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What is Penetration Testing? How Does It Improve Security Posture?

Penetration testing (also known as pen-testing) is an ethical hacking technique in which authorized cybersecurity experts attempt to breach the defenses of an enterprise, then records and reports the discovered system vulnerabilities to the enterprise’s management. In many cases, mitigation measures are offered to patch the discovered vulnerabilities. They are an aggressive supplement that replaces passive and reactionary security measures that organizations deploy.

These measures include setting up detection systems, password audits, and security event monitoring. Pen-tests provide tangible and actionable feedback about an organization’s risk measurement and mitigation posture.

Improving Security Posture Using Penetration Testing

For good reason, most organizations are often skeptical about the credibility of penetration tests that are performed by external parties. Therefore, they resort to assigning pen-testing projects to their internal security teams instead. Unfortunately, even the best-equipped IT team may lack the neutrality to detect internal security flaws, thus leaving the organization exposed to threat actors – especially insider threats.

Therefore, having competent third-parties handle the pen-testing procedure benefits an organization in the following ways:

  • Determining the actual security posture of current defense mechanisms, as well as probing the response levels of the security controls that are already in place.
  • Demonstration of how low-risk vulnerabilities can get exploited to cause more significant damage to critical information systems.
  • The use of intelligent automation tools to proactively scan applications systems and corporate networks, to locate hard-to-find vulnerabilities that could impact an organization’s ability to respond to exploits.
  • Capability to assess and quantify the likelihood and impact of a potential cyber-attacks on business operations.
  • Assuring realignment of enterprise computing environments with industry requirements from regulatory compliance frameworks.
  • Provides a cyber cost benefit analysis (CBA) forum to measure the need to invest in more advanced security personnel and/or technologies.

What To Expect In An Effective Pen-Testing Solution

An effective pen-testing solution provides actionable information about the existing and emerging threats, vulnerabilities, and risks, while recommending the cost-effective solution to maintain sustainable resilience.

Additionally, an effective pen-testing solution functions based on a proactive approach to incident response and mitigation, meaning that solutions for further threats and vulnerabilities are often provided to deliver insights for business decision making. Below are three key items to look out for when considering a pen-testing solution:

  • External Penetration Testing: this security assessment approach in pen-testing is performed from outside the business environment, without preliminary knowledge about the systems. This is also referred to as “red teaming.”
  • Internal Penetration Testing: this test is performed by the security teams within an organization – also known as, “blue teaming.” A security assessment simulates an internal attack with limited access to the systems and attempts to uncover security vulnerabilities.
  • Social Engineering Testing: this technique assesses the security awareness posture of internal staff and vendors, based on their best practice knowledge as well as response measures when faced with suspicious assets, including poisoned email attachments, phishing lures, and other social engineering tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs).

Final Words

A robust penetration testing service provider goes beyond merely stopping cybercriminals from maliciously accessing organizational systems. They consist of a team of highly skilled experts, creating real-world situations to test and probe an organization’s current defenses in the face of a cyber-attack.

Traditionally, breaching a corporate network requires ample skill and patience. However, sophisticated technologies today make it much easier for malicious actors to find security gaps within seconds of probing. Therefore, penetration testing helps organizations to discover their weakest points before a malicious actor does. This proactive approach to security resilience is key to strengthening the security posture of any organization.