Imagine a hacker launches a phishing attack, gains access to your site through a vulnerability you never knew existed, and makes off with your most sensitive customer data. You think, “How could I have prevented this?”
This scenario is a common one for thousands of businesses across the U.S. Often, sites have significant vulnerabilities that go undetected until after the damage is done. So, how can you identify weak spots before a devastating attack?
The answer is penetration testing. While many business owners have heard of penetration testing, it can be challenging to know how often full penetration testing should be performed. In this article, we’re covering the answer to that question and many more. We’ll look at what pen testing is, why it matters, the most common types, and when your business should conduct tests to get the best results.
What is full penetration testing?
A full penetration test is a comprehensive audit of all potential entry points of a business’s connected systems. Penetration testing, or ethical hacking, operates on a simple concept: simulating a hacker’s attacks to probe for security vulnerabilities and site weaknesses before a malicious actor exploits them. Sometimes, the tester looks for issues in a specific website area, such as a domain or email server. Other times, penetration testing covers a wide access area, from website portals to internal systems.
Why is penetration testing required?
The goal of penetration testing is to identify and report security issues through a simulated attack so a company can fix any problems before an attack occurs.
Penetration testing is essential because it prepares your company for a cyberattack. It helps you identify and fix vulnerabilities, understand your weakest areas, and aids your developers in building a more secure site.
First, testing helps you find any extensive vulnerabilities you need to fix. This would include significant coding errors, backdoor entry points, or weak passwords and security measures. With pen testing, you can quickly find and fix these dangerous issues.
Secondly, pen testing helps you understand your weakest areas. Not all vulnerabilities can be completely fixed, and these areas might be more attractive to hackers seeking an entry point. Pen testing will help you find these areas and stay vigilant, keeping them as secure as possible and checking them regularly.
Finally, pen testing helps your developers. When they know the weaknesses in the current design and better understand what attracts hackers, they’re more prepared to build secure sites and updates in the future.
What are the 3 types of penetration testing?
Not all pen tests are exactly alike. There are three common types of testing, based on the level of information you give the tester beforehand. All three levels can be helpful for your business—sometimes you might want to only run one, while other times you might want to test at all three levels to collect as much information as you can. Below are the three common types of testing.
At this level of testing, you’re simulating an attack from the average hacker on the web. You won’t give your tester any coding details or internal information beyond what they could discover online, meaning that they’re going in blind.
With this limited information, the hacker will search for security vulnerabilities, bugs, and other issues in your outward-facing systems. This sort of test is usually relatively quick to run, as the tester is working without insider knowledge and is only probing certain aspects of your system. The main drawback to this testing method is that it relies entirely on the tester’s ability to get inside on that initial attack, meaning that further internal vulnerabilities may remain undetected.
If black-box testing is the equivalent of going in blind, gray-box testing will send in someone who’s nearsighted. In the next stage of pen testing, you’ll give the ethical hacker information and access that the average user would have, such as employee login credentials or special access to certain aspects of the system.
This level of testing can better simulate a hack from someone with inside access, whether through a fraudulent employee or passwords stolen in a phishing attack. With this information, the pentester can focus from the start on the weakest internal areas rather than spending time just trying to get through the perimeter.
To give your pentester perfect 20/20 vision, you’ll want to use white-box testing. The tester is given access to all the system information they could ever want at this level—source code, system architecture, access points, and any other site developer information.
White-box testers can get incredibly specific with all this information, finding even minor weaknesses. However, with so much data to sort through, it’s no wonder that white-box testing is the most time-consuming method of the three. If you want the detailed insights of white-box testing, you’ll need to prepare for a long process.
How often should penetration testing be done?
Industry experts recommend conducting some form of pen testing at least once a year. However, if you’re planning to run multiple levels of testing, consider performing some tests more frequently than others.
Because black-box testing is the quickest and most efficient method, you might want to run that test twice a year. In contrast, the extreme and detail-oriented approach of white-box testing might only be advisable once every two years.
Ultimately, the intervals of your testing will depend on the size and security of your site, the amount of time you have for testing, and the frequency of your system and site updates.
No business owner should be left after a devastating security attack, saying “I wish I’d known” about the vulnerability that caused it. Penetration testing helps identify weaknesses and stop attacks before a real hacker gets in, making your site more secure and your business safer.
How often should full penetration testing be performed? As often as possible, but at least once a year—don’t rely on a test from five years ago to keep you safe from hackers today! Instead, choose a trusted, certified cyber security partner like Expedient Technology Solutions to help your business stay safe from dangerous online actors.
Hackers aren’t going away—but with penetration testing, your vigilance can ensure that they don’t get far on your site.
If your business has questions penetration testing, please contact us and we’ll be more than happy to provide you with answers and walk you through the process.