What is penetration testing, why is pen testing important and what are the benefits of penetration testing for your business?
What is penetration testing and why is penetration testing important?
Penetration testing, also known in the industry as pen testing, is a form of ethical hacking. Penetration testing uses simulated cyberattack methods against your networks, applications and computer systems to identify potential vulnerabilities or weaknesses.
Penetration tests look to uncover these vulnerabilities to understand the company’s risk of a cyberattack or security breach, including:
- Where a cybercriminal may attempt to access the organisation’s networks
- How they would gain access to systems
- What defences are already in place and how they cope under attack
- The potential impact of a breach on the business
Read our complete guide to penetration testing.
Not all penetration testing services are equal. Penetration testing shouldn’t be confused with vulnerability scanning or vulnerability assessments.
A penetration test provides a much more comprehensive report of the company’s security posture, including how networks, applications and systems could be hacked.
Many organisations choose CREST accredited penetration testing providers to perform pen tests on their infrastructure or applications. Find out about the benefit of penetration testing under the CREST accreditation and why CREST penetration testing is the gold standard in the cybersecurity industry.
Penetration testing is important to understand any company’s digital infrastructure and to identify any potential threats.
The insights provided by penetration testing can be used to improve company security policies and address any vulnerabilities with patching and other remediation. It allows the business to take action before a breach occurs.
A penetration test should be thought of in the same way as a financial audit for your business. But instead of looking at invoices and accounts, penetration testing (or pen testing) is a security exercise where a cyber security expert attempts to find and exploit vulnerabilities.
Businesses are recommended to perform a penetration test whenever the following happens:
- You discover a potential new security threat
- You create or update an application
- You relocate offices or migrate networks or move to adopt remote or hybrid working
- You create a new database or data storage site
- You have recently been attacked
What are the categories of penetration testing?
There are some common penetration testing services available to assess security risks across networks, applications and computer systems, whether internal or external.
These are designed to diagnose any security risks or weaknesses in your infrastructure before cybercriminals or hackers can exploit them.
Businesses are building more of their frameworks online, especially in the acceleration of digital transformation seen in the past few years. Unfortunately, while this can bring many business continuity and flexibility benefits for organisations, it also expands the attack surface, making them more susceptible to attack. More than 60% of internet-based cyberattacks are aimed at web applications.
So, what is application penetration testing?
Web application penetration testing will find any weaknesses in the target system. The benefit of penetration testing your applications is that the pen tester can also check the functionality of websites to pinpoint any failings. A web application penetration testing service will supply the protection needed to safeguard sensitive data. Regular web application penetration testing will defend against every conceivable online threat.
With the increase in mobile use and mobile devices now a major part of our everyday lives, organisations must take necessary action to secure their mobile applications and protect the business, its reputation and most importantly, its customers.
A mobile application penetration test will look for a range of exploitable vulnerabilities that cybercriminals may take advantage of.
Disgruntled employees, or negligent staff members, can fall prey to phishing attacks and pose a security risk. An internal security breach could prove disastrous for any business. The benefits of penetration testing of internal environments, systems and procedures mean that businesses can ensure they have all the right countermeasures in place to prevent unauthorised access to privileged information.
Internal network penetration testing is designed to simulate a cyberattack from within the organisation itself, highlighting potential issues and safeguarding against threats from malicious insiders.
By mimicking real-world cyberattacks, the benefit of penetration testing on external networks means businesses can identify any gaps in external network infrastructure to allow the necessary remediations.
Using the same techniques that a hacker would, pen testers – or ethical hackers – conduct external network penetration testing to simulate a real-world attack and understand if data is secure. On completion of the external penetration testing, pen testers issue a comprehensive report. Using this information, any security flaws can be addressed, eliminating potential threats before they can cause damage.
What are the penetration testing methods?
There are three different types of penetration testing; Black box penetration testing, white box penetration testing and grey box penetration testing. The benefits of penetration using each of these types are the same – to attempt to gain access to an organisation’s networks, computer systems, software or applications using the same methods as an attacker might use in order to exploit any weaknesses or vulnerabilities.
