What Is A Penetration Test And Why Do I Need It?


Penetration testing is an everyday part of the job description for us here at Red Team Security. In fact, it’s our specialty. Something else we deal with almost daily, though, is answering the question: “What is a penetration test and why do I need it?”

Here’s what you need to know.

What Is A Penetration Test?

In a nutshell, a penetration test is a comprehensive way of testing an organization’s cybersecurity vulnerabilities. If a hacker were going to target you, A) how would they do it and B) would they be successful?

Penetration testing — also known as pen testing — views your network, application, device, and/or physical security through the eyes of both a malicious actor and an experienced cybersecurity expert to discover weaknesses and identify areas where your security posture needs improvement.

This testing doesn’t stop at simply discovering ways in which a criminal might gain unauthorized access to sensitive data or even take-over your systems for malicious purposes. It also simulates a real-world attack to determine how any defenses will fare and the possible magnitude of a breach.

Comprehensive penetration testing considers several areas:

Application Penetration Testing

Identifies application layer flaws such as Cross Site Request Forgery, Cross Site Scripting, Injection Flaws, Weak Session Management, Insecure Direct Object References and more.

Network Penetration Testing

Focuses on identifying network and system level flaws including Misconfigurations, Product-specific vulnerabilities, Wireless Network Vulnerabilities, Rogue Services, Weak Passwords, and Protocols.

Physical Penetration Testing

Also known as physical intrusion testing, this testing reveals opportunities to compromise physical barriers such as locks, sensors, cameras, mantraps and more.

IoT/Device Penetration Testing

Aims to uncover hardware and software level flaws with Internet of Things devices including Weak Passwords, Insecure Protocols, APIS, or Communication Channels, Misconfigurations and more.

All of these risk-based approaches typically involve several steps:

  1. Information Gathering — the stage of reconnaissance against the target.
  2. Threat Modeling — identifying and categorizing assets, threats, and threats communities.
  3. Vulnerability Analysis — discovering flaws in systems and applications using a set of tools, both commercially available tools and internally developed.
  4. Exploitation — simulating a real-world attack to document any vulnerabilities.
  5. Post-Exploitation — determining the value of compromise, considering data or network sensitivity.
  6. Reporting — outlining the findings with suggestions for prioritizing fixes. For us, that means walking through the results with you hand-in-hand.
Penetration-testing team

Why Do I Need A Penetration Test?

Cybersecurity is a complex landscape with rapidly evolving technologies, architectures, and policies. At the same time, there’s an ever-motivated group of people out there seeking to exploit vulnerabilities for not-so-virtuous purposes: to gain access to information, take over networks, install malware, disrupt services and more. Will your tools and configurations stand up to the test? Do they meet industry standards? A penetration test will tell.

Penetration testing examines the real-world effectiveness of your existing security controls when a skilled human actively tries to hack in. While automated testing can identify some cybersecurity issues, true penetration testing considers the business’s vulnerability to manual attack, too. After all, bad actors aren’t going to stop their attacks just because the standard automated test doesn’t identify a vulnerability.

Regular automated and manual testing can determine infrastructure, software, physical, and even personnel weaknesses and help your business develop strong controls.

For much the same reason you go to a healthcare provider for an annual wellness check, it makes sense to turn to highly trained security consultants to carry out your security testing. While you might say you’re perfectly healthy, a doctor can run tests to detect dangers you may not even be aware of yet.

Similarly, the people who put your security program together and maintain and monitor it on a daily basis may not have the objectivity needed to identify security flaws, understand the level of risk for your organization, and help address and fix critical issues. To put it another way, in this ongoing game of cat and mouse, it helps to bring in a new cat.

Even the Pentagon in 2016 turned to outside help for a fresh perspective. Its “Hack the Pentagon” bug bounty program asked volunteer hackers to identify security issues affecting its public, non-classified computer systems. In just three months the more than 1,400 hackers who registered to participate uncovered more than 100 unnoticed security issues.

Penetration testing proves its value time and again for organizations looking to:

  • Determine the feasibility of a particular set of attack vectors
  • Identify higher-risk vulnerabilities resulting from lower-risk vulnerabilities exploited in a particular way
  • Highlight vulnerabilities difficult or impossible to detect with automated network or application scanning software
  • Assess potential business and operational impacts of successful attacks
  • Test network defense’s ability to successfully detect and respond to the attack
  • Provide evidence to support increased investments in security personnel and technology
  • Meet compliance requirements
  • Implement and validate new security controls put in place to thwart similar attacks in the future.

As the SANS Institute puts it, penetration testing is all about “assessing your overall security before attackers do.”

Ultimately, though, be aware that penetration testing is only part of the ongoing, constant vigilance required to keep your organization safe. The SANS Institute notes that “it is very unlikely that a pen-tester will find all the security issues.”  For example, an organization might pass a Monday penetration test, but on Tuesday Microsoft releases a patch and now there’s a brand new vulnerability in some Exchange mail servers that were previously considered secure. Again, it’s an ongoing effort.

Nevertheless, a penetration test digs deeper and samples your environment n a way that a vulnerability scan simply doesn’t.

Pen Test With RedTeam – Free Consultation

Penetration testing from RedTeam Security offers industry-specific threat profiling. Along with comprehensive testing of your business’s technical landscape, we’ll also test your people and physical security controls.

RedTeam keeps you informed along the way via conference calls and a secure online project management portal illustrating the phases of the project. Plus, after providing our final remediation report (in pdf, XML, and CSV), we’ll continue to track remediation status to ensure you effectively manage any changes based on our operations.

Our team of offensive security experts is waiting to hear from you. Schedule a consultation now to learn more about the benefits of penetration testing and to map where it fits into your organization’s security game plan.

We look forward to meeting you!

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