The past year has been record breaking for data breaches, cyberattacks, and phishing scams—and there’s no sign of that momentum slowing anytime soon. With this rapid rise in cyber threats, it’s crucial to ensure your organization’s systems and applications are secure by continually testing and improving security measures. In this post, we’ll talk about one vital component of any organization’s cyber security program—penetration testing. First, let’s dive into why penetration testing is so critical.
Cyberattacks Increasing in 2023
In the first few months of 2023, we’ve already seen some major data breaches wreaking havoc on notable tech companies, including:
- Activision — In February, the makers of Call of Duty suffered a phishing attack that enabled hackers to gain access to sensitive employee data.
- Atlassian — Hacker group “SiegedSec” infiltrated Atlassian’s network to gain access to employee information including names, departments, email addresses and other information related to their employment.
- Reddit — Social media platform Reddit had employee and advertiser information stolen after a hacker gained access by obtaining a single employee’s credentials.
- T-Mobile — After a seriously costly data breach in 2022, T-Mobile has fallen victim to yet another scheme, leaking the data of over 37 million customers to hackers. The company has pledged to spend $150 million to update their cybersecurity posture.
These examples go to show that even the largest companies with mega budgets are still susceptible to a data breach. But if you’re thinking your organization won’t be targeted because it’s smaller and less publicized, think again. Cybercriminals do not discriminate when it comes to what or who they’ll target. In fact, Barracuda has found that an average employee of a small business with a staff smaller than 100 will experience 350% more social engineering attacks than an employee at a large enterprise. This is why IX recommends that all organizations, regardless of size or industry, incorporate regular penetration testing into their security programs.
What is Penetration Testing?
Penetration testing, also known as “pen testing,” is a method of testing the security of an application or system by simulating a cyber attack. During a pen test, IT security professionals commonly referred to as “white hats” or “ethical hackers” aim to identify vulnerabilities that could be exploited by attackers, and then provide recommendations for improving security measures.
The Four Steps in a Penetration Test
Typically, pen tests can be broken down into the following four steps—
- Planning and scoping — This includes defining the scope of the test, identifying the assets to be tested, and determining the testing methodology.
- Reconnaissance — This is where the tester collects information about the system, such as IP addresses, open ports, and network topology. This information is then used to identify potential vulnerabilities and attack vectors.
- Exploitation — This is where the tester attempts to exploit the identified vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access to the system. This is done by using various techniques, such as social engineering, phishing, or exploiting software vulnerabilities. Once access has been gained, the tester tries to escalate their privileges and move laterally through the system to gain access to sensitive data or control critical systems.
- Reporting — Here, the tester provides a detailed report of their findings and recommendations for improving security. The report typically includes a description of the vulnerabilities found, the severity of each vulnerability, and recommendations for fixing them.
Penetration testing can be done manually or with the help of automated tools. While automated tools can help to speed up the testing process, the expertise of a skilled pen tester can’t be replaced as they’ll have a solid understanding of networking, operating systems, and complex security concepts.
How Often to Conduct a Penetration Test
Depending who you ask, the answer may vary. In our expert opinion, penetration testing should be conducted regularly—ideally every six months or after significant changes to your network or systems. While this may seem excessive, threats and vulnerabilities are constantly changing, and it's essential to keep up with the latest attack techniques to ensure that your security measures are up to date.
Mirza Asrar Baig, Founder and CEO of cloud security platform CTM360, suggests, “the more effective strategy for an environment that experiences rapid changes to production systems would be to run pentests more often — on a monthly or daily basis.” While this could be costly, he recommends an approach where more frequent automated testing is combined with periodic manual testing—minimizing costs while also ensuring all bases are covered.
Is Your Security in Good Standing?
Don’t leave it to guesswork. Instead, stay steps ahead of cybercriminals with a proactive approach to cybersecurity and threat mitigation. With enterprise-grade security solutions and managed services, IX Solutions is here to help you optimize your security posture and shield your business from malicious attacks. Ready to get started?