Unsanctioned access to organizational digital assets can jeopardize the growth opportunities and hamper brand reputation. Such illicit entry into the system is only possible through hidden vulnerabilities and/or loopholes. Every new update, every new partner and every new plugin leaves behind a route, hackers can follow to acquire uncertified access.
The increased number of attacks have pushed businesses to reconsider their commitment to data security. Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing have emerged as the one-stop-shop for finding faults and fixing them before it is traversed by hackers. While Vulnerability Assessment is time-consuming, has limited action and costs more, Penetration Testing helps businesses get to the base of vulnerabilities by exploiting them to the fullest.
What is Penetration Testing?
Penetration Testing, commonly known as Pen Test or PT or Ethical Hacking is a systematic process aimed to identify vulnerabilities or loopholes in the organization’s computer systems, applications, and network that an attacker could exploit in other ways simulating an attack against organizational digital assets. Penetration Testing not only highlights vulnerabilities but also puts under limelight compliance failures, if any.
Penetration Testing is often confused with Vulnerability Assessment as the two phrases are commonly interchanged. Penetration Testing and Vulnerability Assessment are generally offered as a package but both serve unique purposes.
The aim of Vulnerability Assessment is limited to identify and report vulnerabilities, whereas Penetration Testing attempts to exploit the vulnerabilities to determine the level of risk exposure and corresponding impact to the organization. Vulnerabilities can exist anywhere, in the operating system, applications, misconfigured programs also with end-user.
Penetration testing is an event where web applications and computer networks are scanned for vulnerabilities. By discovering and removing these vulnerabilities organizations can ensure that there’s no loophole for hackers to exploit.
What is the goal of Pen Testing?
Initially, organizations conducted Pen Testing to discover vulnerabilities but with new compliances being introduced regularly, Pen Testing doubles as a check against compliance failure. The primary objective of the Pen Test is to discourse vulnerabilities that could be exploited by a nefarious actor and to complement the requirements of applicable compliance and standards.
Compliances like GDPR & PCI DSS are concerned with the data security of clients and /or customers, which is a critical element for an organization’s reputation. With Penetration Testing, businesses can now receive updates related to compliance failures.
What are the drivers for Pen Test?
The main drivers for penetration testing include
The emergent requirement for compliance: Earlier European Union introduced GDPR and now California is implementing CCPA, the growing demands of being compliant coaxes businesses to conduct penetration testing from time to time.
Impacts of cyber-attack on similar organizations: Credential Stuffing is a kind of attack that uses the same login credentials on varied platforms trying to acquire unauthorized access to user’s data. Similarly, businesses tend to run pen testing when a corporation from their industry is under attack to ensure no credential stuffing type attack occurs.
The study suggests changes for process improvement: Technological advancements have turned a lot of popular systems obsolete but organizations continue to use decrepitude systems to save money. Vulnerability Assessments highlight such systems and networks, which pushes corporations for pen-testing.
The major change to business applications or IT infrastructure: New API integration or migration from one platform to another leaves footprints, which are often followed by hackers. Conducting Penetration Testing is a must after revamping the infrastructure.
Changes in the perceived threat: If any changes in the nature of the attack are registered then the organization should immediately conduct penetration testing and safeguard themselves against upcoming attacks.
Predict future attacks and alert the network administrator: While Penetration Testing safeguards businesses from attack by exploiting the existing vulnerabilities to the fullest, it can also be used as a tool to predict future attacks or raise awareness cyber-attacks.
Some other benefits of conducting Penetration Testing are:
- It helps test your security arrangements and identify improvements.
- It helps to reduce your IT costs over the long term.
- Gives a significant level of confidence in the security of your IT environments to all stakeholders.
- It can highlight lapses in the company’s security policy.
- Shifts the organization’s focus from defending to protecting mindset.
- It offers an attacker view of cyber asset’s security.
- Sanitizes system against vulnerabilities brought-in by external entities.
Also Read: The Definitive Guide to PCI DSS Compliance
How often Pen Testing should be done?
For modern businesses, cybersecurity issues are all too obvious. The cost of a cyberattack can be high enough to put a company out of business. A study by National Cyber Security Alliance revealed “60% of businesses that are hacked go out of business within 6 months”. While the Online Trust Alliance report estimated the number of cyberattacks on businesses more than doubled from 2016 to 2017, the official figures might just be the tip of the iceberg. The report concluded that it’s likely that over 350,000 cyber incidents took place in 2017 – with many attacks going undetected or unreported.
