Key Components of an Effective Penetration Test
Penetration testing, or “pen testing,” is a vital part of every cyber defense program.
Without regularly conducting pen testing, organizations cannot identify potential avenues of attack. In order to defend against attacks, organizations must be prepared, which means understanding the types of attack that may arise and withstanding an attack if one occurs.
But not all penetration tests are entirely effective. In fact, pen testing doesn’t address the entire range of actions that are needed for top-quality cybersecurity. Organizations should therefore prioritize a more holistic approach to cyber defense that includes a knowledge of the environment under protection, the assets at risk, the anomalies affecting the security of the system and the plan for both responding and recovering in lieu of an attack.
Though pen testing is a mere snapshot of an organization’s defenses, there are several components of penetration tests that are necessary in the development of an effective cyber security program. As a business owner, you should make sure every pen test your organization undergoes is comprised of the following components:
Set an Objective and Communicate It
In the initial phase of pen testing, it is necessary to set the objectives and communicate the test’s goals to your team. The testing should be understood as evidence of your ongoing assurance of the organization’s technical controls, which need to be constantly examined in order to be secure year over year.
Still, there is nothing wrong with limiting the knowledge of the network to test your systems and your employees. Your role is to simply ensure that the people who need to know about the testing, do.
Finally, ensure that the expectations are firmly outlined amongst you, your team and the firm conducting the test. No network is 100% secure and neither you, nor the pen testing firm, should have this expectation.
Do Not Underestimate the Importance of Scoping
Effective scoping is absolutely critical to effective pen testing. Why?
Scoping ensures that you—the client—are getting the most for your money. It protects you and the firm you hire to conduct the testing from potential legal ramifications resulting from out-of-scope testing. Scoping also maintains relevance and applicability. A broad scope, which is oftentimes expensive, may include systems that contain no sensitive data. This will be a waste of time and resources if such systems do not require testing.
Preparation is Key
The team conducting the testing will have a long list of things to prepare, but there are additional actions that you must do, which should not be overlooked.
Ensure that all tested systems are properly backed up. Penetration tests can cause system outages and, in some cases, data corruption. Ensure that all in-scope systems are subject to a full backup prior to the test starting. You should also confirm that all points of contact are aware of test times and their responsibilities. This will save time and resources in the event that the testers contact you.
Before all else: make sure you understand the tester(s) you have hired, including their backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses. Ill-qualified testers will undermine even the most well- intentioned and carefully organized test.
Prioritize Your Remediation Efforts
Penetration testing can result in some fairly substantial remediation requirements. Make sure to prioritize your remediation efforts based on the most critical items. These are the points that malicious attackers will be attempting to use to exploit your systems.
Don’t try to solve every issue at once, but set realistic time frames for your organization. This way you can measure effective remediation and not burn out or rush your resources to completion. Allocate your budget for remediation activities, as it can be costlier than the test itself depending on the results.
Do Not Be Afraid to Ask Questions
Any valuable security firm will be understanding and accommodating of a client’s background and needs. Oftentimes, clients do not have technical backgrounds and may not fully understand the components of a penetration test.
Effective penetration testers will be able to communicate (both verbally and in writing) in a technical and non-technical manner, enabling each client stakeholder to understand the details of the test.
Avoid testers or organizations that are unwilling to disclose methodologies or produce documentation that can be understood by non-technical personnel. This is an indicator of an inexperienced or ineffective penetration tester and will undoubtedly lead to confusion.
Effective penetration testing will ultimately uncover security gaps and avenues of attack in your organization before attackers do. By simulating real-team scenarios to discover your security risks, you can determine the best plan to mitigate and protect your most valuable data from risk of a breach.