Like most businesses, yours probably depends on a complex stack of technological infrastructure. You likely use many systems throughout the day, have a strong and vast network, and host incredibly sensitive data.
You don’t need a cybersecurity company to tell you that this opens you up to many vulnerabilities. If malicious actors find their way into your systems, they could steal your data, compromise your ability to function, or even hold you hostage in exchange for a ransom.
One of the best preventative tools you have to mitigate these types of threats is penetration testing. But what exactly is penetration testing and should it be considered essential for your business?
What Is Network Penetration Testing?
Let’s start by explaining what penetration testing is. The techniques used in penetration testing range from simple to complex, with cybersecurity experts using a combination of testing software and manual actions to assess potential vulnerabilities in your network. But you don’t need to have a sophisticated understanding of any technology to understand the basics of what penetration testing is and why it’s important.
Essentially, you can think of penetration testing as a form of white hat hacking. In other words, ethical people who are interested in good outcomes for your business intentionally role play as malicious actors.
In a test environment, these people simulate a direct attack or a direct attempt to infiltrate your system; if they’re successful, you can learn which vulnerabilities are most significant in your organization and the effect a single attack could have. If they’re unsuccessful, you can be fairly confident that your security systems are working as intended.
A standard penetration test utilizes a full toolkit available to black hat hackers, ideally simulating what a real attack would look like.
What Are the Benefits of Penetration Testing?
With the help of testing software and manual penetration testing actions, you can see the following benefits:
A Thorough Risk Assessment
This is your opportunity to perform a thorough risk assessment of your business and its digital systems. After a standard penetration test, you’ll understand your biggest weaknesses and exactly how much damage a motivated hacker could do to your organization. This, in turn, should allow you to make better decisions for the security of your organization.
Alerts to Vulnerabilities
You’ll also get alerts to specific vulnerabilities that could be problematic for your business. Is there a gap in your current security measures? Is there a piece of infrastructure that’s missing? Once you learn what these vulnerabilities are, you’ll be in a great position to fix them.
Complying with laws and regulations is vital if you want to continue doing business as usual. Penetration testing can be valuable in making sure you’re doing everything possible to maintain security. If there are any gaps in your regulatory compliance, you’ll have a chance to proactively acknowledge and correct them before you experience any consequences.
Depending on the type of penetration testing you’re getting and how you respond to the results of that testing, you could stand to bolster your reputation. You can demonstrate just how high your security standards are and show the world that even the most sophisticated white hat hackers can’t get past your impressive defenses.
Competitive Bragging Rights
Similarly, remaining strong in the face of a formidable penetration test gives you some competitive bragging rights. If you’re one of several companies in a niche industry and none of your competitors have been able to pass a penetration test successfully, this gives you a significant competitive advantage. Just be warned that if you do fail a penetration test, you’ll have your work cut out for you to close the gap.
Strong Feedback for Security Teams
Finally, a thorough penetration test provides excellent feedback for security teams. If there’s something they’re doing wrong, or if there’s a piece of the puzzle they’re missing, this is their chance to learn about it and incorporate it into their existing security policies. If they’re already doing an excellent job and the penetration test does not go through, they can feel more confident in their work.
Note that many of these benefits compound over time, especially if you conduct many different rounds of penetration testing. Penetration testing standards evolve, just like black hat hackers do, so it’s important to pursue penetration testing on a regular basis. The deeper you probe into your organization’s defenses, the better your understanding of those defenses will be.
Are There Any Weaknesses of Penetration Testing?
Let’s talk about the possible downsides of penetration testing you need to know.
Dependency on External Actors
First, you need to know that the value of a penetration test is only as high as the value of the person performing it. It’s important to have seasoned, experienced experts on your side when conducting a penetration test; otherwise, you won’t be confident that you could thwart the majority of potential attacks.
Lack of Testing for Internal Threats
Penetration testing simulates external attacks on your network, but they don’t do a great job of testing for potential internal threats. A single disgruntled employee could hypothetically do more damage than the world’s most sophisticated hacker—you’ll need to plan for these threats, too.
Good penetration testing from veteran white hat hackers does require an investment, but this usually pays for itself.
Should Penetration Testing Services Be Considered Essential?
So what’s the bottom line here? Should you consider penetration testing an essential security element for your business?
If your business has anything significant to lose in the event of a security breach, then yes, you should consider penetration testing to be essential. Even a single round of penetration testing can tell you about the quality of your current security measures and your biggest vulnerabilities.
If you’re ready to explore the world of penetration testing, or if you just need advice on how to improve your business’s cybersecurity, contact us for a free consultation today!