A Guide to Penetration Testing
A Guide To Penetration Testing

What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing—also known as pen testing –is a method of testing the security of your computer, applications, or network by attempting to hack into them. The hacking exercise aims to expose the weaknesses of its target so that they can be fixed.

This test involves ethical hacking and is not a malicious attack by cybercriminals. It is carried out by cybersecurity firms at the request of the organizations that own the target infrastructure. The process is either performed manually or is automated by dedicated software.

This is somewhat like a store hiring someone to conduct a mock-robbery on its premises. The mock-robbery could reveal weaknesses in the store’s security measures that leave it vulnerable to real robbers. The store owner can then fix the weaknesses before they are exploited by actual thieves.

Information about the computer system or application’s defenses is collected during the pen test and provided to the concerned company’s IT managers when the test is completed. They can act on the captured details to seal any loopholes that have been detected.

Reasons for Conducting a Penetration Test

These are some benefits you could gain from regular penetration testing.

Early Identification of Weak Spots in Your System

It’s always better to find the threat when t’s still just potentially dangerous. The earlier you discover the problem, the more time you’ll have to fix it and prevent a major security breach.

Cut Remediation Costs

Why spend substantial amounts on fixing a security breach when you can prevent it from happening in the first place? A penetration test will save you from the costly downtimes and repair charges that happen when unfriendly actors exploit vulnerabilities that you haven’t detected.

Strengthen Security

The information that’s generated from a pen test should enable you to strengthen your security policy and measures against threats.

Know Where the Greatest Risks Are

It’s one thing to know that there are risks. But it’s quite another to tell which one of those risks requires your urgent attention. With the detailed data you glean from penetration testing, you can rank your IT security threats and tackle the most pressing ones soon enough.

Keep Your Company’s Reputation in Tact     

The disruptions to service that arise from security problems may dent your company’s image. Customers who want prompt service will be disappointed by the slow response and pitch their tent elsewhere. By carrying out a penetration test regularly, you can keep this from happening to you.

Who Carries Out the Test?

Pen tests are carried out by cybersecurity firms at the request of their client businesses. There are at least two reasons why businesses typically don’t do it themselves.

First, it’s not usually the case that they possess the expertise to conduct the test.  They have to ask specialized firms to do this on their behalf. Also, the test should be done by someone without prior detailed knowledge of your security setup. This makes the test mirror an actual attack as closely as possible.           

The Steps Involved

These are the steps involved in penetration testing:

1. Planning

Decide the purpose and scope of the test. List the targets of the test and the methods and tools to be used. Information about how the target functions and its weak points also be will be supplied to the hacker. 

2. Scanning

The system or application is scanned when it is both static and in an active state. The former provides the tester with an idea of how the target operates. The latter shows how the target functions in real-time.

3. Uncover Vulnerabilities

Next, the tester launches an attack on the target system or application to reveal its weak points. It then attempts to manipulate the vulnerabilities it detects to see how much control it can wield over the target.

4. Retain Access

The aim here is to see how long the actor who has breached the system can maintain a presence, and how deeply the can penetrate the organization’s systems.

5. Analysis

A report on the penetration test is compiled. It contains information about the vulnerabilities identified and exploited, length of time in which the actor stayed undetected, and how much sensitive data they were able to access.

Testing Methods

•White Box Pen Test: The hacker is given some information about the company’s security before the test is conducted.

•Blind Pen Test:  Also called ‘Black Box Pen Test’. Here the hacker isn’t given any information about the company they will attack, besides its name.

•External Pen Test: The hacker attacks the company’s website, application, or other company technology that is ‘outward-facing’.   

•Internal Pen Test: This is performed inside the company’s network. It provides the target an insight into the extent of damage that an inside-actor (e.g., a disaffected employee) could cause.   

•Covert Pen Test: In this case, almost no one in the company knows that a pen test is ongoing. It’s done to replicate a real attack as closely as possible and test the company’s preparedness for such an occurrence.

How Frequently Should a Pen Test Be Conducted?

The standard frequency for pen tests is one year. However, the actual testing frequency may be determined based on these criteria:

Company size: The greater a business’s online presence, the more susceptible it is to cyber-attacks, and the more in need of regular pen testing it will be.

Budget: A company with a large budget will be able to carry out pen tests more frequently than one with a smaller budget.

Type of Infrastructure: If your infrastructure is on the cloud, your cloud service provider may take on the duty of carrying out pen tests on it.  

Conclusion

Penetration testing should be on your list of IT security measures. It lays bare the weaknesses in your current strategy and allows you to plug the gas before any breaches happen.

If you’re looking for an IT security firm to conduct a pen test on your systems and network, you’ll find a reliable partner in Layer3. Institutions in Nigeria’s private and public sector trust us to secure their IT infrastructure. And we have done so for the better part of 14 years. 

Get world-class protection for your IT systems and applications today. To speak with our consultants, click here

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