Friday 13 August 2021

How Businesses Can Utilise Penetration Testing

Understand your security vulnerabilities
Article by 
Beau Peters

The basic approaches like phishing simulations are good, but they tend to have limited reach. This is why more agile methods, penetration testing among them, have been getting increasing attention. In essence, this sees experts with a background in ethical hacking utilizing the techniques of cybercriminals to breach a business’ systems. This also receives a certain amount of hesitancy — business owners are often unsure about the idea of letting somebody hack their systems in the name of cybersecurity.

As always, there is more to this issue. So, let’s explore what penetration testing is, why businesses should engage with it and how they can do so to get the most impact.

What are the Benefits?
Penetration testing requires a significant amount of trust. Therefore, it’s important to look at what the payoffs of this approach are as opposed to ostensibly safer techniques.

Some of the key benefits include:
  • Ascertaining Vulnerabilities
Penetration testing tends to be the most direct and reliable approach to identifying what parts of a company’s systems are vulnerable to attack. In general, testers will go through each aspect of the network architecture, the website and software code, applications, and hardware to identify where weaknesses lie. This doesn’t just apply to external threats but internal issues, too.

These experts are also approaching their review of a business’ systems with the creative, outside-of-the-box thinking cybercriminals are likely to use. As such, companies benefit from perspectives not usually offered by in-house information technology staff. Once points of vulnerability have been identified, the tester will often provide information about what issues are the highest priority to handle based on the severity of the risk and the consequences. 
  • Maintaining Trust
Perhaps above all else, the benefit of penetration testing is the opportunity to maintain and strengthen trust between a business, its customers, and its supply chain. This is vital given the amount of consumer and partner data companies are gathering and storing. Security is particularly vital in cases when companies are undergoing data democratization — where important data is not just accessible to analysts and leadership but to all members of the organization.

This can be an empowering use of data, helping workers to understand how best to use and protect such information. However, alongside practical obstacles like deficient tools and siloed data, there is a need to prevent breaches. Penetration testing identifies where risks are throughout democratization practices, giving businesses the tools to strengthen their approaches. In turn, consumers and suppliers are assured their data is used to its best purpose and kept safe.

Understand the Needs
While penetration testing utilizes curious, creative ethical hackers, businesses shouldn’t be mistaken in thinking this means it’s a simple process. It requires technological experts who usually go through at least five stages of protocols — from planning the right approach for the goals of the test to analyzing the data they’ve received and compiling a detailed report. The testing methodologies, too, can vary depending on the circumstances. As such, to make the most out of the process, businesses need to have a clear idea of what their needs are.

Some of the common tests and the relevant needs they serve include:
  • Application Testing
Many brands are producing their own apps to improve customer engagement. However, consistent data security can be difficult to achieve, particularly when working across multiple operating systems. Application penetration testing is used to spot flaws in the current security systems, as well as how they interact with user’s devices and represent vulnerabilities to consumers.
  • Physical Testing
Businesses often think cybersecurity attacks will originate remotely. But when a company keeps its servers and equipment on-site, there is potential for criminals to break into the premises and cause a breach. Hacks may even come from staff. Physical penetration testing should, therefore, be sought to understand whether the equipment is vulnerable to the types of tools and methods in-person hackers may use.
  • Wireless Testing
Businesses are increasingly utilizing wireless tools for integral parts of operations. This includes capturing sensitive data, through contactless payment machines or sensors on devices in the Internet of Things (IoT) that track and control the supply chain. Wireless penetration testing can be used to understand how easy it is to illicitly collect data or even disrupt operations through the connected ecosystem. They’ll also confirm where stricter measures need to be in place to prevent access.

Finding the Right Expert
Having established what pen testing is and how it can fit in with a business, how can companies find the right people for the job? After all, one of the key concerns companies have in this area is that they are essentially hiring hackers — there’s a lot of social and legal baggage accompanying this activity.

When bringing on a consultant or hiring an in-house tester, the best approach is to look for relevant certification. Some of the most recognized examples here include the Certified Ethical Hacker licenses issued by the International Council of E-Commerce Consultants (EC-Council), and the Certified Penetration Tester course offered by the Information Assurance Certification Review Board (IACRB). Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) also provides various specialized qualifications that are considered to be reliable. These courses are designed to provide knowledge not just about the technical skills to positively impact a business, but also the ethical standards to help make sure testers are staying on the right moral and legal track throughout their activities.

Penetration testing is an agile tool offering various benefits for businesses, including maintaining trust and highlighting points of vulnerability. However, it’s important to remember that getting the most out of the process requires clarity on the company’s challenges and goals for testing, alongside sourcing the relevant certified tester to collaborate with.