What is the primary goal of penetration testing?
Illia PinchukIllia PinchukCEO
Business·Technology·

What is the primary purpose of penetration testing? 

Ours is a data-driven age. Companies and individuals collect and store information on on-premise servers and cloud facilities. Whether this data is related to professional, financial, or personal matters, its owners must protect it against any unauthorized access. Why? Because cybercriminals are never tired of finding more sophisticated ways of trespassing on this forbidden territory and getting hold of sensitive data. So if you want to enjoy high-level information security, penetration testing is a second-to-none instrument to achieve it.  

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What is penetration testing?

According to the classic penetration test definition, also known as ethical hacking, this is the process of legitimate and authorized interference with a software product, network, or infrastructure. Wait a minute, you may say. Legitimate? Why would anyone in their sober senses openly sanction having their software or hardware tapped? Or in other words, what is the primary purpose of penetration testing?  

The answer to this question is quite simple. You can never know how wrongdoers will try to enter your IT system or break into a software product unless official white hat hackers, with your permission, emulate their methods and find weak spots in its defensive armor that they can exploit.  

Having received an answer to the question “What is the primary goal of penetration testing?” you may wonder if there are any auxiliary objectives this procedure aims to attain. Of course, there are. By performing pen testing, organizations obtain an assessment of their corporate security policy, check the security awareness of their employees, track compliance with current legislative regulations, and gauge the overall ability of the company to identify security issues and react appropriately to them.  

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The outcome of the penetration testing reflected in the test report is a collection of insights into the security condition of the organization that serves as a set of actionable guidelines for modifying or completely overhauling its security protocols and policies. If the object of ethical hacking is a software product, developers obtain a vulnerability map and introduce corrections to address revealed security problems and avoid similar mistakes while creating other solutions.  

Pentesting vs. vulnerability scanning

Sometimes, penetration testing is confused with vulnerability scanning. It is pretty natural to identify them because what is the primary purpose of penetration testing is also an overarching goal for vulnerability scans: to expose problem zones of a software product. Yet, these two are quite distinct operations.  

Vulnerability scanning relies on automated tools to examine the environment in search of weaknesses. It doesn’t go beyond providing a list of the vulnerabilities detected after hunting for known, defined, and predictable patterns. Given the inventiveness and resourcefulness of cybercriminals, such checks create only an illusion of safety. 

Penetration testing adopts a different approach. It is a kind of manual testing that imitates real-life attacks administered by humans. Here, specialists look for known and unknown vulnerabilities. The latter result from logical defects and inadequacies in architecture and design, anticipate complex attack vectors and get down to the real cryptography level. Then, testers identify the circumstances of each weakness, prioritize them according to the degree of risk they pose, and offer remediation plans to deal with the security challenges. 

Well, the security of a solution or a system is essential, but is it really that serious about conducting such a complicated and costly procedure regularly? 

Why perform penetration testing?

Let’s be honest: many owners of software products and even enterprise CEOs tend to underestimate cyber security threats while commissioning solutions or setting up the company’s infrastructure. How come? As with many other ignored hazards, time and money are the two primary reasons for such negligence.  

Bent on quick profit, organizations urge developers to complete the product they commissioned as soon as possible to market it and start reaping revenues. As a result, the hastily written code is infested with security gaps and bugs that are easy to exploit for a malevolent purpose. The same is true of infrastructure which is often launched in haste because businesses can’t wait, and seeing ROI is anticipated on short notice. 

Being pressed for time, entrepreneurs (especially startups and small businesses) are also pressed for money. Cash-strapped companies save on implementing security measures and end up pound-foolish while trying to be penny-wise.  

Both these factors add up to produce grievous consequences. Security breaches have increased by 12.7% over the last three years, with an average financial loss of $4.35 million (and almost twice that much in the USA!) caused by the leakage of financial or personal data. Blue-chip brands suffer the most. For instance, after such a breach, Google paid $60 million as penalties for misleading clients about receiving location data, whereas GDPR-related violations cost British Airways $100 million and Amazon $877 million! Smaller companies face shorter bills to foot, but they have a thinner wallet to defray these expenses too.  

Evidently, cyber penetration testing is crucial for the successful and safe functioning of an organization in the digitally-powered world. Moreover, it ushers in a number of perks in addition to its principal mission. 

