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A Guide to Penetration Testing and How it Works

by Prowl Cyber Security Thursday, April 30, 2020

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A Guide to Penetration Testing and How it Works

  Small businesses are a favorite target of cybercriminals, according to a recent report by Accenture. It showed that over 43% of attacks are directed toward small to medium enterprises, and they’re often unprepared. A 2019 study by Keeper Security found about 6 in 10 organizations don’t have a defense plan against digital threats. Unpreparedness comes with a heavy price, as cyberattacks cost companies about $200,000. Some 60% of businesses close down within six months of an attack. Simple security measures, like installing a free anti-virus or using VPNs for remote workers, may help protect your business data, but they can only deal with small-time attacks. Plus, serious threats often come from unnoticed vulnerabilities in your company’s network. Common types of vulnerabilities include:
  • Weak Firewalls – Your network or employee computers may have weak rulesets or policies that attackers may easily bypass. When this happens, hackers easily steal and access your data.
  • Injection Flaws – This happens when a hacker uses your company’s applications against you. Some programs may have flaws that allow attackers to inject malicious code that allow them to access your important databases.
  • Unintended Malware Downloads – Malicious software can penetrate your employees’ computers and gain access to important data. It can accidentally be downloaded through deceptive links or email attachments that workers may click on.
Identify and get rid of these security flaws from your system through penetration testing.

What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing involves simulating a cyber attack to find vulnerabilities in your business’s network, computers, web applications, and websites. This process can be done through software that automates attacks or through manual methods by a cybersecurity professional. Penetration testing helps your IT or cybersecurity team come up with strategies that patch up the probable flaws in your system. It should be done once every year to ensure your important business data is safe and secure.

How Does Penetration Testing Work?

There are many complex processes in penetration testing or “pen testing.” But they can be broken down into five steps.
  1. Planning the Attack – During this stage, the cybersecurity professionals you hire will investigate every part of your network and IT infrastructure. They’ll understand how it operates daily and detects potential vulnerabilities to attack. They’ll also determine the limitations and objectives of each test.
  1. Inspection – This involves testing how your system will respond to breaching attempts. Cybersecurity experts will review how your applications’ code behaves while it’s running. This gives them the chance to see flaws in your programs and exploit them.
  1. Intrusion – Once the hackers have figured out which lines of code to exploit, they’ll move on to gaining access to your system. They’ll use a combination of techniques, like backdoors and injections, to find even more vulnerabilities. They’ll exploit these flaws to gain copies of your data, overwhelm your servers, or intercept sensitive files your employees send on their work computers.
  1. Maintain Control – In this stage, cybersecurity experts will determine if they can continue exploiting the vulnerabilities they found in their clients’ systems. The goal here is to emulate real-life attacks that stay undetected for a long time. The longer the threat is in the system, the higher the possibility of attackers stealing your company’s most important business data.
  2. Analysis and Reporting – After the pen test, the cybersecurity firm will process and present their findings to you. Expect them to detail how fast they found the exploits. They’ll lay out the number of vulnerabilities they found and what they are. They may also present the sensitive information they accessed.

What are the Different Methods of Penetration Testing?

Your cybersecurity team may also use a combination of methods when infiltrating your system.
  • Internal Attack – This method involves simulating an attack on your system from within its firewall. This can simulate malware that employees may have downloaded from social engineering attacks like phishing emails or ads.
  • Double-Blind Attack – In this scenario, your company’s IT or cybersecurity team won’t have any information about when a simulated attack will strike. This is meant to imitate real-world situations where your company may not have enough time to prepare for a breach.

What are the Benefits of Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing is an essential process that keeps your IT infrastructure updated with the latest and best practices. Here are its specific benefits.
  • Threat Mitigation – Penetration testing allows you to identify and list potential security flaws in your system and create strategies to fix them before hackers exploit them.
  • Industry Compliance – Industry regulations, such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), all require strict implementation and auditing of your company’s cybersecurity efforts. Penetration test reports, along with your regular network audits provide you with enough information for compliance.
  • Less Downtime – Although you may experience some disruption because of simulated attacks, they allow you to watch for and deal with real ones as soon as possible. This way, your employees and customers experience less downtime when using your applications and website.
Cybersecurity threats continue to evolve, and more and more SMBs fall victim to them. As such, it’s wise to mitigate them through proper penetration testing. It may be an extra expense for your company in terms of time and money, but its benefits far outweigh the cost, as a single attack can bring down a small enterprise or startup.

Get Professional Vulnerability Assessments

Cyber attacks don’t just come in the form of a simple virus. They’re complex enough to infiltrate your system through its smallest vulnerabilities. Don’t get blindsided. Let Prowl Security run a vulnerability assessment on your  IT infrastructure. We’ll do comprehensive trials like penetration tests to find security flaws in your system and recommend the best way to fix them. We also offer monitoring and threat mitigation services like SIEM, anti-DDoS, and cloud security. Email our team today for a free quote.