Whatever the size and nature of your business, information security has to be one of your top priorities. Preventing key company data from being exposed, whether through in-house security practices or external ‘pen testing’ services, is crucial to keeping your systems running, your clients happy and your operations on the right track.
Penetration testing lies at the heart of this protection. Running your own pen testing routines exposes potential vulnerabilities that can then be patched before any malicious code has the chance to exploit it. Set up the right pen test regime and you can substantially minimise the risk of someone from the outside breaching your IT defences.
How Penetration Testing Works
Pen testing takes the guesswork out of network security: rather than sitting back and waiting for an attack to come, a pen test simulates an attempt to gain access to your systems, showing areas of strength and weakness. Improvements in the sophistication and effectiveness of penetration testing techniques mean that you can set up complex, automated scans to look for issues.
Pen testing is to some extent customised to suit the needs of the business and its systems, but the same basic principles apply across the board. A typical pen test attempts to access a network without any of the usual tools — usernames, passwords, security clearance — to see what’s possible. A successful pen testing session might expose confidential documents or steal information from a protected database, for example.
Configuring Penetration Tests
How you configure your penetration testing techniques is up to you and any external security firm you’ve enlisted to help. Getting expert advice from the outside is often more effective, as a pen test run by a separate agency more accurately reflects the nature of attacks from external hackers.
A pen test is usually set up to gain as much access as possible and to expose as many vulnerabilities as possible. The aim is for the pen testing to go as far as it can, not to hit any specific goal or weakness. Once the problems have been identified, steps can be taken to patch the vulnerabilities before they are exposed for real.
Monitoring and Assessment
Set up correctly, penetration testing can be invaluable in keeping a company’s systems protected, but it’s an ongoing process: software updates and new malware strains appear on a weekly basis, so any pen testing regime should be one that’s flexible, evolving and frequently reassessed.
It’s not enough to set up an occasional pen test and forget about it. The most effective penetration testing approaches cover all angles (from social engineering to wireless security), use customised proprietary pen test scripts and include automated scanning tools that are as close to actual hacking programmes as possible.
The hackers and criminals looking to gain access to your company’s networks are modifying and improving their tools all the time; it’s therefore vital that you take a pro-active and diligent approach to protection. With the right pen testing set-up in place, you can significantly reduce the risk of an exploitation affecting your company systems.