Penetration testing objectives

As a company with a 10-year of experience in pentesting, we are aware of the penetration testing goals and benefits.

 

Penetration testing procedure – DICEUS

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Penetration testing procedure - DICEUS
  1. Taking a proactive approach to security. In the current dynamic technological environment, reaching the future-poof security of a solution is impossible. Instead of trying to build up layer upon layer of security armor and patch up breaches when they occur, you should act in advance and look for and seal gaps in your current defense. Penetration testing is just what the doctor ordered to detect such vulnerabilities and show the organization IT areas that require reinforcing.  
  1. Simulating real-life cyber attacks. Knowing their domain inside out, testers wear hackers’ shoes and utilize the same practices perpetrators harness to cause damage. Moreover, they know what elements and areas are most tempting for hackers to try to worm into. 
  1. Exposing human-factor weaknesses. Testing experts examine not only machines and software. They also assess the working habits and actions of the personnel and draw managers’ attention to those practices that compromise the security of infrastructure and solutions. 
  1. Revealing the capacity to recover quickly. Once some security issue crops up, duty holders must react promptly and adequately. Such resilience grows manifold if the organization has a detailed security emergency plan in place. Penetration testing manifests the efficiency of such a scheme or displays the necessity to develop one. 
  1. Ensuring business continuity. When security breaches occur, the normal functioning of a company is suspended indefinitely because the staff can’t use professional equipment or software. Regular penetration tests act as business perpetuity audits and enable forestalling such emergencies or at least keeping downtime to a minimum.  
  1. Aligning with current regulations. PCI norms and the ISO 27001 standard mandate regular pen tests that generate security reviews. Therefore, penetration testing is not a whim or a desirable precautionary measure but a statutory requirement. 
  1. Providing a third-party perspective. It is a sad fact, but managers are less likely to listen to in-house experts who draw attention to security inadequacies or oversights. CEOs would heed their warnings more readily if outsiders specifically hired to do the job reveal the same problems.  
  1. Ensuring customer trust. Prospective partners tend to prefer brands with high reputation for rigid and consistent security policies. And one-time customers are likely to turn into loyal clients for years to come.  

To enjoy all these benefits, you should choose the suitable testing method.  

Penetration testing methods

There are five universally recognized methods applied in pen testing. 

Penetration testing methods

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Penetration testing methods

External testing 

The objects of this testing method are external-facing assets, such as a website, email, domain name server (DNS), etc. Those are open for internet access. An advanced form of this method, the white box test, presupposes a preliminary briefing of ethical hackers on the company’s security measures.  

Internal testing 

It aims to access professional software from within and check how impenetrable the firewall protection of the organization is.  

Blind testing 

The second name of this method is the black box test because would-be perpetrators know nothing but the title of the company whose system they will try to penetrate. During it, the security personnel of the IT department is drilled to react to a simulated cyber attack. 

Double-blind testing 

Here, the security team of the company isn’t warned about what’s going to happen. That’s why the imitation of a penetration attempt is taken at face value, so the staff acts in a real-world context (as they believe).  

Targeted testing 

During this procedure, “the attackers” and “the victims” collaborate closely and assess one another’s moves. Such a method is more of a training exercise than a penetration attempt. Thanks to it, the security staff can discover the hackers’ perspective and have a fresh look at their security plan.   

DICEUS as a long-time player in the niche leverages these methods for a whole range of use cases.  

Types of penetration testing provided by DICEUS

We excel at the following types of penetration testing.  

Network testing 

Network testing helps check how secure the network your company relies on in its pipeline is. Typically, such systems comprise LAN and WAN networks with multiple endpoints (such as servers, mobile devices, and workstations). To assess its security, we apply both internal and external testing methods.  

Internal testing embraces exposure of internal subnets, file and domain servers, printers, and switches, detecting vulnerable devices or operating systems on the network, lateral movement, privilege escalation, and deploying rootkits, trojans, and other malware that enables continued access. 

External testing covers a greater number of possible threats, including host and server discovery, password cracking, spoofing, Denial of Service (DoS), buffer overflow, network sniffing, traffic monitoring, attempted access via default passwords or brute force, etc. 

