Protecting your company against cyberattacks is one of the biggest challenges you can encounter as a business owner. It’s human nature to think, “It probably won’t happen to me”, but in reality the risk is simply too high to take. I’ve seen grown adults in tears having lost years of hard work and a solid reputation to preventable security breaches. So, how do you decrease the risk of it happening to you?
Well, you’ve probably heard the expression about how the best way to catch a criminal is to think like one. Penetration testing is a process that basically allows you to do this. It’s a great way to see how your IT infrastructure looks from a hacker’s point of view. This is invaluable, because if you notice any chinks in your armour that they could exploit; you can patch them up before they get the chance.
How Does It Work?
A penetration test (or pen test) is carried out by cybersecurity experts or ‘ethical hackers’ whose job it is to check how easy (or hopefully how hard) it is to infiltrate your business. In the case of pen tests carried out by Secarma, the process usually starts with a vulnerability scan, which either looks at the network or the application itself.
A network scan looks at which ports are open and what software is running on those ports. It then refers to a database that provides information on whether the specific version of that software has any known problems. An application scan looks at every single page, checking where (as a user or as an attacker) you can send information to the server. This provides a good picture of how a user or attacker could interact with the application.
In essence, the vulnerability scan part of pen testing sends the building blocks of an attack to see what reaction is given. It doesn’t actually cause any damage, of course. It just gives the testers a good overview of the landscape, often pointing them in the right direction. It takes their expertise to look at the results of the scan, identify potential weaknesses and pull the building blocks together to actually simulate a real world attack.
Having a real person sitting at a computer, using their brain and their imagination to try and get into your IT infrastructure – just as it would happen in reality – means that your business security really is being tested to breaking point. Ideally, a pen tester would fail to successfully infiltrate it, but if they do manage then at least you’re aware of any problems.
So, if you’re hosted on a secure network, why check for vulnerabilities? Well, it’s all about how users then configure that server, and what they add to it. Servers start off as a blank sheet of paper, but when you add things to them, you increase your attack surface.
For example, let’s say you use third party software and, unbeknownst to you, it has a security glitch. If that is introduced to your server, you’ve just got yourself a vulnerability. Take the Heartbleed bug, which was all over the news earlier this year. So many vendors took weeks to patch the flaw, which is deeply irresponsible, but sadly this stuff does happen. With an offensive scan like a penetration test, you can at least check whether or not you are at risk if there are flaws in code or an out-of-date programme is running, for example.
What Are The Benefits?
There are lots of reasons why people get pen tests. Sometimes, people are simply concerned about their IT security and just want to be proactive, which is great! Often, companies with mission-critical and highly sensitive data want to ensure that it’s kept safe. It can also be about testing people as well as technology, so companies want to test their own security team to see how they’d react if it was a real attack. Another reason for a pen test would be to add value to a product. If you can prove that it’s secure then it becomes a lot more appealing and a lot more likely to generate revenue.
Penetration testing, in my opinion, isn’t just a step towards security, but a massive leap. Cybercriminals often target low-hanging fruit – organisations with little awareness of their own security structure. Pen testing is a great way to inch further up that branch, away from the hackers shaking the branches, and towards a brighter future for your business.