Technology Penetration Tests: How do they work?

Published on December 18th, 2013 | by Alice Aires

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How To Safeguard Your Business From Information Security Breaches

No information system is completely safe, commercial or otherwise. Given enough time, money and dedication, anyone can break into your computer system eventually. This could lead to information being plundered from you, along with your system being infected by viruses and other malware that have the potential to cripple your business and bring it to its knees.

It’s essential that your business takes the necessary preventative measures, particularly if your business operates online. There are countless breaches every year: titan corporations and banks are targeted and taken down, with insuperable effects. While some companies can afford to run robust IT departments that task themselves with data security, others don’t have nearly that much capital.

Indeed, constant vulnerability scanning, penetration tests and other safeguards are quite a burden for a single IT department to undertake themselves. Fortunately, there are other ways in which you can protect your business against information security breaches.

Penetration Tests: How do they work?

Data Breaches: how bad are they?

If you know how much your business and its data are worth, you’ll know exactly how bad a security breach can be. This isn’t something that only small businesses are at risk from. There have been several high-profile attacks on large enterprises in the past: in August, there was a ‘disruption’ that caused the NASDAQ trading market to shut down for around three hours, due to a problem that came about in the quote processing system.

The website LivingSocial also suffered an attack this year, its breach impacting more than 50 million users: names, email addresses, dates of birth and passwords were all stolen. Even the Federal Reserve was no match for the hacker collective Anonymous, which managed to breach an internal website belonging to it. They took the personal data of over 4,000 bank executives and published them online.

As you can no doubt tell, data breaches are no laughing matter. In a world where cyber crime costs organisations anywhere from £700,000 to £35 million pounds annually, it has become a focal point of security to make sure that computer systems are carefully guarded. Increasingly, it becomes a harder job, given that organisations experience on average 122 successful attacksevery week, which has risen from the average of 102 attacks per week in 2012.

Penetration Tests: How do they work?

Of all the ways in which businesses seek to protect their computer systems, penetration tests, or Pen Tests, are the soundest method. They evaluate computer and network security by simulating an attack on the network or system, disguising it as an external or internal threat.

This will actively analyse your system for potential vulnerabilities, which may have arisen from bad system configuration, known and unknown security software and hardware flaws and other operational weaknesses. The analysis is usually executed from the position of a would-be attacker and will involve efforts to exploit any security vulnerabilities.

It would be in your business’s best interests to commission pen testing services for your computer systems for several different reasons:

  • They can determine possible methods of attack that may have not occurred to your IT security department, by using differing sets of attack vectors
  • They can identify high-risk vulnerabilities by combining several different lower-risk vulnerabilities that are exploited in particular sequences
  • They can uncover weaknesses in the system that other vulnerability scans may not be able to expose
  • Pen testing services will be able to assess the financial severity of potential successful attacks on your system
  • They will assess the ability of your current system defences in being able to respond in a timely and effective manner
  • They can give your company evidence that it needs to step up investments in security technology.

Pen Tests and Vulnerability Scanning

There is a fair deal of confusion when it comes to Pen Testing and Vulnerability Scanning: they are not the same and constitute two different types of security screening. While the two terms are related, vulnerability scanning involves identifying certain areas that are vulnerable to attack, whereas a pen test will attempt to gain as much access as possible to the system.

Vulnerability scans will identify possible weaknesses based on network responses that may not be what they seem: it will always stop just before compromising a system, whereas a pen test will go as far as it can within the boundaries of the contract.

Both methods work in a slightly similar fashion in terms of identifying potential threats and loopholes in security. Like some attackers who move slowly through the system to avoid getting caught, penetration testers will also move slowly, so that the client may learn what their detection threshold is in order to make improvements.

The tester will need to learn everything about the ‘target’ network before applying the test. This involves identifying publicly accessible services (usually the email system), from service banners and identifying what kind of software your company’s server employs.

Once the tester has a good idea of what kind of software runs on the servers, he will begin preparing specific attacks on the system.

One cannot understate the importance of having a robust defence system against cyber security breaches. As you’re well aware, these kinds of attacks are the most damaging threats to your company. You should expect that at any given time, attackers are using a wide array of tools and network attacks, waiting for the right vulnerability to exploit.

Pen Tests will provide your IT department with a view of their network from the attacker’s perspective, something that is essential to experience if you want the best safeguards set up. You could see a Pen Test as an annual check-up with a doctor: you should be doing these tests even if you haven’t suffered an attack. You may be shocked by what the doctor has to say.

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About the Author

Alice Aires is a web content writer and blogger with sound knowledge on internet marketing. She generally write search engine friendly articles based on different niche marketing. Follow him on Twitter or .


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