Ethical Hacking: What Is Penetration Testing?

An Insight into How We Figure out Weak Points in Business Security

Data security is a hot topic amongst UK businesses and organisations – it is what keeps exploitable data secure from potential threat and keeps the business and its customers safe from potential ransomware attacks. But how do you know how secure that system is?

What is Penetration Testing?

Most businesses have a comprehensive security system, from anti-malware software to firewalls and beyond. Defending your data is a crucial part of owning and operating a business that deals with data in any form.

This is only the first step of business security though; even businesses who have defended themselves, seemingly adequately, are only getting one side of the picture – the inside looking out.

If you built a wall but only ever saw one side of that wall, there would be no way to tell how solid it was from the other side. You may be able to push one side of the wall all day long and marvel at how strong it was, but a single shove on the other side and it would all come crumbling down. This is where penetration testing services come into the equation – your visual from the other side of the wall.

What Is Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing is designed to help businesses better defend themselves against the estimated 4,000 ransomware attacks that occur on a daily basis, and any other potential threat to a business’s sensitive information.

The basic explanation of penetration testing is to access a business’s security system from the outside, but there is a lot more to this essential service that is a vital element in any comprehensive security audit.

For example, penetration testing companies such as Fidus provide a simulated attack that mimics what a hacker would do if they were trying to gain unauthorised access into your system. A penetration test is used to locate potential weaknesses in a system and identify where exploitable data could be retrieved.

This could be personal data, credit card details, or system information – anything that could be used by hackers to ransom your business or its customers.

The other side of penetration testing is to see where your business is excelling at defence; where it is incredibly difficult or impossible for parties that are unauthorised to gain access to get into your business data.

This turns penetration testing into a comprehensive reporting service that delivers a full risk assessment of the state of your business’s defences; what more can be done and what doesn’t need immediate attention.

A Closer Look at the Inner Workings of Penetration Testing

When you’re hiring someone to essentially break into your business’s security, you want the assurance that your business is not going to be put at risk during the process; that your information will be secure and that your system is not going to be affected.

Penetration Testing for IT Infrastructure

Hiring a penetration tester, or ethical hacker as they are commonly referred to, is a highly recommended protocol as part of any secure business system. These days, most ethical hackers are fully qualified and certified under bodies, like with the CREST Certified Tester (CCT) Exam.

Any process involving penetration testing will start with a full scope what you hope to achieve and the setting of clear goals. This includes agreements between the business and penetration tester about times to avoid, which systems need testing, if anything is off-limits, and whether there will be forewarning that the test is occurring.

A decision will also be made as to whether the test will be a whitebox test, where the tester has knowledge of internal systems, or blackbox, where there is only the minimum internal knowledge. Everything gets documented, to make sure each party completely understands the process.

Once the process has been decided upon, the tester will choose the right tools for the job at hand. Different servers require different tools; depending on the tester, they may use existing hacking tools or develop their own tools for hacking into different systems.

Then, the tester focuses on discovering what data could be exploited on the systems. They identify where there may be a potential asset target that could be used by a hacker to exploit the company or its customers; they try to locate everything from public facing infrastructure to outdated software running on the network.

Once a target has been identified, the tester will see whether it is possible to exploit the system(s) to gain remote access, or accomplish previously discussed goals.

The purpose of the test here is to see whether it is possible to gain access to the system without authorisation. Once inside, its then a case of seeing what can be retrieved, what can’t be, and where there are major holes in the security system.

Depending how far the business wishes the tester to explore, they can choose whether they want the tester to gain access, or just report that there is a vulnerability in the system where access can be gained.

This is a sophisticated and difficult process but can reveal where the weak points in your business security are and provide a detailed report on how to address them. For all businesses with data to protect, both vulnerability testing and penetration testing should be used as a standard part of creating a defendable system that keeps data secure.

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About the author

Michael Austin

Michael Austin is a Internet Entrepreneur, Blogger, Day Dreamer, Business Guy, Fitness Freak and Digital Marketing Specialist. He also helps companies to grow their online businesses.