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Penetration Testing – A Quick Guide

The wide accessibility of the internet across the globe has made it easier for hackers to intervene in your organization’s system unethically and compromise your security controls. According to Accenture, security breaches have increased by 11 percent since 2018 and 67 percent since 2014.

One of the notable cyberattacks that happened recently is the “ Saudi Aramco Data Breach,” where sensitive data on employees and technical specifications of the organization was exposed. The threat group responsible for this attack, ZeroX, posted the information for sale online for a massive price of $50 million. Currently, little else is known about whether Saudi Aramco has paid the ransom or not.

But that brings us to the gaping question—what can organizations do to prevent data breaches and cyberattacks?

To remain safe and sustainable while being competitive, it is essential your organization leverage a comprehensive approach to fool-proofing its systems. While several standardized security methods are available in the market today, a specialized technique of high importance is penetration testing.

What is Penetration Testing?

An attacker can easily disrupt or take authorized access to a system that isn’t secured. Security risks are usually accidental errors that occur during the development and implementation of software. For instance, design errors, configuration errors, software bugs, etc.

A type of security testing, penetration testing, is comprehensively performed on an organization’s functional software and hardware to test its insecurity. In simple words, this technique helps identify security risks or weak points of a system that a hacker might be able to exploit. Alongside minimizing the risk of compromise to a system, penetration testing also analyzes the system’s configuration by validating checks on software and hardware.

Penetration testing is also sometimes referred to as ethical hacking. It can be performed manually as well as through automation.

Types of Penetration Testing

Typically, the type of penetration testing you should leverage will vary based on the organizational requirements and unique scenarios. Nonetheless, the three important types of penetration testing are:

Black Box Penetration Testing

Black box penetration testing involves probing for vulnerabilities the same way a hacker would. This method involves a tester who isn’t aware of the system he is going to test. His primary aim is to collect information about the target system or network.

Perhaps the most significant advantage of black-box penetration testing is that it is more similar to what a criminal would do. The tester verifies the inconsistencies in the existing system, and tests are generally conducted from a user's perspective. Getting information about the system being probed is a key challenge when using this method.

White Box Penetration Testing

White box penetration testing is more comprehensive. It can be thought of as a stimulation attack conducted by an internal source. Here, security testing is performed with access to a whole range of information about the system/ network, such as source code, schema, OS details, IP addresses, and more.

Compared to the black box strategy, white box penetration testing makes it easier to find vulnerabilities as the tester can browse through the system and see how everything fits together. For instance, if the tester knows what software is running, they can design their attacks accordingly.

Nonetheless, the white box penetration strategy fails to indicate the vulnerabilities a real hacker would be more likely to find in your organization’s system.

Grey Box Penetration Testing

Lastly, grey box penetration testing is where a tester is offered partial or limited information about a program or system’s internal details. Now, this type of penetration testing can be considered an attack by an external hacker who gained illegal access to your organization’s network infrastructure documents.

Grey box penetration testing is advantageous because it is non-intrusive and unbiased—the tester doesn’t need access to source code. Nonetheless, there is a clear difference between a tester and a developer. So, there only exists a low risk of personal conflict. Unlike white box penetration testing, you don’t have to offer internal information about a system’s functions and other operations.

When to Perform Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing is a crucial feature that should be performed regularly to secure the functioning of a system. You should ideally employ penetration testing whenever:

The security system discovers a new threat by attackers

You relocate your office

You add a new network infrastructure

You set up a new end-user policy/program

You update your system or install new software

How is Penetration Testing Beneficial?

Penetration testing essentially analyzes a system’s ability to secure its applications, networks, endpoints, and users from both internal and external threats. Additionally, it also protects the security controls and ensures authorized access. Penetration testing is crucial for your organization due to the following benefits it offers.

  • It offers detailed information about security threats and categorizes the degree of vulnerabilities. Hence, you can manage your security system accurately by allocating security resources accordingly.
  • Penetration testing keeps your organization’s major activities compliant with the auditing system so you can avoid paying hefty fines.
  • A simple security breach can result in damages worth millions of dollars. Penetration testing keeps your organization protected from such damages.
  • Alongside financial damage, breach of customers’ data can lead to reputation damage. Performing regular penetration testing can protect organizations that deal with customers by keeping customer data intact.

Final Thoughts

It is alarming to learn that only 16 percent of organizations are well prepared to deal with cyber risks.

With the digital landscape evolving dynamically, the need for security is the greatest it has ever been. Fortunately, awareness of issues that revolve around web security and security, in general, has grown.

Penetration testing is a significant part of security. While it is a challenging field, it is fascinating to study and highly beneficial for organizations.

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