The True Value of Penetration Tests
“We use Anti-Malware software, why would we ever need a penetration test?” Unfortunately, this is a sentence that we hear all too often.
As specialists in the cyber security industry, it can be easy to forget that most people, through no fault of their own, are unaware of the multiple layers of security that are required in a world where attacks are becoming ever more sophisticated.
While penetration tests may initially seem like a big undertaking, this article aims to explain their increasing importance as the number of cyber-attacks continue to rise at an alarming rate.
So my Anti-Malware solution is useless?
Absolutely not! Anti-Malware software has been an essential tool for decades, and it continues to play a significant role in defending against various types of malware and viruses.
However, while Anti-Malware software is generally effective at catching known malware, it falls short in protecting against more advanced and targeted threats. New malware is constantly being developed, and cybercriminals often employ sophisticated techniques to evade detection.
In some cases, attacks such as social engineering and software misconfiguration exploits can take place without ever needing to deploy malware of any kind, causing immense damage to an organisation whilst completely bypassing any antivirus protection.
In the National Cyber Security Centre’s 10 Steps to Cyber Security, malware prevention is just one of those ten crucial steps, leaving criminals with numerous other avenues to explore when planning an attack.
How can a pen test help?
A penetration test, commonly known as a pen test, simulates real-world cyber-attacks on an organisation’s systems, applications, and network infrastructure. The objective is to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses across a wide range of areas before malicious actors can exploit them. The benefits of a pen test include, but are not limited to:
- Identifying Misconfigurations: Penetration testing engagements involve a thorough examination of the network, applications and services. From firewall rule misconfigurations to a poorly secured database, identifying and remediating these issues is a quick and effective way to lower the risk of a successful attack taking place.
- Testing Social Engineering Resilience: By attempting to manipulate employees into revealing sensitive information or granting unauthorised access, pen tests gauge the organisation’s susceptibility to phishing and other social engineering attacks. Organisations can then tailor security awareness training to address specific vulnerabilities and better prepare their staff against real-world threats.
- Discovering Outdated Software: Outdated software and unpatched systems present significant security risks, as they may contain known vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit. Penetration tests include comprehensive scans that will uncover any outdated software versions, thus enabling organisations to prioritise patch management and reduce the overall attack surface.
- Assessing Password Strength: Weak passwords remain one of the most common entry points for attackers. In an aim to uncover these areas, penetration testers can employ various techniques, such as password cracking and brute-force attacks, to evaluate the strength of passwords used within the organisation.
- Evaluating Network Security: From firewalls and routers to intrusion detection and prevention systems, an effective penetration test will examine these defences to identify potential weaknesses and ensure that unauthorised access attempts are effectively thwarted.
- Expert Feedback: A major part of every penetration test is the final report. This serves as a comprehensive account of all the vulnerabilities unearthed during the assessment, complete with risk ratings and recommendations on how to address and resolve each issue effectively. A good penetration testing team will also engage in open discussion, address concerns, and provide expert advice along the way, ensuring that the client can protect their organisation with confidence.
- Staying Ahead of Evolving Threats: Cyber threats are constantly evolving, and attackers are becoming more sophisticated in their techniques. Regular pen tests ensure that an organisation’s security measures keep pace with the changing threat landscape, minimising the risk of falling victim to the latest cyberattacks.
Cybersecurity defence is a complex and ever evolving subject, and no one technique will ever provide 100% coverage. Firewalls, antivirus software and OS updates are all vital to your organisation’s security posture, but cyber criminals have a vast arsenal of tools and methods to work with.
Unfortunately many organisations take a reactive approach and only consider penetration tests after falling victim to a cyber-attack. This delay can often result in substantial financial losses, extended downtime, and significant damage to their public image.
In this era of rapid digital advancement, the importance of proactive measures, such as penetration tests is growing exponentially. Safeguarding hard-earned assets has never been more crucial, and conducting regular penetration tests has become an increasingly appealing prospect to stay one step ahead of the criminal world.