Preventing Cyber Attacks

Using Penetration Testing

How to Prevent Cyber Attacks through Penetration Testing

Cyberattacks are becoming more sophisticated with each passing year, increasing the number of prevention, detection, and mitigation challenges. A comprehensive security strategy is vital for any business that hopes to keep its data protected while remaining competitive in the marketplace.

To verify that systems and data are safe, cybersecurity professionals often run vulnerability scans and perform penetration testing. In the past, manual penetration testing was laborious and costly and could only be performed periodically as a result. Today, penetration testing allows for faster, cheaper, and more frequent testing, keeping organizations of all sizes safer from attacks.

This blog will cover the importance of tool-based penetration testing, the advantages when compared to manual penetration testing, and how to choose the right type of penetration testing for your company.

What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing involves simulating a cyber-attack against a computer system, application, or network in order to find vulnerabilities. While much of cybersecurity consists of putting the right preventative measures in place and running regular scans, penetration testing is particularly effective at identifying any holes you might have otherwise missed. As such, penetration testing is a critical part of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy.

Regulations require many organizations to perform penetration testing regularly. For example, it is often compulsory in service industries, healthcare, banking, and government sectors. It is required for a good reason, as it can help prevent catastrophic and costly data breaches. Whether or not it is mandatory for your particular industry, it is generally recommended for optimal security.

Why is Penetration Testing Important & What Should Be Tested?

Imagine building a strong brick wall to defend against attack. Suppose one small segment of that wall is fragile because the builder failed to mix the cement properly. A visual inspection of the wall would not reveal this flaw. In fact, the wall may still work very well at deterring intruders, and the weak spot might go undetected for a long time.

But if a determined intruder arrives on the scene, they will try everything they can to get through, leading them to discover and exploit the weak spot. Penetration testing keeps this from happening by acting like the would-be intruder. A penetration test of the wall would involve someone trying just as hard as the intruder to break through, leading to timely discovery of the existing weak spot. The wall can then be repaired and reinforced before any bad actors show up.

Even with the best preventative security measures in place, it is possible to end up with vulnerabilities. The cause of these potential exploits may be software or hardware design flaws, problems with system configuration, poor password management, or a simple human error. The individuals involved in building a computer system or network may have the best intentions, but all it takes is one weak spot for a hacker to get in.

Penetration testing should be done regularly and include testing of all software and applications, including operating systems, hardware, network, processes, and even end-user behavior. For example, a penetration tester might send fake phishing emails to see if any employees are vulnerable to this type of attack.

Advantages of Penetration Testing Compared to Manual Penetration Testing

Manual penetration testing first appeared in the late 1990s. Companies would hire security experts and ethical hackers to try and breach their systems to identify vulnerabilities. But manual penetration testing can be challenging and time-consuming.

Over the years, penetration testers began automating some processes to increase efficiency. However, automated processes don’t tend to come with the same creativity and capacity for original thought as a human tester. Much of the penetration testing landscape then consisted of hybrid testing—automated processes were tools wielded ultimately by an expert human penetration tester.

However, technology has undergone considerable advances over the years, and now, modern automated penetration testing software can effectively do much of the work that previously required a human touch. Moreover, automated penetration testing includes the following benefits:

  • Time savings: Automated penetration tests finish much faster than manual tests. When complete, a report is automatically generated so a company can take action immediately. Manual tests can take days to complete and even more time to produce a report.
  • Cost savings: Since you don’t need to pay a human for their time, automated testing can be cost-effective because it uses software instead.
  • Test frequency: Because of the time and expense, human penetration testing can typically only be performed infrequently. On the other hand, automated penetration tests can be performed weekly or even more frequently since it's just a matter of running the software. 
  • Entry point coverage: Human penetration testers generally enter a system from a single access point as they perform the test. Automation makes it possible to run the same penetration test from multiple entry points, potentially identifying vulnerabilities a human would miss or wouldn’t have the time to find.

The speed of application development and system modification by businesses in today’s world makes automated penetration testing crucial. Manual testing can only identify problems that existed at the time of the test, whereas automated testing allows for ongoing testing that can find vulnerabilities as they appear.

How to Choose the Right Penetration Testing

There are many different types of penetration tests depending upon your needs. They fall into the following main categories:

  • Network: This most common penetration test assesses network infrastructure, including firewall configuration testing, IPS deception, DNS level attacks, and software testing.  
  • Web application: These tests target specific applications such as browsers, applets, and plug-ins.
  • Client-side: Testing performed on the client-side looks for exploits in third party or open source software used locally.
  • Wireless: A wireless network penetration test seeks out vulnerabilities in wireless configuration protocols or access rights that might be exploited by any device—tablets, laptops, smartphones, etc—that might connect wirelessly.
  • Social engineering: This type of testing looks at the human factor and may include simulating phishing attacks.

The type of testing to perform depends on your goals. You should conduct network testing regularly and perform additional web application, client-side, and wireless testing as needed, particularly if there have been any recent changes. Social engineering testing is excellent for educating employees about safety protocols. By going the route of automated penetration testing, you can conduct tests more frequently.

Final Thoughts

Penetration testing is a vital part of any comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. Additional components such as vulnerability and risk assessments, firewalls, antivirus, cloud workload security, and active monitoring also contribute to your business’s safety. If you are looking for better ways to protect your company’s critical data from threats, SoftwareONE offers managed security services to help you achieve your goals.

SoftwareONE’s Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing Can Protect Your Business

Cybersecurity threats only continue to grow as the threat landscape expands. The right tools and partners are critical for combatting security risks.

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Bala Sathunathan

Bala Sethunathan

Director, Security Practice & CISO


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