Wireless network testing 

Being still a network, a wireless system has its own weak points and peculiarities that must be taken into account while performing penetration testing. Realizing it, our experts examine wireless networks with particular attention to the encryption key and password strength, RF signal leakage, network segmentation, rogue access point identification, and egress filtering. Plus, we conduct captive portal testing.  

Mobile app testing 

Today, many companies leverage enterprise apps or launch such products to provide another channel of interaction with the clientele. We make sure their solutions’ security is up to the mark. The top risks we check mobile apps for are improper platform usage, insecure communication, authentication, authorization, or data storage, insufficient cryptography, code tampering, reverse engineering, and extraneous functionality.  

Web app testing 

While not all companies have mobile apps, a website or a web app is a must for businesses with big-time aspirations. While conducting penetration testing of such products, we focus on cross-site scripting (XSS), the configuration of web browsers, file upload flaws, caching server attacks, cross-site request forgery, SQL injection, broken authentication and session management, and password cracking.  

Hacking your things 

Nowadays, dozens of smart items surround us – from watches, wristbands, and glasses to doorbells, locks, and even key chains. However diverse they are, they have one thing in common. They all rely on software or firmware of some kind, which means they can be compromised. DICEUS will perform penetration testing of cars, robots, 5G systems, SCADA equipment, and various IoT devices to make sure they obey their master and aren’t hijacked by cybercriminals. 

Social engineering 

You may have built a perfect protection system that covers all your hardware and software assets but still suffer regular breaches. How is that possible? It happens because you have left out of your calculations another vital ingredient of cyber security – the personnel. DICEUS offers a range of social engineering services to check how rank-and-file employees adhere to security protocols and practices.  

We determine what information about your company wrongdoers can obtain from open sources and assess your staff’s susceptibility to social engineering attacks. The latter may include phishing, vishing, smishing, impersonation, tailgating, dumpster diving, and USB drops). Moreover, we evaluate how effective the current digital security policy of your company is. Then, we develop training programs to foster targeted security awareness of your personnel.  

Red team attack simulation 

This is a practice of a comprehensive assessment of an organization for the most effective compromise methods. All technical, physical, and human resources are analyzed to identify the weakest spot in your security armor and test the strength of your defense mechanism. Such simulated attacks consist in multiple engagement activities where we check how the customer’s systems deal with spear phishing, specialized malware, targeted web app, physical security and wireless attacks, privilege escalation, defensive evasion, credential dumping, lateral movement, and more.  

Learn more about our testing and QA services.

Let us exemplify the way we perform our pen test responsibilities and tackle real-life projects.  

Penetration testing by DICEUS showcased

The American non-profit company Counter Tools specializes in developing software for public health organizations. It sought our help and advice on improving the app they have built for the California Department of Justice. Alongside the greater capacity of the solution, one of the requests was to provide its compliance with security protocols. To ensure the latter, we recommended developing an ethical hack methodology and conducting penetration tests. 

During the discovery phase of the project, we dug deep into the peculiarities of the solution under testing. With all the necessary data, we issued high-level security recommendations for gap analysis, penetration testing, and AWS Cloud security assessment. We also outlined the security certification plan for our customers.  

Counter Tools adopted the penetration testing strategy we offered. They performed a comprehensive pen check of their app to ensure the solution’s security. Besides, the developed security certification plan has drastically curtailed the certification preparation expenditures and allowed the process to proceed smoothly.   

Read a full case study.

Drawing a bottom line

Master of information is master of situation, as the old saw has it. In the contemporary data-reliant society, we realize the truth of this adage only too well when cyber security has become one of the top concerns for individuals and organizations with a digital footprint. Data-compromising risks are high, and companies are subject to constant cyber-attacks, resulting in financial losses and reputational damage.  

Penetration testing aims to strengthen the protection of professional hardware and software by imitating practices cyber criminals utilize to break into the system. Ethical hackers use different methods to counter their malicious activity and check digital assets and devices for weak spots. They assess the security awareness of the personnel and the efficiency of an organization’s security policy.  

To conduct thorough penetration testing, you should hire a team of vetted professionals in the niche. DICEUS provides pen testing and consulting services and develops a comprehensive cyber security strategy for all types of businesses. 

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