The Basics of Penetration Testing

penetration testing is exploration of a network, system or web application with the aim of identifying system vulnerabilities that can be used by hackers to gain access to the system. It is usually performed manually or through the use of penetration testing software. It is used to identify systemic or application areas that require improvement. The personnel involved in the process must be certified by such organisations like the crest penetration testing to ensure they have the knowledge and skills to deliver results. 

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Purpose of penetration testing 

While the main objective is to identify areas that require improvement, it can also be used by regulators to test compliance to regulatory directives and laws. It can also be used to test the security policies of an organisation and their effectiveness in the market place. An organisation may also use this to test their employee's awareness of different security measures and how they respond to them. In addition it is used to test the responsiveness of a company to different threats: identification and response to the threats.

Who would benefit from penetration testing?

Banks and financial institutions are increasingly using digital technology to deliver banking services to the masses. In addition, they are constantly being targeted by scrupulous individuals who would like to get rich quickly. In order to ensure that their systems are not prone to attacks that may have devastating effects, they should engage in regular pen tests accompanied by system upgrades to eliminate any loopholes.

The government and government agencies should also have regular testing since they are also a target. The government may be targeted for several reasons including the data banks they have on different people, the security agencies may be targeted to disrupt security in a certain area or region and many more. Weak systems put the welfare of citizens at risk and therefore heavy investment should be made on ensuring that the systems are secure.

Companies that manufacture sensitive products such as firearms and other security equipment should ensure that their systems do not expose them to unnecessary attacks. The information contained in these organisations puts the security of everyone at risk and should therefore be guarded at all costs.

In the private sector, all organisations should ensure that they have adequate checks and tests. Employee records and data, patented information, secret formulas in the production of different products could lead to immense financial losses that may also result to company failure. This will ultimately affect the performance of the economy and therefore the standards of living in the state.

How is penetration testing done?

As mentioned earlier, the process can be manual or carried out using testing software. There are basically two types of tests namely the blackbox and whitebox tests. In the latter, the ethical hackers are provided some information about the system before the actual hacking begins while in the former, the hackers are required to gather their own information on the system and identify the best way to access it. The information provided in a whitebox test may include the system structures, access codes or even developer insights and is usually used to test the vulnerability of the system to people who already have access to it. The balckbox tests vulnerability to outsiders who may not have had any prior interaction with the system.

All organisations are advised to have this test carried out at least once every year. However, in the event that there were system changes, introduction of new applications or sections of the website, the organisation should schedule more tests during the year. This is also advisable if a major threat occurs to the system albeit successful or otherwise. Organisations such as banks and government agencies should have regular tests every year.