Why do penetration testing? Its purpose & importance
Posted on September 2, 2021 by Dan May
What is penetration testing?
Penetration testing is a method of simulating a cyberattack to identify weaknesses in your computer system, network or web applications. It’s known as an ethical hack, as it’s used to improve your cybersecurity.
A penetration test or a pen test should not be confused with a vulnerability assessment, which evaluates the potential weak spots in a network and provides recommendations to prevent these risks. Penetration testing is more invasive as it is simulating a cyberattack.
What is the purpose of penetration testing?
Rather than evaluating the potential vulnerabilities of an IT system, a penetration test acts like a cyberattack to see how your system copes. Professional IT experts attempt to gain access to your system, using a variety of methods, which helps identify vulnerabilities and shows how these weaknesses in your system can be exploited. In doing so, this can aid the resolution to prevent the risk of a real cyberattack happening in the future.
Why is penetration testing important?
As an ethical hack, it’s designed to provide a test run of a cyberattack without the damaging consequences. Instead, this test provides you with real data and insight into which areas are most vulnerable, and how those specific areas can be exploited to damage your system.
The benefits of penetration testing
A pen test enables companies to see where their vulnerabilities occur and how these weaknesses can be exploited – whether this be through exposing sensitive information, the network or your applications. This test is carried out in a safe environment where the pen tester is working with your company rather than having malicious motivations. It’s a bit like carrying a test of your business continuity plan – you think you have everything in place but even the best plan can be shown to have a gaping hole when a question or challenge that no one has ever considered before, is asked.
Helps you understand cyber defence capability
Pen tests enable your company to see how your IT team reacts to an attack and their capabilities before a true hacker attacks your system. Identifying skillset gaps in a simulated cyberattack enables your cybersecurity to seek additional training and learn.
Trust among stakeholders
Having penetration testing as part of your wider cybersecurity strategy develops trust among stakeholders, as they know the company’s cyber defence is being taken seriously.
Many industries include penetration testing as part of their compliance legislation, such as healthcare, banking and service providers. Some common regulations that require pen tests to be compliant include
- SOC 2
- PCI DSS
Businesses tend to be highly targeted for cyberattacks, therefore, it’s important that your cyber defence is able to provide the security required and adapt as a business evolves. A penetration testing process will enable your business to test where new vulnerabilities occur as your business grows and evolves.
In fact, small businesses tend to be a disproportionate target when it comes to cyberattacks, with two thirds of UK companies employing between 10 and 49 people falling victim to cybercrime last year.
The risks that come with penetration testing
There are overwhelming benefits in performing regular tests of your cyber defences, but this is task for a professional! Tests should be planned and approved by a senior leader in your organisation who should have board responsibility for your data security.
A properly trained professional will ensure that any attack is carried out in a way that provides a real stealth test of the system, but that stops short of actually exposing sensitive data, crashing servers or interrupting business operations. The test attack needs to be realistic and challenging, but you’re not trying to teach people a lesson by wiping out weeks of their work – even though that might be the reality in a real attack.
Are penetration tests worth it for SMEs?
In short, yes! All businesses should be organising pen tests and SMEs are no exception.
Penetration tests can help reduce the vulnerability of a any business by identifying weak points to be addressed. Investing in cybersecurity to prevent these types of attacks can save your business in the long run with the cost of re-securing your system or network being much higher.
Research has shown that cyberattacks often seal the fate of SMEs with 60% of hacked businesses going out of business after 6 months. Therefore, cybersecurity can be vital to the SME’s survival.
- Always use an independent professional to carry out your Pen Test. Your own IT team or your own IT team are too close – it’s like asking your child to mark their own homework!
- Don’t limit the scope of the test – I can guarantee you that cyber criminals won’t!
- Always include a ‘social pen test’ as part of your research – where the tester will call or email your office to test how easily they can gather essential data from your own people, without the need to even attempt to bypass your firewall. You’ll be amazed at the results!
At ramsac, we pride ourselves on the cybersecurity solutions we offer to SMEs. Find out more about how your business can be protected from cyberattacks by checking out our cybersecurity services.