According to PwC, cybercrime tops the list of the most pressing threats to businesses. Over the last two years, we’ve seen an exponential rise in the number of cybercriminals targeting businesses – and in the crosshairs of cybercriminals are small businesses.
Criminals target small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) as a combination of inadequate security infrastructure and non-existent cyber awareness training leads many small firms vulnerable. In fact, Barracuda found that cybercriminals are up to three times more likely to target SMEs than larger firms.
Cyberattacks are costly. IBM found that the average cost of a data leak stands at $4.35 million – or $161 per lost record – and 60% of small businesses fail within six months of a cyber attack or data breach.
Given this, many small businesses are turning towards penetration testing or ethical hacking to test and strengthen their security infrastructure.
What is Penetration Testing? How does it work? Why is it important for your business?
In this article, we’ll introduce you to all you’ll need to know about the exciting world of penetration testing and ethical hacking!
What is Penetration Testing?
For many businesses, it can be difficult to discover flaws in their security measures. Bad processes, configurations and holes in your protection usually only become evident after these vulnerabilities have been exploited in a data breach – and by that time, it’s too late!
Penetration testing – also known as ethical hacking – refers to a simulated & controlled cyberattack on your IT infrastructure in order to find flaws and risks in your IT systems.
What do testers look for during penetration tests?
- Any dangerous configurations of security infrastructure, including misconfigured firewalls, poorly maintained access permissions or bad data handling procedures in applications.
- Outdated or vulnerable software that could be exploited to gain access to systems.
- The existence of both malicious or negligent backdoors in your IT systems.
- Vulnerability to insider threats and attacks – mainly by modelling a malicious insider attack.
These tests are carried out by experts known as ethical hackers who use the same methods that cybercriminals use to cause damage and steal data. These security experts can discover the vulnerabilities that put your business at risk and can recommend measures to plug these gaps!
Why is Penetration Testing important for small businesses?
Penetration testing is a cost-effective method for testing your security infrastructure.
Whilst we do recommend that businesses of all sizes carry out a full security audit to verify that your current security infrastructure is adequate, pen testing helps check if your systems are at risk of common, trending cyberattacks.
The idea here – as with any preventive security measure – is to stop cyberattacks before they happen. The benefits of which should be immediately obvious. As we touched on earlier, cyberattacks cost time and money to respond to – with the average cost of a data breach being $4.35m according to IBM.
What’s even more concerning, however, is the length of time it usually takes to spot and contain breaches. IBM found that the average time it took to identify a data breach is 207 days, with a further 70 days needed to contain it.
It’s therefore clear why small businesses want to find vulnerabilities before criminals use them to launch real cyberattacks. SMBs enjoy a high ROSI (return on security investment) on pen testing when the cost of potential breaches is factored in.
Common Processes for Penetration Testing
As pen testing aims to simulate real cyberattacks as accurately as possible, this type of test is by design unpredictable and doesn’t usually follow a test flow or criteria – unlike security audits.
There are two main approaches to penetration testing:
- Blackbox testing: In these tests, the target company doesn’t share any information with the security experts. Instead, ethical hackers use common cyberattack methods to breach an organisation’s defences and identify ways to access its IT systems.
- Whitebox testing: The target organisation will share known vulnerabilities, system configurations and any other information that could help the expert identify any vulnerability.
Blackbox testing will find vulnerabilities that more accurately reflect what real criminals will use to attack your business – and are a great tool for finding the highest priority issues with your infrastructure.
However, limiting the information you give to testers will inevitably increase the risk that severe vulnerabilities will be left uncovered. For this reason, we strongly recommend whitebox testing for discovering as many vulnerabilities and misconfigurations as possible.
Best Practices for Effective Penetration Testing
How can you ensure that your penetration tests are effective? Here are some of our top tips:
- Choose a reputable, experienced penetration tester: The quality, breadth and trustworthiness of a penetration test entirely depend on the experience and skills of the penetration tester. The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre recommends that organisations use assured testers and companies. Get in touch with us to explore the right testers for the job!
- Test regularly with recent cyberattack methods: Penetration testing can only judge your security health based on known vulnerabilities at the time of the test. Cybercriminals work fast and discover new methods all the time. We recommend conducting tests at least a few times a year.
- Compile a list of vulnerabilities to test: Whitebox tests are best used in conjunction with other methods of identifying risks – such as information security audits and data loss prevention solutions. We recommend running a full audit to find issues and then provide testers with a list of these vulnerabilities.
How can we help improve your cyber security infrastructure?
A comprehensive cyber security solution is vital for protecting your data and IT systems from cyber criminals. Penetration testing is an effective tool for judging the effectiveness of such infrastructure.
Want to ensure your cyber security solution is up to scratch? Before you invest in penetration testing it is important that your business has a comprehensive solution in place.
If you want to find out more about how we can help you strengthen your security posture, or start your pen testing journey, get in touch with us today!