Penetration Testing: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Cyber crimes are at an all-time high. Did you know that just this year alone, cybercrime has totaled $6 trillion in damages?

Cyber crimes can happen to any business and at any time. No business is safe, and larger businesses are also larger targets.

While falling victim to a cyberattack is a possibility, it doesn't have to be a guarantee. With the proper precautions in place, these attacks can be mitigated or halted altogether. One of the best tools for protection against cybercrime is penetration testing.

Read on to learn more about penetration testing and how it can protect you and your business or organization.

So, What Exactly is Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing, sometimes referred to simply as "pen testing," is a process of identifying and testing vulnerabilities in a computer network. These vulnerabilities are points of attack for hackers and malicious users. Pen tests can be carried out on network applications, web applications, and IP addresses.

Cybersecurity firms and ethical hackers use pen tests to improve the security of a network.

How Does Pen Testing Work?

Penetration testing is a multi-step process that evaluates multiple parts of an information network. Let's take a look at each phase of the process in detail.

Preparatory Planning and Scope

First, a preparation plan must be set. This plan defines the goals and expectations to be met for a penetration test.

How complex is the evaluation going to be? How much of the computer system should be tested? All of the questions and more are proposed when devising a penetration test plan.

Discovery Phase

Once a plan is set, asset discovery is next. In this phase, pen testing providers collect information on the vulnerable assets in a computer system. This includes IP addresses, email domains, and device information.

All of the information collected is used to test a computer system's firewall for vulnerabilities.

Exploitation/Testing

With all of the knowledge about a computer system they could need, pen testers are now able to attack a system's vulnerabilities. They simulate real-world attacks and perform manual scanning tests to find any additional vulnerabilities they may have missed.

After-Action Analysis and Reporting

Once the attack phase is over, an after-action analysis report gets generated. This report goes over every detail of the attack, including the strengths and weaknesses of a computer system. Reporting is the most important part of the penetration testing process because it reveals exactly what needs to be improved on an information network.

Retesting

While optional, retesting is an essential part of penetration testing. Retesting can validate both the strengths and weaknesses of a network and may also reveal new, previously unseen weaknesses.

The landscape of cyber security is always changing. New threats emerge daily, and hackers are finding more creative ways to breach security systems. For these reasons, it's important to test your computer systems multiple times throughout their lifecycle.

The Different Modes of Penetration Testing

There are several different modes of penetration testing that can get done. Let's take a look at some of them in detail.

Internal Network Penetration Testing

A network can get penetration tested internally or externally.

Internal pen tests look for threats that come from inside a company's network. The biggest threat from the inside of a company's network is its employees. Employees, malicious or not, are big potential threats because of their reckless behavior.

For example, in 2016 Snapchat issued a public apology over a data leak that exposed the personal financial information of 700 of its employees. The cause of the data leak was revealed to be an employee who was tricked into directly emailing all of the information to a hacker.

External Network Penetration Testing

External penetration tests gauge the strength of the perimeter of a computer system. A computer system's perimeter is all of its devices and systems connected and exposed to the internet. This includes things like web and mail servers.

One way of external penetration testing is black box testing. Black box pen testing evaluates a computer system as is, with no prior information just like a real hacker would. This is the most accurate way of assessing the security of a computer system.

Web Penetration Testing

Web penetration testing evaluates the vulnerability of all web-based applications in a business's IT infrastructure. Web applications can house important information, including internal business data and confidential client data. It's important to keep this data safeguarded at all times because losing it could have dire financial consequences for a business.

Wireless/Mobile Penetration Testing

Wireless and mobile end-points are another major security liability. Smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other IoT devices are all part of wireless penetration testing. These devices are in constant communication with each other, sharing data and information on a daily basis.

If a hacker is able to compromise even just one device on an information network, they can compromise every device.

Social Engineering

Hackers use social engineering and other forms of manipulation to gain access to information networks. They most often use tactics like phishing, which involves the use of fraudulent emails to steal important personal information.

The Value of Penetration Testing

Penetration tests are just one part of a business's comprehensive cybersecurity schemes. Their importance, however, cannot be understated.

Some industries stand to benefit substantially from adding penetration testing to their cybersecurity toolkit. Let's take a look at two of those industries.

Healthcare Networks

Much of what keeps patients alive in healthcare and hospital networks relies on information technology. Heart pumps, dialysis machines, and oxygen machines all rely on internet-connected technology to function properly. Should a hacker gain control over these devices, there's no telling the kind of damage that could be done.

Hackers would have complete control over who lives or dies in a network. They could hold patients hostage for ransom, or specifically target public figures in a hospital network.

These possibilities are more than theory. In 2020, a German hospital was held hostage by ransomware, which lead to the tragic death of a woman in critical care. Penetration tests can prevent disasters like this from ever occurring.

Supply Chain Networks

Supply chain networks are also heavily reliant on information technology. The devices that track precious cargo and goods made in manufacturing plants are connected to the internet. Hackers or malicious users who gain access to these end-point devices could put entire supply chains at risk.

In July 2021, Enterprise IT company Kaseya was struck by a major ransomware attack. The attack exploited a vulnerability in the company's VSA software, infecting servers worldwide with malware.

Kaseya is a major supplier in the digital supply chain and this attack affected at least 1,000 other businesses in Kaseya's network. The hackers, known as the collective REvil, demanded $70 million in Bitcoin as their ransom. Kaseya responded by immediately shutting down servers and releasing a patch just days later.

The real cause for this attack? A failure to address security concerns. With a proper security protocol in place, including a comprehensive penetration test, this entire disaster could have been averted.

How Much Does Penetration Testing Cost?

The cost of penetration testing can vary. Comprehensive penetration tests for large companies can cost well over $100,000. For smaller companies and businesses, the average cost can be about $10,000. There are several factors that affect the cost, so let's take a look at the most important factors.

Target Type

Not all devices on an information network are equal, and the same goes for the cost to penetrate them. Websites, web applications, and mobile and cloud apps cost significantly more to evaluate than physical hardware. Even SaaS software products come with a high cost.

Penetration Methodology

While the outline of how penetration tests are performed is generally the same, each company has its own way of going about testing. One provider may use their own proprietary software tools, while another may use generic free software tools.

Company/Organization Size

The bigger your company or organization, the more it will cost to perform a penetration test. Large companies come with more assets, which means more network liabilities that must be evaluated.

The Bottom Line on Penetration Testing

The security of your company's information network must be safeguarded at all costs. A breach or any sort of compromise to your network is simply unaffordable. Penetration testing will tell you everything you need to know about the strength and security of your company's information network.

Interested in penetrating testing services for your company or organization? Look no further, NETdepot has you covered. Contact us today to get started!

Interested?

Fill out this contact form.