Penetration testing is fundamental to maintaining a strong security posture. It helps uncover weaknesses in your network security that you might otherwise have missed. It’s also required for regulatory compliance in many industries. But what exactly does a proper penetration test look like? How is it used for maximum effect?
If you’ve never carried out a penetration test, you cannot say your network is secure.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve spent a mint on cybersecurity solutions. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got the perfect security training program for your employees. It doesn’t matter if you’ve fostered a culture of cybersecurity.
I’m not saying all those aren’t important – quite the opposite, in fact. They’re foundational to maintaining a good security posture. But testing is equally important.
The reason: You and your team are fallible. Like it or not, there will be things you miss. A hacker might exploit bugs and flaws in your network to compromise your corporate data.
A penetration test carried out by a reputable third party can help seal up these holes. But more importantly, it can provide valuable experience to your security team and peace of mind to your clients. Factor in the fact that penetration testing is a required facet of regulatory compliance in many industries, and it should be abundantly clear why it matters.
The thing is, not all tests are created equal. As with other aspects of your security posture, you need to be strategic and tactical in your approach. If you go in haphazardly and without any sort of plan, you’ll ultimately waste your time.
With that in mind, you want to understand your business’s threat profile. What are your most valuable assets, and where are they stored? Why might hackers want access to those assets, and what would they do if they gained access?
From there, you’re going to want to define a few objectives for your penetration test. Obviously, your core goal is to improve your security posture. But you need to think about how you’ll do that.
For example, are there bottlenecks in your crisis response and disaster recovery plans? Do some of the tools and utilities your employees use present unforeseen risks? Is your supply chain secure, or are vendors a potential entry point for hackers?
With a risk profile and your objectives in mind, your next step will be to decide who performs the test. I recommend a third-party security firm. Although I’m certain your own IT department has the necessary expertise on hand, they might not be objective enough to design a truly comprehensive testing plan.
Beyond that, the best penetration tests consider virtually every avenue through which a business might be compromised. This includes poorly-managed Internet of Things (IoT) endpoints, insecure business partners and vendors, even something as trivial as the website of a restaurant your employees frequently order from. Again, be comprehensive here – if you think there’s even a minor chance that something might be used as an attack vector, test it.
Last but certainly not least, don’t neglect insider threats. Your own employees represent the greatest threat to your systems and data for a multitude of reasons, from negligence to greed to malice. It’s important that you account for that fact with your penetration testing, and ensure your systems are hardened from attacks from both outside and from within.
You wouldn’t put a vehicle on the road without testing its mechanical systems. You wouldn’t release a product without testing its functionality. And you shouldn’t use untested infrastructure to protect your people and your data.
Penetration testing is the core of effective cybersecurity. It’s every bit as important as education, culture, and software. Never forget that.