Penetration testing (also known as pen testing or ethical hacking) refers to the security process that evaluates an organization’s systems applications for vulnerabilities and susceptibility to threats like hackers and cyber-attacks. Examples of vulnerabilities testers search for include software bugs, design flaws within the application, and detection of configuration errors against standard practices. Unknown open ports and gaps in various areas within the perimeter firewalls are additional weaknesses a hacker could exploit.
Pen tests are also known as white hat attacks, which involve the organization contracting out to another security entity to attempt to break into their system, which is an ethical hack. These types of tests should be held annually to identify gaps that currently exist but are unknown to others within the organization. Pen tests can be carried out against specific IP address ranges an individual application can use via a simulated attack, to identify weak points in a system’s defense. In this scenario, a hacker can penetrate the system to gain unauthorized access to sensitive information, resulting in a data breach.
Pen tests should be customized to that specific organization’s needs and goals. Nondisclosure agreements should be signed prior to conducting any pen tests. This is to ensure any sensitive information is not divulged to unauthorized personnel. Pen tests typically serve as a fire drill for organizations. Additionally, they can provide solutions that will help the organization not only to prevent and detect attackers but to also make the work factor increase dramatically for deterrence purposes.
Other advantages of conducting pen tests involve assisting developers in making fewer errors, identifying gaps in their source code, and better educating the developers on proper security techniques. This is necessary for optimum protection of the network infrastructure. Another benefit of pen testing is to test the new technology being implemented and to ensure all identified vulnerabilities are properly fixed and hardened. This is to ensure gaps are not exposed once the application is put into production.
The lack of pen testing to identify any unknown vulnerability can be absolutely devastating to a company in protecting its data and privacy. Once a hacker can hack into a system, the data breach caused by the hacker can absolutely ruin a company and its reputation. In fact, penetration testing is so vital that all federal government agencies are required to perform one every six months to a year, with no exceptions.
If you care about your company and you don’t want to take on the risk hackers pose, be proactive and ensure proper pen testing is done on a regular basis. This due diligence as a stakeholder may keep you from a lifetime of regret.