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What is Penetration Testing and Why is it Important?

In March 2022, Lapsus$, a popular black-hat hacking group, gained access to Microsoft’s source code. They extracted about 46% of Bing, 90% of Bing Maps, and Cortana codes. Although the company denies any damages to customers, the indirect effect on users can’t be neglected. 

Incidents like these intensify the importance of bridging the gaps in cybersecurity. Business owners must regularly look for the weak points in their system as these are the gateways to an attack. Penetration testing can block such malicious entries.

The goal of penetration testing is to determine how strong or weak the system is against various cyberattack types. Usually, a company outsources this job to a cybersecurity firm or a freelance penetration tester. Often, businesses offer bug bounties if the system has already been attacked.

What is Penetration Testing?

Cybercriminals aggressively target business entities to steal information and passwords. Due to this, attacks like ransomware, phishing, and spoofing have become very common. In 2021, hackers sent more than 3 million fake messages using 12,000+ exploited accounts. A robust penetration testing exercise could have prevented such an onslaught.

So, what is penetration testing, and why is it important? It’s a technique that helps identify the vulnerabilities of particular elements of an IT structure. The idea is to find the weaknesses by mimicking a cyberattack to determine how deep a threat actor can enter. A penetration tester must think like a malicious actor while bypassing the security systems and enlist all the susceptibilities. 

A penetration test isn’t a one-time activity. Business owners should conduct it regularly to avoid data breaches. The frequency depends on the risk assessment and structure of your company. Not just this, but it lets you know how bad your system could have been affected in case of a real cyberattack.

What is Tested?

Now, what does a penetration tester do? Well, they know how to do penetration tests step by step and perform simulated cyberattacks. A penetration tester does this to obtain information about the entry points and loopholes. They check application protocol interfaces (APIs), front-end and back-end servers. The insights are then used for fine tuning the web application firewall (WAF) and other security measures.

Penetration Testing Types

There are a few different types of penetration testing. Depending on the area (network, web app, mobile app, client side, etc.) being tested, the ethical hacker might use various:

  • Techniques: manual, automated, or a combination
  • Methods: external, internal, blind, double-blind, or targeted
  • Styles: white box, gray box, and black box

Tools

Pen testing tools make the process more efficient and less time-consuming. There are a number of them available, but we’re discussing the commonly used ones. Remember, a professional tester will pick and choose tools according to the requirements. So, don’t be alarmed if they use a different tool from the last time.

Netsparker 

A netsparker can be used on websites, web services, and web applications for everything from cross-site scripting to SQL injection. It automatically takes advantage of the vulnerable elements in a read-only manner.

Wireshark

Formerly called Ethereal 0.2.0., Wireshark allows capturing and interpretation of the network packets to explore source and destination protocols. 

Aircrack

Aircrack was updated again in 2019 after getting shelved in 2010. It runs by spotting flaws within the wireless connection. This is done by collecting data packets. Data sent over the internet is transmitted into smaller portions called data packets.

This tool has the ability to use the password dictionary and statistical methodologies to enter into Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP)—a type of security standard. 

BeEF

BeEF can validate a web browser. The testers can use the client-side attack vectors to check security postures. This tool performs its functions by connecting with multiple browsers and launching direct command modules. 

Kali Linux

This is a popular penetration test tool meant for injecting and password snipping. It’s important to have knowledge of the TCP/IP protocol to access Kali Linux. The TCP/IP protocol is a four-layered protocol used to interconnect network devices. Kali Linux offers tool listings, version tracking, and meta-packages.

Pros and Cons of Penetration Testing

We already know what a penetration test is and its methods, techniques, and stages. It helps secure the IT structure of a company. Still, is it all good and great? Of course not. You’re letting “strangers” into your system to test how it behaves. Naturally, there are some benefits and risks of penetration testing.

Pros

Below are a few benefits of penetration testing that can help you predict and solve any issues in your systems.

Helps to Find Vulnerabilities

Cybercriminals are constantly targeting businesses. Penetration testing experts spot vulnerabilities to bar their entry by adding efficient preventative measures. This can save the reputation and revenue of a company .

Spots Bigger Weaknesses Resulting From Smaller Vulnerabilities

Hackers use a combination of small loopholes to conduct a major attack on your system. This allows them to enter the system, after which they can steal, misuse, or altercritical information.

A benign error page can give them enough information about your system to plan a bigger attack.

Remediation Remedies

Also, part of  what a penetration tester does includes a report explaining the entire process and giving security advice. These reports aren’t automatically generated, and therefore, are evidently efficient in improving the company’s security system.

Cons

Letting hackers try your systems is a risk in itself. What if the company you choose doesn’t handle your data ethically?y or What if there are technical issues during testing and you lose valuable data? We discuss the risks of penetration testing below.

It Can Cause Harm if Done Incorrectly

If done wrongly, the server can crash. Not just this, but your sensitive data, like client information and source coding, can get corrupted, deleted, or leaked.

You Have to Trust the Penetration Tester

It’s difficult and risky to trust someone for your IT structure. In some cases, you have to give them the liberty to access all the elements and files. 

A penetration testing strategy can backfire if the tester misuses their skills and expertise to exploit your system.

Results Can Be Deceptive Sometimes

At times, the results can be misleading, which can hamper the functioning of the infrastructure. So, you should only invest in a proficient penetration tester.

The Importance of Pen Testing for Business

There are many reasons why penetration testing is important, but we’ll discuss the top three below. 

Secure Infrastructure

Various strategies aim at identifying security threats by spotting weaknesses. A penetration test also includes suggestive measures to solidify the system and bar hackers from entry. 

Builds and Maintains Brand Reputation

The reputation of your business is the most valuable asset you own. This is the base of your operations, and you can’t let someone tarnish it.

What if someone steals important information and the news spreads among the masses? Both existing and potential clients will lose trust in your business. They might opt out of services as well.

Keeps You Prepared Against an Attack

A penetration test strengthens your system against all sorts of cyberattacks. You never know when an employee could leak information to malicious actors for a bribe. Hackers may even try to threaten staff,leaving them no choice other than to deceive their employer.

Final Thoughts

It’s possible to stop hackers from disrupting, damaging, or gaining unauthorized access to your system with different types of penetration tests. However, if done incorrectly, your data can be leaked, and in the worst case, the entire system might collapse. That’s why it’s imperative to give the responsibility to a credible and experienced firm only.

So, what is the end result of a penetration test? Well, it’ll make your system strong enough to keep hackers out, safeguarding your business. Hence, every company with an IT structure should get regular penetration tests done. It’s best to use a combination of manual and automated techniques to ensure maximum protection.

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