How penetration testing can save your company from disaster

Reading time: 8min | Author: Joshua Wiesner | 02.07.2023

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Business owners who have ever been the victim of a hacker attack know the feeling of powerlessness when any help comes too late and you have no choice but to minimize the damage of the attack after the fact. For those who want to protect themselves and their company from the consequences of a hacker attack and sleep better at night, they can achieve this with the help of penetration testing.

Penetration testing (also called pen testing) is a process in which an authorized security expert attempts to identify vulnerabilities in a computer system, network, application or physical location by trying to penetrate the system and bypass security measures.

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How penetration testing helps prevent hacker attacks on your business

The purpose of a penetration test is to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a system in terms of its security mechanisms. This helps companies and organizations identify their security vulnerabilities before malicious attackers do. A penetration test can also help evaluate the effectiveness of security measures, close potential entry gates and ensure compliance requirements with relevant regulations and standards.

What are the different types of penetration testing?

There are different types of penetration testing that can be performed depending on the needs of the business or organization. Some of the most common types of penetration testing are:

Black-box testing:
In a black-box test, the tester has no knowledge of the system and must act like an external attacker. The tester attempts to penetrate the system and bypass the security mechanisms without having prior access or knowledge.

White-box testing:
Here, on the other hand, the tester has detailed knowledge of the system and its underlying architecture. The tester can view the source code, network design, and other important information about the system.

Grey-box testing:
Here, the tester has partial knowledge of the system. The tester may have limited access to the system, for example, as an authenticated user or as a restricted user.

Physical testing:
Physical testing involves attempting to gain physical access to a building, server room, or other protected area. The tester attempts to gain access by bypassing security mechanisms such as locks, access control systems, and surveillance systems.

Social engineering tests:
These refer to attempts to exploit human weaknesses such as trust, greed, naivety, or carelessness to gain access to sensitive information or systems. Here, a person is tricked into unknowingly revealing information or performing actions that help an attacker penetrate a system.

Red-teaming:
Red-teaming is a method of penetration testing that uses an “adversarial” approach to view and test a target from a malicious perspective. It allows an organization to identify a broader range of security risks by testing its own security system in a way that is much more similar to an attacker than a normal test. Red-teaming tests can be a combination of technical, physical and social attacks designed to identify vulnerabilities or security holes that an attacker could exploit.

The choice of test form depends on the objectives and requirements of the test. A penetration test can also be performed as a combination of different test forms to identify and eliminate all vulnerabilities of the system.

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When should a company perform a penetration test?

A company should usually perform a penetration test when it wants to review or improve its security measures. This may be the case in the following instances:

Before introducing new systems:
An organization should perform a penetration test before introducing new systems or applications to its network to ensure that there are no known vulnerabilities that could be exploited by potential attackers.

After implementing new security measures:
An organization should conduct a penetration test to verify that its new security measures are effective and that they can protect against the latest threats and attack techniques.

After a system or network update:
An organization should conduct a penetration test to ensure that the updates implemented do not open security holes or expose existing vulnerabilities.

Pentests are already mandatory for certain industries. Digital health applications (DiGA), for example, require ISMS certification to ISO 27001, and performing pentests here is a necessary requirement to be listed as a certified DiGA vendor.

It is important to note that penetration testing is a snapshot of a system’s IT security. Therefore, companies should not assume that their system is secure just because a penetration test has been successfully performed. Instead, they should conduct regular tests and continuously improve their security measures.

What is the process of a penetration test?

The process of a penetration test can vary depending on the requirements and objectives of the test, but generally includes the following steps:

 

  1. Planning:
    In this step, the requirements and objectives of the test are established and the scope of the test is defined. Decisions are also made about the type of test to be conducted, which IT systems and applications will be tested, and who will be involved in the test.
  2. Information gathering:
    In this step, the tester gathers information about the system under test. This may include identifying IP addresses, network topology, operating systems, applications, access permissions, and other relevant information.
  3. Vulnerability Analysis:
    In this step, the tester analyzes the collected information to identify vulnerabilities in the system. These can be technical vulnerabilities such as faulty configurations, security holes and vulnerabilities in applications.
  4. Exploitation:
    In this step, the tester attempts to exploit the identified vulnerabilities to penetrate the system and gain access to sensitive data or functionality. This can be done by executing code, bypassing security mechanisms or exploiting application flaws.
  5. Reporting:
    Upon completion of the test, a report is prepared that includes the results of the test and the vulnerabilities identified, as well as recommendations for remediation. The report is shared with the appropriate parties in the company to take the necessary actions to address the vulnerabilities.
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What are the steps after a successfully executed pen test?

