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What is Penetration Testing?
Learn more about what penetration testing is, the benefits of such testing, and best practices for carrying out a successful test within your organization.

Home » Cybersecurity » What is Penetration Testing?

What is Penetration Testing?

Learn more about what penetration testing is, the benefits of such testing, and best practices for carrying out a successful test within your organization.
Keeping workplace technology up and running is vital to any organization’s success. While this task seems feasible, it’s growing harder and harder each year as cybercriminals expand their reach. It’s not enough to protect workplace technology with software and security protocols. It’s also critical for your organization to test these protocols’ overall effectiveness regularly. That’s where penetration testing can help.

Essentially, penetration testing consists of an IT professional mimicking the actions of a malicious cybercriminal to determine whether an organization’s workplace technology possesses any vulnerabilities and can withstand its attack efforts. Conducting a penetration test can help your organization review the effectiveness of workplace cybersecurity measures, identify the most likely avenues for a cyberattack, and better understand potential weaknesses.

 

What Is Penetration Testing?

Put simply, penetration testing is the simulation of an actual cyberattack to analyze an organization’s cybersecurity strengths and weaknesses. This testing usually targets a specific type of workplace technology, such as the organization’s network(s), website, applications, software, security systems, or physical assets (e.g., computers and smart devices). Testing can leverage various attack methods, including malware, social engineering, password cracking, and network hacking.

Generally speaking, testing is often performed by a professional from a contracted IT firm who is not associated with the organization being assessed. This helps the cyberattack simulation seem as authentic as possible. Testing is typically either external or internal in nature. The primary differences between these forms of testing are as follows:

 

  • External testing requires the IT expert to attack an organization’s external-facing workplace technology from an outside perspective. In most cases, the IT professional won’t even be permitted to enter the organization’s physical establishment during external penetration testing. Instead, they must execute the cyberattack remotely—often from a vehicle or building nearby—to imitate the methods of an actual cybercriminal.
  • Internal testing allows the IT expert to attack an organization’s internal-facing workplace technology from an inside perspective. This testing can help the organization understand the amount of damage that an aggrieved employee could inflict through a cyberattack.

 

In addition to these testing formats, there are two distinct types of penetration tests. How much information an organization provides the IT professional before the cyberattack simulation will determine the penetration test type. Specifically:

 

  • An open-box test occurs when the IT expert is given some details regarding the organization’s workplace technology or cybersecurity protocols before launching the attack.
  • A closed-box test occurs when the IT expert is provided with no details other than the organization’s name before conducting the attack.

 

Ultimately, the testing format and type should be selected based on the particular workplace technology elements or cybersecurity measures that an organization is looking to evaluate.

 

Benefits of Penetration Testing

Penetration testing can offer numerous advantages to your organization, including:

 

  • Improved cybersecurity evaluations—By simulating realistic cyberattack situations, penetration testing can help your organization more accurately evaluate its varying security strengths and weaknesses and reveal the true cost of any security concerns.
  • Greater detection of potential vulnerabilities—If any of your workplace technology or other cybersecurity protocols fail during a test, you will have a clearer picture of where your organization is most vulnerable. You can then use this information to rectify security gaps or invest further in specific cyber initiatives.
  • Increased compliance capabilities— Organizations are legally required to conduct penetration testing in some sectors. For example, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard calls for organizations that accept or process payment transactions to execute routine penetration tests. Running these tests may help your organization remain compliant and uphold sector-specific expectations.
  • Bolstered cybersecurity awareness—Mimicking real-life cyberattack circumstances will highlight the value of having effective prevention measures for your employees, thus encouraging them to prioritize workplace cybersecurity protocols.

 

Best Practices

Consider these top tips for executing a successful penetration test within your organization:

 

  • Establish goals. It’s crucial for you to decide what your organization’s goals are regarding the penetration test. In particular, be sure to ask:
    • What is my organization looking to gain or better understand from penetration testing?
    • Which cybersecurity threats and trends are currently most prevalent within my organization or industry? How can these threats and trends be applied to the penetration test?
    • What specific workplace technology elements or cybersecurity protocols will the test target?
  • Select a trusted IT professional. Consult an experienced IT expert to assist your organization with the penetration test. Share your organization’s goals with the IT professional to help them understand how to execute the test best.
  • Have a plan. Before beginning the penetration test, work with the IT expert to create an appropriate plan. This plan should outline:
    • The general testing timeframe
    • Who will be made aware of the test
    • The test type and format
    • Which regulatory requirements (if any) must be satisfied through the test
    • The boundaries of the test (e.g., which cyberattack simulations can be utilized and what workplace technology can be targeted)
  • Document and review the results. Take detailed notes as the penetration test occurs and check test results with the IT expert. Look closely at which cybersecurity tactics were successful during the attack simulation, which measures fell short, and the consequences of these shortcomings. Ask the IT professional for suggestions on how to rectify security gaps properly.
  • Make changes as needed. Make necessary adjustments to workplace technology or cybersecurity protocols based on test results. This may entail updating security software or revising workplace policies.
  • Follow a schedule. Conduct penetration testing at least once every year and after implementing any new workplace technology.
Keeping workplace technology up and running is vital to any organization’s success. While this task seems feasible, it’s growing harder and harder each year as cybercriminals expand their reach. It’s not enough to protect workplace technology with software and security protocols. It’s also critical for your organization to test these protocols’ overall effectiveness regularly. That’s where penetration testing can help.