Penetration testing can also follow different methodologies. Standards such as The OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project®) Top 10 outline the most critical security risks to web applications. Following this standard, the penetration tester can identify common risks and vulnerabilities.
As mentioned, the CREST penetration testing method is universal and highly respected. CREST set a strict code of conduct around preparation and scoping best practices, penetration testing execution, post-testing reporting delivery and data protection.
Only CREST penetration testing service providers can promise to conduct pen testing services to this gold standard.
Black Box Testing
This method examines functionality with no prior knowledge of the system, application or infrastructure being tested.
White Box Testing
This cybersecurity testing method looks at the internal source coding structure aided by full information disclosure on the target.
Grey Box Testing
This method is similar to white box testing but with only limited knowledge of the system, application or environment being targeted.
The benefits of penetration testing regularly, such as quarterly, or at a minimum annually, will ensure the business is continuously safeguarded. You will be able to:
- Identify any security issues or vulnerabilities and remediate them with the right controls
- Benchmark your existing processes and security controls
- Understand where software or applications have developed bugs or not been patched sufficiently
- Ensure business continuity by preventing disruptions caused by attacks
- Support any regulatory compliance requirements such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) or PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard)
- Provide assurance to senior management, stakeholders, partners and most importantly maintain trust with customers that their data is protected
There are clear benefits of penetration testing for organisations. Pen tests will certainly uncover your security weaknesses and how vulnerable your company is to cyberattack. They can also identify potential threats to your cybersecurity.
By conducting penetration testing, you can safeguard your security posture before a cybercriminal has a chance to exploit your vulnerabilities.
If any weaknesses are identified during pen testing, they must be addressed as soon as possible. Any vulnerabilities that are left unpatched are likely to be exploited by bad actors and will compromise the business.
This helps to reduce information security risk and reports can be shared with senior management to improve cybersecurity awareness.
What are the advantages of penetration testing?
The tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) that cybercriminals use to attack networks, software systems and applications are growing in volume and sophistication.
The benefits of penetration testing mean that not only can businesses safeguard their cyber security before a cybercriminal has a chance to exploit vulnerabilities – they can also improve internal security management processes.
Another benefit of penetration testing is that organisations can test the effectiveness of their Intrusion Detection systems and teams to see if the attempted attack is identified.
This will remove time constraints around annual testing, allow for a deeper and wider variety of penetration testing to be done, and protect the organisation more effectively against cyber attacks.
One of the key benefits of penetration testing is that it can provide organisations with a clear picture of their attack surface and risk profile.
If any gaps are left unpatched or unaddressed, bad actors are likely to exploit and compromise the business. Penetration testing ensures security controls and processes are in place, so gaps are remediated in a timely manner.
A benefit of penetration testing is the understanding of where budget or investment is needed in order to remediate issues. It can also shed light on cyber awareness training needs within the organisation.
Benefits of penetration testing more regularly also include regular checks on systems, networks and applications so the time to remediate doesn’t leave the business vulnerable to attack.
Any weaknesses left unpatched are a huge risk to business operations and will be exploited by threat actors.
The benefit of penetration testing to monitor weaknesses ensures that remediation actions are completed promptly and helps reduce information security risk.
The average cost of a data breach in the UK is now $4.35 million, up by 12% on the previous year. Ignoring vulnerabilities can lead to millions in damages to business operations, company reputation and fines.
The benefits of penetration testing help to avoid these costs by preventing cyberattacks before they occur.
As mentioned, organisations can also make a more informed investment in cyber security where it’s most needed to utilise the budget more efficiently.
Firstly, it’s not always possible for organisations to hire security professionals in-house, especially when considering the cyber security skills gap.
There are specialised skills and qualifications needed to conduct penetration testing. The cyber security industry is short of 2.7 million workers. By outsourcing to a managed cyber penetration testing provider, businesses free internal staff to work on in-house projects.
The key benefit of penetration testing conducted with a cyber security specialist partner, is the access to industry-wide insight and extensive knowledge of the entire threat landscape.
One of the key benefits of penetration testing for business continuity is the timely mitigation of any issues that may be identified in the pentest.
Networks, systems and applications with vulnerabilities are at a much higher risk of exploitation. Threat actors use the same security tools that are utilised by pen testers to find those companies that have vulnerabilities.
