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Penetration testing (or pen testing) is a security exercise where a cyber-security expert attempts to find and exploit vulnerabilities in a computer system. The purpose of this simulated attack is to identify any weak spots in a system’s defenses which attackers could take advantage of.
This is like a bank hiring someone to dress as a burglar and try to break into their building and gain access to the vault. If the ‘burglar’ succeeds and gets into the bank or the vault, the bank will gain valuable information on how they need to tighten their security measures.
Penetration testing is an everyday part of the job description for us here at ICSDI. In fact, it’s our specialty. Something else we deal with almost daily, though, is answering the question: “What is a penetration test and why do I need it?”
Penetration tests let companies evaluate the overall security of their IT infrastructure. A company may have robust security protocols in one area but be lacking in another. The high cost of a successful cyber attack means no company should wait for a real-world scenario to play out before going on offense. Using penetration testing tools to expose holes in a business’s security layer allows security experts and Pen Testers to address any shortcomings before they become critical liabilities.
Penetration tests differ in terms of goals, conditions, and targets. Depending on the test setup, the company provides the testers varying degrees of information about the system. In some cases, the security team is the one with limited knowledge about the test.
The penetration team has no information about the target system in a black box test. The hackers must find their own way into the system and plan on how to orchestrate a breach.Typically, the testers only have the name of the company at the start of a black box test. The penetration team must start with detailed reconnaissance, so this form of testing requires considerable time.
The testing team has the knowledge of a user with elevated privileges. The hacker knows about:
A grey box pen test allows the team to focus on the targets with the greatest risk and value from the start. This type of testing is ideal for mimicking an attacker who has long-term access to the network.
Pen testers have information about the target system before they start to work. This information can include:
Depending on the setup, testers can even have access to the servers running the system. While not as authentic as black box testing, white box is quick and cheap to organize.