Essentially, penetration testing consists of an IT professional mimicking the actions of a malicious cybercriminal to determine whether an organization’s workplace technology possesses any vulnerabilities and can withstand its attack efforts. Conducting a penetration test can help your organization review the effectiveness of workplace cybersecurity measures, identify the most likely avenues for a cyberattack, and better understand potential weaknesses.

 

What Is Penetration Testing?

Put simply, penetration testing is the simulation of an actual cyberattack to analyze an organization’s cybersecurity strengths and weaknesses. This testing usually targets a specific type of workplace technology, such as the organization’s network(s), website, applications, software, security systems, or physical assets (e.g., computers and smart devices). Testing can leverage various attack methods, including malware, social engineering, password cracking, and network hacking.

Generally speaking, testing is often performed by a professional from a contracted IT firm who is not associated with the organization being assessed. This helps the cyberattack simulation seem as authentic as possible. Testing is typically either external or internal in nature. The primary differences between these forms of testing are as follows:

 

  • External testing requires the IT expert to attack an organization’s external-facing workplace technology from an outside perspective. In most cases, the IT professional won’t even be permitted to enter the organization’s physical establishment during external penetration testing. Instead, they must execute the cyberattack remotely—often from a vehicle or building nearby—to imitate the methods of an actual cybercriminal.
  • Internal testing allows the IT expert to attack an organization’s internal-facing workplace technology from an inside perspective. This testing can help the organization understand the amount of damage that an aggrieved employee could inflict through a cyberattack.

 

In addition to these testing formats, there are two distinct types of penetration tests. How much information an organization provides the IT professional before the cyberattack simulation will determine the penetration test type. Specifically:

 

  • An open-box test occurs when the IT expert is given some details regarding the organization’s workplace technology or cybersecurity protocols before launching the attack.
  • A closed-box test occurs when the IT expert is provided with no details other than the organization’s name before conducting the attack.

 

Ultimately, the testing format and type should be selected based on the particular workplace technology elements or cybersecurity measures that an organization is looking to evaluate.

 

Benefits of Penetration Testing

Penetration testing can offer numerous advantages to your organization, including:

 

  • Improved cybersecurity evaluations—By simulating realistic cyberattack situations, penetration testing can help your organization more accurately evaluate its varying security strengths and weaknesses and reveal the true cost of any security concerns.
  • Greater detection of potential vulnerabilities—If any of your workplace technology or other cybersecurity protocols fail during a test, you will have a clearer picture of where your organization is most vulnerable. You can then use this information to rectify security gaps or invest further in specific cyber initiatives.
  • Increased compliance capabilities— Organizations are legally required to conduct penetration testing in some sectors. For example, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard calls for organizations that accept or process payment transactions to execute routine penetration tests. Running these tests may help your organization remain compliant and uphold sector-specific expectations.
  • Bolstered cybersecurity awareness—Mimicking real-life cyberattack circumstances will highlight the value of having effective prevention measures for your employees, thus encouraging them to prioritize workplace cybersecurity protocols.

 

Best Practices

Consider these top tips for executing a successful penetration test within your organization:

 

  • Establish goals. It’s crucial for you to decide what your organization’s goals are regarding the penetration test. In particular, be sure to ask:
    • What is my organization looking to gain or better understand from penetration testing?
    • Which cybersecurity threats and trends are currently most prevalent within my organization or industry? How can these threats and trends be applied to the penetration test?
    • What specific workplace technology elements or cybersecurity protocols will the test target?
  • Select a trusted IT professional. Consult an experienced IT expert to assist your organization with the penetration test. Share your organization’s goals with the IT professional to help them understand how to execute the test best.
  • Have a plan. Before beginning the penetration test, work with the IT expert to create an appropriate plan. This plan should outline:
    • The general testing timeframe
    • Who will be made aware of the test
    • The test type and format
    • Which regulatory requirements (if any) must be satisfied through the test
    • The boundaries of the test (e.g., which cyberattack simulations can be utilized and what workplace technology can be targeted)
  • Document and review the results. Take detailed notes as the penetration test occurs and check test results with the IT expert. Look closely at which cybersecurity tactics were successful during the attack simulation, which measures fell short, and the consequences of these shortcomings. Ask the IT professional for suggestions on how to rectify security gaps properly.
  • Make changes as needed. Make necessary adjustments to workplace technology or cybersecurity protocols based on test results. This may entail updating security software or revising workplace policies.
  • Follow a schedule. Conduct penetration testing at least once every year and after implementing any new workplace technology.

The Last Word

For more information on penetration testing or other cybersecurity resources, contact an InsureGood Advisor today to learn more.

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