Pen testing explained – how it works & what it does

Pen testing

We’ve all heard the horror stories about organisations being hacked – many leading technology businesses amongst them.

But the truth is that no enterprise is immune to cyberattacks. We all want to believe we’re too smart and switched on to fall for an online scam but many capable and clever professional people do, every day, especially when they’re busy and under pressure. Similar, you can’t trust to luck and think your London-based small to medium-sized business does not have systems worth hacking or data worth stealing – you have. In fact, in 2019 the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in the UK reported that small businesses are hit by almost 10,000 cyberattacks a day.

A successful breach can disrupt your business and put your IT, data, IP, confidential customer information, financial wellbeing, compliance with international regulations (such as GDPR) and hard-earned reputation at risk. However, their is something you can do to identify your cybersecurity vulnerabilities before the criminals do, so here’s where you’ll find pen testing explained – how it works and what it does.

What is Pen testing and why you need it?

Penetration testing – sometimes called security pen testing – is a way of assessing the cybersecurity readiness of your technical assets, such as networks and software. It’s a systematic process of probing for vulnerabilities in your IT infrastructure. So when it comes to the question ‘Pen testing explained – how it works and what it does?’ it’s best to think of it as ‘ethical hacking’ whereby an expert, objective and independent cybersecurity professional attacks your IT on your behalf, to find, test and correct weaknesses that criminals could exploit.

What penetration testing tells you

When an experienced security professional using the techniques employed by scammers, hackers and threat actors (but without causing damage to your IT or data) try to crack your cyber defences, they enable you to spot and stop any security flaws that leave your organisation vulnerable.

A security pen testing report will provide you with much valuable information, from where your vulnerabilities lie to the best ways to defend your business from cyberattack by laying out a choice of cybersecurity controls you might employ.

Typical vulnerabilities cyber attackers could exploit and your pen testing services should identify, could be the result of:

  • Poor or improper configuration.
  • Known and novel hardware or software flaws.
  • Operational weaknesses in processes or technical countermeasures.

Why penetration testing matters

The FSB report mentioned in our introduction highlighted the number of cyberattacks on the UK’s small business community every year, the estimated annual cost of which is around £5 billion. Clearly, conducting an independent security assessment to identify vulnerabilities in your business computer systems is not just essential to your organisation’s security but also it’s financial wellbeing.

Yes, there are automated vulnerability assessments you can put your IT through and they can give you valuable information about your security status. However, they cannot provide you with the complete understanding you need to make fully informed decisions about the solutions you should deploy.

Only a penetration test carried out by a trained security professional can do that.

Why pen testing in the UK needs to be ongoing

Cyber criminals, like the technology they attack, never sleep. And being a well-developed, industrialised economy our nation attracts more than its fair share of cybercrime. In fact, a report on data security by Thales eSecurity revealed that Great Britain was Europe’s most breached country in 2018. So pen testing UK wide should be an imperative for all businesses that want to keep their operations functioning to their full potential.

Cyber criminals are getting smarter and more sophisticated and their attacks are ever-evolving. Thus new cyber security vulnerabilities emerge and are identified – and are being exploited by hackers and scammers – every week.

That means your assessment of your IT’s weaknesses has to be undertaken regularly to deliver the business continuity and peace of mind you demand and deserve.

Even vulnerabilities your security pen testing services had revealed and you’d patched can emerge again as your infrastructure or applications change.

Therefore, to protect your business and keep it protected, you should regularly conduct security testing to ensure you:

  • Identify and resolve security flaws and/or implement appropriate controls.
  • Have effective cybersecurity defences in place throughout your IT infrastructure.
  • Test new software and systems for bugs and gliches, but particularly new bugs in existing software.
  • Remain compliant with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the UK’s Data Protection Act (DPA) of 2018 and any other relevant privacy laws, regulations and standards such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCIDSS).
  • Give your customers, staff, business partners and other stakeholders the peace of mind of knowing that their data is being protected.

Pen testing services will help you to identify where your organisation is vulnerable to cyber attack and enable you to implement the right, effective solutions to protect your assets from the online threats.

The various types of security pen testing

You’ll not be surprised to learn that with today’s complex computer systems, different types of pen testing focus on different elements of your IT infrastructure.

