As more and more organizations integrate technologies into their business operations, cybercrime has become a significant threat to businesses of all sizes across all industries. According to best practices, it is now essential to assess your cybersecurity risks on a regular basis to determine if your organization is vulnerable to the latest cyber threats. To that end, penetration testing is becoming an increasingly important part of organizations, whether it’s to improve cybersecurity or as part of compliance initiatives. These tests should be performed on a regular basis or after any major changes to the underlying technologies that support your daily operations.
This introductory guide is based on 25 years of direct experience in penetration testing and over 300 projects completed annually. The purpose of this guide is to help you better understand the value of penetration testing and to provide you with reliable information to make informed decisions. With the help of this document, you will have all the information you need to ensure that your penetration testing project is adapted to your context and that it is in line with your cybersecurity risk management strategy.
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What is a Penetration Test?
Penetration testing is an invaluable cybersecurity assessment used by organizations to identify and remediate security vulnerabilities. It combines the latest technological frameworks, tools and exploits frequently used by hackers to simulate a cyberattack and precisely assess the potential impact on corporate networks, web / mobile applications, cloud-hosted assets, smart devices, etc. By leveraging the knowledge of experienced penetration testers, organizations can proactively anticipate and defend against malicious cyberattacks.
How does it work?
During a penetration test, specialists use a structured approach to identify and exploit potential vulnerabilities in a target system, to demonstrate the potential risks it may face from malicious actors. This professional assessment measures the resilience of your organization against cyberattacks by providing concrete examples of the current cybersecurity state of the target environment. Upon completion of the penetration test, you will receive a detailed report outlining the identified vulnerabilities and recommended corrective steps to mitigate each risk. The report will also provide IT professionals with the information necessary to implement necessary patches and remediation activities to eventually eliminate the identified vulnerabilities and help meet the compliance requirements of various standards (e.g. PCI-DSS, SOC2, ISO27001, etc.) and business partners.
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Types of Penetration Tests
- Network Infrastructure Penetration Testing – Helps organizations identify technical vulnerabilities and security misconfigurations in public-facing IT assets, internal systems, servers and databases.
- Application Penetration Testing – Helps protect mission-critical applications from malicious behaviour and secure client data by identifying technical vulnerabilities and business logic flaws (web applications, iOS & android applications, desktop applications, APIs, etc.).
- Cloud Infrastructure Penetration Testing – Helps secure cloud-hosted assets by identifying user permissions and security misconfigurations, technical vulnerabilities and vulnerable components used in cloud functions.
- Device Penetration Testing – Helps harden IoT devices, medical devices and other type of smart equipment by identifying security risks in network communication components, hardware, firmware, business logic, etc.
- Industrial SCADA Penetration Testing – Helps protect supply chains, smart production lines, industrial automations and control systems from disruptive attacks by identifying security risks in network segmentation, technical vulnerabilities, vulnerable components and SCADA attack paths that can lead to potential interruptions.
- Red Teaming – Helps accurately measure an organization’s ability to detect and block and respond to an active cyberattack attempting to breach through the IT by replicating the same hacking techniques used by advanced persistent threat actors.
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Reasons & Benefits to Conduct Penetration Testing
Although the ultimate goal is always to identify and fix vulnerabilities, it is important to conduct penetration testing with a specific intent and
to clearly define your needs with your provider in order to maximize your return on investment. These objectives are often directly related to business objectives and overall corporate strategy, such as:
- Protect the company’s reputation
- Prevent increasing cyberattacks
- Gain a deep understanding of the current security posture
- Learn where to dedicate IT resources to maximize value and security potential
- Comply with compliance requirements (from third-parties, SOC 2, ISO 27001, etc.)
The Cost of a Penetration Test
Given the complexity of the factors that affect the cost of a penetration test, it can be difficult for most providers to provide an accurate estimate of the price for a typical project without taking into account the technological scope of the target environment. Here are some of the primary considerations used by pentest providers to determine the cost of a project:
- The technical scope (Number of targeted external IPs, size of the application, number of internal servers, etc.)
- The approach used (Automated, manual, vulnerability scan, etc.)
- The business objective (To meet compliance requirements, to launch a new application feature in-production, etc.)
- The type of test (A simple network penetration test VS. a web application penetration test with an integrated API)
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Penetration Testing vs. Vulnerability Scanning
Automated vulnerability scans and manual penetration tests are the among the most used techniques for identifying and fixing security
vulnerabilities. Although there are some similarities between the two, they can sometimes be misinterpreted as being equivalent, whereas they should be used in different contexts and to meet specific objectives, given their different depth.
Vulnerability scans are particularly useful for organizations that lack the resources to perform frequent manual testing, but still need to test their systems
against newly identified vulnerabilities by the cybersecurity industry until a full assessment can be conducted. That being said, manual penetration testing should always be prioritized whenever significant changes are made to the technologies that support your daily operations.
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Everything You Need to Know
Gain confidence in your future cybersecurity assessments and make informed decisions.