The organization may experience some level of cybercrime at some point, so it’s better to be prepared for any upshot.
The cost of an attack can be devastating, On March 22nd and 23rd, 2019, the servers of a third-party cloud computing company contracted for use by Capital One was compromised, the breach affects about 140,000 Social Security numbers of potential Capital One credit card customers and about 80,000 linked bank account numbers of secured credit card customers.
Organizations that use cyber assets only to manage their day to day operation can rely on a routine check but corporations that collect and harvest user data needs to acquire a robust approach.
Pen Test is not a one-time activity, the frequency of testing is induced by the criticality of the target. Often, organizations do not want to take pain for getting Pen Test done until and unless a breach occurs, some only get it done once to meet regulations while Pen Test should be an incessant endeavor.
Types of Penetration Testing
External Penetration Testing: Intended for assessing the security posture of perimeter defense and identification and exploitation of vulnerabilities on systems, services and applications exposed to the internet.
Internal Penetration Testing: Intended for assessing the security posture of internal/private networks, hosts and services. This test simulates the actions of a hacker if access has been gained to a network or of a malicious actor, or disgruntled employee.
Web Application Penetration Testing: Intended to assess any security issue that might have arisen as a result of insecure development, design or coding and to identify potential vulnerabilities in web applications.
Mobile Application Penetration Testing: Intended to assess any security issue in mobile apps and of the backend services that support them.
Wireless Infra Penetration Testing: Intended to assess any security issue in the wireless infrastructure. Although wireless network brings convenience and mobility but with convenience comes additional risks and can provide opportunities for attackers to infiltrate an organization’s secure environment.
Cloud Penetration Testing: Intended to assess any security issue with Cloud-based applications, services, and infrastructure.
Which one is better -Pen Test in a Production or Pre-Production Environment?
The advantage of conducting a Pen Test in a production environment is that you get actual results. The only downside to the above on the production environment is that it may interfere with normal operations. To overcome the potential problem the test should be conducted in a dedicated environment that is identical to the production environment. This approach will get the value of a true simulation without any risk to the live environment and is not all that different from performing it in the production environment.
Life Cycle of a Penetration Test
Phase 1: Reconnaissance
Reconnaissance is also known as “Foot-Printing”. The intent of this phase is to gather data or intelligence on the target in order for the selection of a suitable attack vector. This phase also assists in uncovering surface-level vulnerabilities. Commonly used reconnaissance methods include
- Search engine queries to gather data about the target system and/or technology
- DNS searches, WHOIS lookups, and reverse DNS
- Internet foot-printing looking for email addresses, social accounts, names, positions
- Dumpster diving to find valuable data that may be used for attacks or social engineering
Phase 2: Threat Modeling and Vulnerability Identification
Information gathered during phase 1 is used to identify targets and select attack vectors. This phase also utilizes automated tools and manual tests for identifying the vulnerabilities of the target system.
Phase 3: Exploitation
The phase is focused on establishing access to a system or resource by bypassing security restrictions. Post the identification of all possible vulnerabilities and entry points, the SME carries out the vulnerability’s exploit to ascertain if the vulnerability is truly exploitable. The SME tries and exploits the vulnerabilities, typically by escalating privileges, intercepting traffic, modifying input parameters, etc., to understand the damage the vulnerability can cause. Exploitation may include but is not limited to DDOS, buffer overflow, SQL injection, OS commanding, cross-site scripting and more.
Phase 4: Reporting
This phase involves documenting prioritized findings along with supporting artifacts and recommendations. The report is structured into different sections in order to communicate the objectives, methods, and results of the tests conducted. The results of the penetration test are compiled into a report detailing:
- Vectors, Tools, and Steps used
- Specific vulnerabilities that were exploited
- Sensitive data that was accessed
- Level of risk that each vulnerability exposes the organization or system
- A comprehensive listing of other critical vulnerabilities detected
- Recommendations for mitigation
The technological landscape is changing on a daily basis. Hackers are scanning millions of sites regularly for unauthorized access. If your guards are down, you will pay a hefty price. By putting your system through the requisite scans and checks, you can ensure that there’s no hidden route through which hackers can enter and bring your business down.
Penetration Testing serves as the best option for both large scale and small scale businesses. It is affordable, can be customized and offers a ton lot of functionality checks. Penetration Testing can be performed at different levels ensuring all processes are safe, compliant and functioning efficiently.