Once the penetration test has been successfully executed, the following steps usually follow:

 

  1. Preparation of a report:
    All results of the pen test should be summarized in a report that is sent to the person who commissioned the test. The report should summarize the vulnerabilities identified during the test, including details on their severity.
  2. Recommendations for remediation:
    The report should also include recommendations for remediation of the identified vulnerabilities.
  3. Assessment of results:
    The test sponsor should evaluate the results of the pen test and take the necessary security actions to address the identified vulnerabilities.
  4. Follow-up:
    The sponsor should track the progress of the implementation of the recommendations and conduct new tests periodically to ensure that the vulnerabilities are addressed and the security of the network is maintained.

What can be the consequences for a company of not performing a penetration test?

As a company, not performing an IT security audit means, conversely, exposing yourself to the dangers of attacks from the Internet. Failure to conduct a security test may leave a vulnerability unnoticed, which then becomes the gateway for the attack.

Security risks:
Without a penetration test, vulnerabilities in their network or application may go undetected. Attackers can exploit these vulnerabilities to break into their system and access confidential information or damage their IT systems

Data loss:
If an attacker gains access to their IT systems, they can steal or delete confidential information. This can lead to data loss and affect the trust of their customers.

Compliance breaches:
Some industries have specific regulations that govern the protection of information. As an organization, if you don’t perform penetration testing, you may be in violation of these regulations and risk legal consequences such as fines or liability lawsuits.

Reputational loss:
If their systems are attacked and data loss and other security issues occur, it can result in significant reputational damage. Customers and partners may lose confidence in their company, leading to a decline in sales and business relationships.

Operational disruptions:
A successful attack on their system may cause their systems to stop working or go offline. This will likely lead to business interruptions and a decrease in productivity, which in turn can impact revenue.

High ransom payments:
Ransomware attacks encrypt a company’s important files and access. Only by paying a ransom can the files be recovered and saved from deletion. These ransom payments are usually more worthwhile than the complete recovery of affected IT systems.

In the end, a company should rather act before than react afterwards to avoid gross economic and image losses.

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Current example shows possible consequences of a hacker attack

A current example shows what consequences can be expected if IT security is not sufficient to protect the company from an attack.

At the beginning of 2023, the WISAG Group was once again the victim of a hacker attack that led to widespread operational disruptions. The company, which operates in facility management, industrial services and airport services, had to temporarily shut down its IT infrastructure to protect itself from any negative consequences of the attack. As a result, the entire operational processes in the company were massively disrupted for about a week and the company was only able to pay salaries for over 55,000 employees with a delay.

Source: Wieder Hackerattacke auf Wisag-Konzern

What is the probability that my IT systems will fall victim to a hacker attack?

The risk that a particular company is at to be affected by a hacking attack depends on a few factors. Size, industry of the company, type of data stored by the company and IT security measures implemented.

According to the Hiscox Cyber Readiness Report, about 43% of companies worldwide were victims of cyberattacks in 2021. So the question is not if, but when my company will be affected by an attack.

Many companies unfortunately still have a “it won’t hit me anyway” attitude in the wake of information security. A negligent attitude, if you look at the statistics.

A successful cyber attack can never be completely ruled out, even with the highest level of investment in IT security. That much is certain. However, the probability can be significantly reduced by taking the right measures. Penetration testing is precisely one of these measures that protect a company from unpleasant surprises.

What alternatives are there to penetration testing in IT security?

Vulnerability Assessment:
Vulnerability Assessment is a process of examining computers and networks for known vulnerabilities and security weaknesses. This process can be manual or automated and is used to identify and assess potential vulnerabilities to minimize the risk of a security incident. It is used to monitor and improve the security of the system or network.

Security Auditing:
A security audit is a formal process for evaluating the IT security of an organization or system. It involves reviewing internal controls, procedures, and technical security systems to determine if they comply with applicable security policies and standards. A security audit may also include an assessment of the company’s risk appetite. The audit can also help detect misuse and misconduct by identifying vulnerabilities and potential threats in a system.

Threat Modeling:
Threat Modeling is a systematic method of analyzing vulnerabilities and threats in a software, system or infrastructure. It involves identifying and analyzing potential threats to ensure more effective security. Threat modeling involves examining possible attack paths that an attacker could use to penetrate a software or system. It also involves risk analysis to identify and assess potential security issues. The goal is to minimize security vulnerabilities and reduce the risk to system operations and users.

What is the difference between a vulnerability assessment and a penetration test?

A vulnerability assessment is a process in which a system is examined for its vulnerabilities. This is done by using various methods to identify the vulnerabilities.

In contrast, a penetration test is a special type of vulnerability testing in which an attacker attempts to use a system’s vulnerabilities to cause damage. Unlike a vulnerability assessment, the focus of penetration testing is to test the security of the system by attempting to actively penetrate the system.

About jemix

jemix is an IT system house specialized in Apple and Mac environments. As a managed service provider, we have been offering our customers services in the areas of cloud, cybersecurity, mobile device management, IP telephony, data security, data protection, digital workspace and remote work for over 10 years.

With our locations in Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne, we work primarily with companies from the DACH region, but also support international companies from various countries.

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