscation of intellectual property.
• Protect sensitive and private data that could otherwise be sold for financial gain.
• Safeguard against industrial sabotage from insider threats that potentially serve to gain retribution against a company.
• Provide audits and tests for compliance, or lack of compliance, concerning regulatory constraints.
• Serve as analysis after a security incident, where understanding the precise details of the chain of attack and the vectors utilized to gain access helps forensics prevent future threats.
A company can acquire the tools and software that their IT department can then apply. However, a consultancy or security firm is most often required when the operational complexity of a network or its underlying business operations warrant more thorough and knowledgeable assistance. A security firm that has conducted penetration testing and knows the precursor of true threats and vulnerabilities is an invaluable resource.
Often a company’s enterprise is focused on an IT project’s implementation schedule before it dedicates the proper resources for complete testing. Indeed, the testing may not be addressed thoroughly when a tight schedule pressures the team. However, a dedicated external resource is a fresh set of skills—and tools—to apply to any existing or new enterprise network or project.
In addition, a trusted advisor or consultant may conduct a white box test or a black box test. In a white box test, an attacker is armed with access or intelligence that would be akin to an inside threat and difficult for anyone to attain on their own accord. In contrast, in a black box test, an attacker has limited information that is easily available, such as through preliminary internet research or questioning a company representative. Knowing which type of test is appropriate and how to conduct it is part of the value an external consultant or adviser provides.
Besides tests that explore post-security incidents and others that target regulatory compliance issues, such as payment card standards or health information privacy standards, here are other basic types of assessments that penetration testing may involve:
Pen testing is a skill that is pedigreed with certification, training, know-how, and experience. It requires multiple skills as the assessment may take different forms and applications, depending on the needs of an enterprise. A consulting firm or agency that has the proper certification and experience can meet the company’s specific needs and provide the proper advice. In this way, penetration testing stands as the best way to detect network risks and other vulnerabilities from dangerous invasion.
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