The year 2017 has seen types of malware such as ransomware and other probing bugs cause massive data breaches, endangering the fundamental idea of cybersecurity. However, it doesn't end there. Experts estimate that 2018 will witness a lot more such instances, where enterprises will have to review and strengthen their security strategies.
While this is being estimated, enterprises will continue to consider the tried and tested security testing strategies such as vulnerability assessment, Penetration (or Pen) Testing, Security scanning, Risk Assessment, and Ethical Hacking. Amongst these, Pen Testing helps teams to not just assess the vulnerabilities but also digs deeper to open them up and expose their impact.
What Is Penetration Testing and How Does it Help Strengthen Cybersecurity?
Penetration testing is a sanctioned triggered attack that is conducted on a computer system to assess security flaws, which can otherwise result in a data breach or intrusion within the system. It conducts an attack on the system, the network, or a web application to expose vulnerabilities that could be eventually exploited by a hacker.
These tests can be automated by a leveraging software application or can be performed manually. The core objective is to gather data about the targeted attack, check potential entry points, initiate a break in, and ultimately report the findings. Penetration testing is also sometimes referred to as a white hat attack, as here the attack is done by the good folks with the intent of exposing and reporting vulnerabilities.
Nevertheless, it cannot be mistaken for a vulnerability assessment or vulnerability scan, or a compliance audit. A pen test doesn't just expose the vulnerabilities. It goes beyond and effectively exploits the vulnerabilities to estimate their impact in a real-world scenario, where an organization's IT assets, data, and physical security system could get attacked.
Targeted tests are witnessed by all in the system. It is performed by the organization's IT team and the security testing team who collaborate to conduct these tests. Here, the impact is seen by all so the team can take the necessary actions.
These tests attack the organization's externally facing servers, or devices such as domain name servers (DNS), firewalls, web servers, and so on. The idea is to gauge whether an external attacker can penetrate and how much damage such an attack would do to the system.
These tests emulate an internal attack behind the firewall with authorized access and legal access. This helps to estimate the damage that can be caused by an internal party in case of an issue.
These tests help to mimic the stabs and attacks that can be expected from a real attacker with limited information and data points. In these cases, the concerned teams are only given the name of the company before executing such attacks. These attacks can take considerable time and even get expensive. Similarly, double-blind tests can be implemented for testing an organization's security monitoring and detect incidents as well.
All-in-all, penetration testing can take various forms and can be initiated in diverse forms to establish the impact of different vulnerabilities.
What Is the Estimated Business Value of Conducting Penetration Tests?
In some cases, where data security is a major concern, penetration testing could be a key aspect of the security testing strategy. It can be a costly affair too. Hence, it is important to understand the business value that organizations seek from pen tests.
Most importantly, it helps determine the vulnerabilities that can bring high risks that can be a combination of lower-risk vulnerabilities. It helps evaluate the impact of the potential attack on the business and its operational activities. Pen tests further help to test the ability of the network to detect the attack and respond to it. With this, it gives evidence for adding investments in security protocols, investors, and technology, in order to meet compliance standards.
After reporting a security incident, organizations need to check the vectors implemented for gaining access to compromised systems. With penetration tests, teams are able to recreate the attack chain and authenticate new security controls to stop such similar attacks in the future. The equation is clear - attack, identify, assess, and report.
Penetration tests establish the overall formula to enable organizations to determine the security threats and build resilient cybersecurity.
How Do We Determine the Real-World Effectiveness of Penetration Testing?
Automated penetration tests can bring tremendous value by detecting and addressing threats by leveraging frameworks across various scenarios. At the same time, it is important to apply logic and ensure that the right automation strategy is put in place so you get the results you want. It can involve tools and frameworks, but human logic is important to streamline the tests and think in lines of an attacker who could be conceptualizing an attack on your system.
Penetration tests help security testing teams to determine the target and plan an attack to expose the vulnerabilities, similar to a real-life scenario. The point being that even with automation, human intervention is crucial, as even automated and well-secured networks could be vulnerable to a unique human thought and probing strategy. This will further enable teams to deal with real-world scenarios and attacks. It is important for teams to think out of the box and conceptualize attacks on their networks, servers, and firewalls.
In some scenarios, even 100% compliant organizations can be vulnerable in the real world if an attack is executed skillfully. Penetration tests equip organizations to protect themselves against multiple hacks against the same target and eventually gauge the impact. The tests can be implemented in various ways in order to take various situations into consideration. There is no limitation on that front and makes it effective for real-world scenarios.
Gartner, in its report, mentions that by 2020, 40 percent of all managed security service (MSS) contracts will be bundled with other security services and broader IT outsourcing (ITO) projects, up from 20 percent today. Cybersecurity is definitely a growing concern and enterprises are looking at feasible and agile ways to deal with diverse vulnerabilities and threats. Nevertheless, processes such as pen testing help enterprises to detect the threats internally as well as externally across varying scenarios.