By Glenn Mabry, Senior Instructor / Tech Researcher for Legends of Tech
Digital security is one of the top priorities for today’s business world. The internet has enabled businesses to work with customers and clients all over the world – and now that remote work is becoming more common, even a company’s workforce relies on their online network to share and store sensitive information.
Businesses invest heavily in their digital presence, from website design to cyber security. But when it comes to security, how can they be certain that their network is as strong as they think? For cyber security professionals, the best way to test a network’s strength is with a process known as penetration testing.
What is Penetration Testing?
Simply put, a penetration test (also known as “white hat hacking”) is a simulated cyberattack performed on an organization’s network. A penetration tester will typically scan the network for potential vulnerabilities before trying to exploit them and “penetrate” the system.
A penetration test has two typical outcomes: either the “hacker” is successful, or the network successfully responds to stop the cyberattack. Both outcomes are beneficial for the organization, as they can inform decisions the company makes to improve their security measures.
Why Should a Company Do Penetration Testing?
Corporations can yield significant benefits from conducting penetration tests on their networks. This is mainly because penetration tests help strengthen their security network. A more robust digital security helps companies protect internal information and customer data. It can also save a business lots of money; according to IBM, U.S. companies lose an estimated $7.35 million per data breach on average!
Here are some of the other benefits of penetration testing.
Identify a System’s Vulnerabilities
If a penetration test is successful – in other words, if the cybersecurity team bypasses security measures and accesses the network – a company might feel discouraged with their current system. However, this incident is a great opportunity to make positive changes. After all, in this case the “hacker” was on their side!
A penetration test allows your company to spot vulnerabilities in your system in a safe, consequence-free environment. If you take the information from this test and work with your cybersecurity team to design new measures to address these vulnerabilities, you can get a better system for the future.
Reduce Network Downtime
The fallout from a cyberattack can be varied. Sometimes, the hackers steal customer data. Other times, they install malware that harms your network on a greater scale. But whatever damage you experience, the result is the same: you’re going to have to take down the network while you assess and repair things.
However, if you regularly conduct penetration tests (at least once or twice a year), your network will likely require less repair or maintenance. This means you’ll be able to fix your network quickly after an incident – or better yet, your network will prevent the attack from being successful!
Help with Regulatory Compliance
There are many standards and regulations in place to protect data across different industries. If you work in commerce, you’re likely beholden to the PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security) standard. If you work in healthcare, you’re legally required to comply with HIPAA regulations.
Whatever standard your industry uses to protect customers or clients, you can use penetration tests to guarantee that your business complies with these requirements. Industry compliance is very important, as it helps you avoid regulatory fines, possible lawsuits, and many other issues that can harm your business.
Protect Company Reputation
Regular penetration tests don’t just protect you from fines or legal action. They can also improve your reputation with the public! Customers expect businesses to protect their personal data, especially when it comes to things like credit card purchases or medical records. If your business is transparent about penetration testing and network improvements, customers will know that you take their data privacy seriously.
Mitigate Damage from Cyberattacks
Finally, let’s discuss the most important benefit your business will get from penetration testing: a way to mitigate damage when a cyberattack inevitably hits your network! Experts estimate that there are 2,200 cyberattacks that occur each day – and that means one will eventually reach your business.
However, if you’ve been doing regular penetration testing on your network, bad actors will be less likely to do real damage when they try their attack. Your cybersecurity team will have created a strong, robust network that can stand up to all manner of cyberattack, and that means your business and its data will be safe.
Types of Penetration Testing
Clearly, penetration testing is an important part of cybersecurity – but what type of test is best for your business? Here are the primary types of penetration test that your business can use to assess your security measures.
In most cases, the individual doing your penetration test will be an employee of your company, which means they’ll have full knowledge of how your system works and access to it. This is called a “white box” or “glass box” test, because the hacker already has the knowledge he or she need to understand the system.
In white box testing, the cybersecurity professional isn’t exactly trying to breach the company’s network. Instead, he or she is doing an in-depth audit on the network, looking for any potential vulnerabilities that a hacker could exploit. This type test is ideal for companies that want a very thorough assessment of their digital security.
In the event of a real cyberattack, your hacker likely won’t know have much information about your specific system. So, if you want to test your security against real-world circumstances, you’ll want to conduct a black box test.
These tests require a high degree of technical skill, and they often yield especially useful insights about flaws and vulnerabilities you might have overlooked in your system. However, they are also a “trial and error” style of test, which means they don’t always find every possible flaw in your system.
If you want the best of both worlds for your penetration test, you’ll want to consider a “grey test.” In this instance, the hacker will have partial knowledge of the network, which allows him or her to conduct a thorough test while still mimicking real-world circumstances. This will allow you to fill in any gaps in your security system.
Author the Author
Glenn Mabry is a senior Instructor / Tech Researcher for Legends of Tech. With over twenty years in the industry, Glenn is a tech expert with experience in cyber security, data science, cloud, networking, coding and more. Legends of Tech is a technology training network that gives the industry’s top Subject Matter Experts the ability to showcase their skills and learners the advantage of staying ahead of the extremely fast-paced industry.