The benefits of penetration testing in terms of compliance mean that the organisation can support information security and compliance requirements such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations), PCI DSS and ISO 27001 by supplying more up to date information and reporting.
Another benefit of penetration testing regularly is that the business can demonstrate audit trails and evidence their commitment to regulatory compliance.
of penetration tests identify critical vulnerabilities
of pen tests found sensitive data begin transferred
is all it takes for a hacker to breach a network and gain access to data and systems
What is continuous penetration testing?
Conducting penetration testing just once every 12 months is no longer sufficient to protect businesses.
The speed at which digital transformation is moving and tools and technology are updated poses a constant security threat.
While annual pen tests, or half year or quarterly tests, provide a moment-in-time snapshot of a company’s potential vulnerabilities, in isolation they can’t paint an accurate picture of long-term security risks.
It’s imperative that continuous penetration testing is conducted to protect networks, applications and systems.
The cycle of continuous penetration testing should start from the baseline penetration test. Alongside this baseline penetration testing, continuous penetration testing identifies new weaknesses that could be exploited.
The process should then include steps which define the scope and assets to be continuously tested, a schedule of regular security testing, remediation of any issues identified, retesting and ongoing tracking of upgrades, misconfigurations and newly reported threats and vulnerabilities.
Continuous penetration testing will enable organisations to protect their security posture on an ongoing basis – before cybercriminals attempt to exploit their vulnerabilities.
In general, penetration testing is conducted on an informed basis (known as white box testing) with penetration testing experts being given information prior to starting the test.
The scoping phase is important to identify what infrastructure should be included in the pentest and what remit the penetration testers have.
Starting off with limited knowledge, the pen testers will assemble key information from the public domain using passive information gathering techniques.
Using the information gathered during the reconnaissance stage, the penetration tester will assess any vulnerabilities or security risks to the organisation.
The penetration testers will perform a thorough investigation to try to exploit any vulnerabilities within the company’s systems, networks or applications. Using tools and methods such as cross-site scripting, SQL injection and any backdoors that have been left vulnerable, the penetration testing security expert conducting the pentest will uncover all vulnerabilities.
By escalating privileges, intercepting traffic and simulating stealing data, the pen tester can build a more accurate picture of the damage that a hacker could cause.
The penetration testing experts will securely deliver a bespoke report of their findings following the investigation phase.
The report should include a clear and complete breakdown of any weaknesses in networks, systems or applications included in the penetration test scope and give advice on remediation.
DigitalXRAID’s Penetration Testing Services
DigitalXRAID’s penetration testing services will identify any weaknesses and vulnerabilities in your systems, networks and applications. We give you the chance to remedy issues before threat actors can exploit them, protecting you from attacks.
DigitalXRAID is one of the first managed cyber security service providers to gain CREST certification for our penetration testing services. This makes us one of the top penetration testing providers in the world.
If there’s a vulnerability, DigitalXRAID’s penetration testing experts will find it.
For more information on our penetration testing services and how we can support you in staying a step ahead of cyber criminals, speak to an expert.
For an in-depth view of the benefits of penetration testing by DigitalXRAID experts and to get tailored quote: scope your project.
With cyber security services operating on both the offensive and defensive sides, DigitalXRAID have a much deeper understanding of what techniques are being used for both attack and defense. Therefore, our CREST certified pen testing team dive deeper, uncovering vulnerabilities that others tend to miss.
DigitalXRAID’s security testers can offer penetration testing services, including:
- Internal Penetration Testing Services
- External Penetration Testing Services
- PCI DSS Penetration Testing Services
- Red Teaming
- Social Engineering
- Mobile app Penetration Testing Services
- Web application Penetration Testing Services
Protect your business with the Benefits of Penetration Testing
A security partner you can trust
Make sure you’re truly protected by putting your networks, systems and applications to the test. As with all cyber security, the benefits of penetration testing forms a more robust security posture. We’ll work with you to identify and remedy weaknesses in your security before a malicious party exploits them.
Protect Your Business & Your Reputation.
With a continued focus on security, you can rest assured that breaches and exploits won't be holding you back.