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What is penetration testing?

Penetration Testing

Penetration testing is one of those sneaky terms in the English language which describes a whole suite of different services. However, the unifying trait within its constituents is that they are all characterised by a ‘simulated cyber-attack’. There are three outstanding practices that make up what is typically coined as a penetration test. Firstly :

Internal Infrastructure Test.

This is the assessment of the network infrastructure of a company from within the network itself. A cyber security expert looks into a company’s network. This may be through going to it physically or using a service known as a VPN (Virtual Private Network). They will then endeavour to breach the companies’ security in a controlled and regulated manner. The findings of the aforementioned assessment go into a report allowing them to move forward with its recommendations. This is in addition to learning how a hacker might try to exploit their network in the future. Thus, providing them everything they might need to defend themselves from an attack.

External Infrastructure Test.

Similar to an Internal Penetration Test, the tester will not have access to any internal systems and their goal is to try and gain as much access as possible. 

This kind of test has an added benefit. The tester will find as much publicly available information about the company’s systems as possible. This often leads to the discovery that the company itself did not even know existed. 

Web Application Test.

This type of test entails the tester looking at a website and assessing its components for vulnerabilities. This is extremely important as it is often where user information goes and requires a vastly different knowledge base than that of an infrastructure test. As with the infrastructure tests, the results of this test are presented in an easy-to-understand report. which is immediately actionable helping secure the companies and their client’s data. 

Frequently Asked Questions

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Many of the aspects of penetration testing can be and are automated. Much of the things that could be detected by an automated tool will be found in a penetration test because these automated tools are used during the process. But penetration testing requires a level of expertise, knowledge and creativity which at the moment cannot be emulated by a computer. Many of the tasks that are and have been automated contain some simple check or test which can be done to give a yes/no answer. Penetration testing incorporates these automated tools to speed up the process of checking smaller issues to give time for a tester to look at the bigger picture of a system and chain together issues or functionality in order to compromise the system. Because all of the work done is essentially a managed interaction between computers it is entirely possible that every possible interaction between these computers can be simulated and all tests can be automated. But as of the moment, the technology is not in a position where it can compete with an experienced penetration tester.

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Penetration testing should act as a 3rd party security check of an application or system. Most companies hold personal information which if released to the public can cause damage to individuals. These applications are required to store and manage that data securely, failure to do so can result not only result in a data breach but also in fines lawsuits against them. A penetration test aims to discover possible vulnerabilities which can lead to a data breach or impact the security of users data. Due to constraints on development and a number of other factors any system essential security can be missed leaving the data of its users at risk to attack. Penetration tests are necessary to highlight what may have been missed during development ensuring the system is up to the highest level of security possible.