But what they all have in common is that they put the spotlight on the perimeter or boundary of your infrastructure – which is essentially the point that separates your network from the Internet.

  • Infrastructure (network) penetration tests

Network or infrastructure penetration tests look to identify and test security flaws and vulnerabilities in insecure operating systems and network architectures. Such weaknesses might include:

  • Flaws in servers and hosts.
  • Misconfigured wireless access points and firewalls.
  • Insecure network protocols, which are basically the rules that manage how your devices – such as modems, hubs, switches and routers – communicate with each other.
  • Vulnerabilities affecting systems that are accessible by authorised login identities and that reside within your network.
  • Misconfigurations that could allow your people to access information they might later inadvertently leak.
  • Wireless network penetration tests

It’s hard to imagine a business not using some kind of wireless technology nowadays, such as Wi-Fi. Especially if you have people working remotely or working from home. As such, you should also consider wireless network penetration tests, which encompass:

  • Identifying Wi-Fi networks, including their wireless fingerprinting and information and signal leakage rates.
  • Determining encryption weaknesses, such as encryption cracking, wireless sniffing and session hijacking.
  • Spotting any opportunity a cybercriminal might use to penetrate your network by using wireless or evading WLAN access control measures.
  • Checking your legitimate users’ identities and credentials that they use to access otherwise private networks and services.
  • Web application (software) penetration tests

The touch points that web application tests focus on range from vulnerabilities such as coding errors to software responding to certain requests in unintended ways. They can include:

  • Testing user authentication to verify that accounts cannot compromise data.
  • Assessing your web applications for flaws and vulnerabilities, such as XSS (cross-site scripting) or SQL injection.
  • Confirming the secure configuration of web browsers and identifying features that can cause vulnerabilities.
  • Making sure database server and web servers are secure and effectively safeguarded.
  • Social engineering penetration tests

Social engineering – not to be confused with social media – attacks are those in which scammers use human interactions to achieve malicious or criminal goals. For example, they may use psychological manipulation to trick people into making security mistakes or revealing sensitive information.

And as security technologies and measures improve, so cybercriminals increasingly use social engineering attacks that rely on human error to succeed. These include phishing, pharming and business e-mail compromise (BEC) to gain access to your systems.

Which all means you should test your team’s susceptibility to phishing and other social engineering attacks, just as you would your business’s technical vulnerabilities. Human error is the weakest link in most cybersecurity defence set-ups.

Getting your pen testing right

There are numerous security pen testing tools available out there but because the right security pen testing tools are important to determine the cyber wellbeing of your enterprise, it’s important that your pen testing services provider is accredited with the Council for Registered Ethical Testers or CREST.

Generally, any CREST-accredited penetration testing services provider will develop a testing solution that aligns with your business requirements, operations, budget and how highly you value the assets you want tested.

You will usually be offered a couple of security pen testing options:

  • Level 1 penetration tests

These are suitable for businesses that want to identify the common exploitable weaknesses that are targeted by opportunistic attackers using freely available, automated attack tools.

  • Level 2 penetration tests

If your security objectives are more complex or you require a more detailed exploration of your vulnerabilities – perhaps because you work within a highly sensitive environment – a sound pen test services provider will recommend and implement additional expertise and tools to deliver the additional reassurance and peace of mind you need.

Penetration testing made simple

Keeping your enterprise, IT, data, IP and confidential customer information safe online can seem like a daunting prospect, especially as managing your London-based small to medium-sized business already keeps you busy.

Relax. Let totality service’s highly experienced, expert, independent and objective cybersecurity specialists, and our CREST-accredited partners, manage your whole penetration testing process for you.

We’ll uncover any cyber security vulnerabilities you may have then recommend the right best-in-class, best-fit solutions and keep it all simple, convenient and cost effective.

We’ve helped numerous clients with their pen testing requirements over the years and on the way we’ve earned two consecutive Feefo Gold Trusted Service Awards, Five Star ratings from both Trustpilot and Google, a 98% client retention rate and certification to the renowned Cyber Essentials and ISO 27001 standards.

So why not give us call for a confidential, no obligation chat with our friendly team about your cybersecurity requirements?