What is Penetration Testing?

You might’ve heard of the term penetration testing if you work in computers, software, or web design fields. But what is penetration testing? And why should you bother with it?

Cyber threats, unfortunately, are very real in this day and age, with 80% of businesses hacked. And it seems hackers come up with new ways to break into properties and programs as fast as we can create new safety measures.

Penetration testing is the process of testing out a computer system, program, application, or the like and looking for chinks in the armor. If we can catch the vulnerabilities early-on, there’s much less of a chance of being hacked.

In this article, we’ll go more into detail on what pen testing is, why it’s especially useful today, and how you can get started. Read on to educate yourself on how to protect your business from exploitation by hackers.

What is Penetration Testing, and How Does it Work?

Like we stated before, the purpose of penetration testing is to figure out if there are any weak spots in cybersecurity that hackers can leverage. It also clearly identifies a company’s ability to realize and combat security threats.

Pen testing can be done with either software applications or by going in and poking around manually. Your goal is to think like a hacker, researching what tools and methods they use as well as what vulnerabilities they look for.

Next, go in and hack away; attempt to break in through the system or program just as a hacker would from the outside. Your findings will help you create fixes and stop security breaches, and you should keep the reports on file.

Pen Testing Methods

If you’re still asking yourself exactly what is penetration testing, then this breakdown of the methods used should help clear things up.

When pen testing, there are a few strategies or methods employed that help to view your software as a hacker would, identifying any flaws. Here are some of the major ones:

Targeted Testing

In targeted testing, the test is openly viewed by a team working together to find vulnerability points. Usually, this is the job of the IT team who are more educated on access points and programming weak spots than the average employee.

The idea behind this is to let everyone on the team view the test themselves so that all their minds can come together to develop solutions.

Internal Testing

An internal test is one that is meant to imitate the hack from somebody who is already behind the safety firewall. This means a hack from an authorized user who has a password, login credentials, or some other access privilege.

The internal test will determine what kind of hacking or damage can be done by someone like an upset employee.

External Testing

As the name suggests (and as you probably guessed), external pen testing is the process of trying to hack into servers and programs from the outside.

This is accomplished by targeting externally-visible servers like email, web, domain name servers, and firewalls. External testing also helps to answer how far a hacker can get into your server once they’ve broken through security.

Blind Testing

This type of testing is where you get to really understand how a hacker works, since you’re basically hiring one. The blind test gives the hired hacker little information to run with, giving as little information as a company name.

From there, the person or the team who is conducting the test tries to simulate a hack as thoroughly as they can, hacking as far into the system as they can get.

Double-Blind Testing

Double-blind testing is like blind-testing except on the next level: usually, only one or two people in the whole company know it’s going on.

This is a great way to gauge security features across the company, testing reaction time and response. Sound cruel? It’s one of the most efficient ways of testing the true, active response procedures against hackers.

What You’re Saving Yourself From

What is penetration testing good for?

Once a hacker has broken through your security measures, they can cause true tragedy for your company, even with just a few minutes to poke around.

Your company information is obviously something that can be compromised. This could be information on your employees, sensitive reports or documentation, private correspondences (just ask Hilary Clinton), and so much more.

Turning Off Customers

As crazy as this sounds, a hacker can also affect your Google ranking, which can affect sales and awareness.

Your marketing campaigns can get hijacked or malicious code may get left behind, signaling to Google that your website isn’t safe for others.

There’s also a nasty little thing hackers do called Cross-Site Scripting, which lets hackers redirect your site anywhere. Imagine a returning customer wants to buy more products, but they get redirected to a spammy or explicit website.

They’re not likely to keep coming back to shop.

And beyond that, a hacker who gets behind your firewall can also have access to your user or customer information. And that will lead to a world of trouble for the future of your business, making it difficult to earn back trust.

Maybe you’re thinking that’s not a problem for you since you’re only a small business with a small circle of clients. But don’t be so sure. Smaller businesses tend to be easier to hack because of more lenient security measures.

In fact, in a New York Times article, the Enterprise Leader of Cyber-Insurance at Travelers told readers that 60% of online attacks in 2014 targeted small to mid-size businesses.

Where to Start

You don’t have to ask yourself what is penetration testing good for anymore, and you don’t have to scratch your head over the procedures.

Start by talking with your IT team and research with them the proper methods to set up a penetration test. Reflect on the various strategies and which one you’ll need to use (typically, more than one).

And if you’re looking for other informative resources on protecting your company and staying compliant, you’re already in the right place! Check out other insightful articles at the HIPAA Security Suite blog!

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