Cybersecurity is becoming a bigger concern in the era of digitalization as cybercriminals are constantly looking for system loopholes to exploit and penetrate corporate networks. Since the sophistication and aggression of their methods are rapidly increasing, identifying vulnerabilities is the first and most important step in cybersecurity for any company, no matter how big or small.
Companies frequently use penetration testing to assess their security posture by simulating actual cyberattacks and trying to identify vulnerabilities and exploitation points. Penetration tests are typically performed twice a year or annually by expert organizations.
This article talks about the importance of penetration testing in cybersecurity and whether it’s enough or not to ensure the organization's required level of security.
What is Penetration Testing?
Penetration testing, also known as pen testing, security testing, and security pen testing, is a simulated cybersecurity attack usually done by ethical cybersecurity specialists, often referred to as “ethical hackers,” to identify, test, and highlight vulnerabilities in the company’s cyber security strategy.
Ethical hackers use techniques and tools to mimic real cyberattacks targeting potential access points in computer systems, online platforms, applications, and networks.
There are three different approaches for penetration testing:
1. Black Box Testing
Also known as the external penetration test, the pen tester is provided with the minimum information, such as the enterprise name to simulate a real cyber-attack during the test.
2. Gray Box Testing
In the gray box approach, the pen tester is provided with more information, such as specific hosts or networks to target.
3. White Box Testing
Also known as the internal penetration test, during this test, the pen tester is provided with all information about the enterprise, such as internal documentation, configuration plans, etc.
Why isn’t Penetration Testing Enough for Cybersecurity?
Unfortunately, penetration testing isn’t enough for cybersecurity for the following reasons:
The organization usually conducts penetration tests annually or quarterly, and in most cases, just to meet regulation or cross-check it on their to-do list. Since pen testing provides information about the current status of the company’s security posture, and due to the evolving nature of cyberattacks, companies won’t be prepared to handle future threats.
Remediation actions must be taken immediately after pen testing reveals flaws and problems with cybersecurity processes. Delays, however, can happen for various reasons, including the IT professional’s lack of experience with the issues identified and the need for more time to analyze and set up the vulnerability management plan; therefore, it gives cybercriminals enough time to exploit system weaknesses and attack the business.
It’s a depressing fact, but not all “ethical hackers” are ethical!
The person conducting the pen test is crucial to its success. Companies occasionally hire reformed cybercriminals because they are more qualified due to their prior cyberattack experience.
Those people are not always completely truthful, though. For example, if they discover four threats but only alert the company to three of them, the company may be at risk from the fourth vulnerability.
Some companies cut costs according to their budget, and instead of having a full-scale penetration test, they conduct a partial one. For example, they exclude social engineering tests as the company considers its staff well trained, leaving the window open for any weakness their staff may have without the company knowing about it!
Keeping the company’s hardware and software up to date is the basis of cybersecurity. Some companies have legacy software mixed with new applications. This mix will result in insufficient pen testing outcomes because it will be performed on one of the components, either the legacy systems or the new apps, which will find the vulnerabilities affecting that specific component only, leaving the company still vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
The perfect pen test is one where its results can be generalized to all of the enterprise’s systems; this is not possible for large businesses and enterprises due to the volume of data they store across numerous servers and locations and the diversity of their devices and operating systems, such as those found in hospitals. Each server, platform, device, system, etc. must be tested to obtain the full results, which is not a effective solution.
As mentioned, most companies hire reformed cybercriminals, which can be freelancers or companies that provide pen testing services. The vulnerabilities one vendor can find can’t be found by another, leaving the company exposed to security breaches.
What else Can be Done if Pen Testing is Not Enough?
Despite its efficiency in many cases, it's obvious that penetration testing has limitations due to constrained testing scope, duration, delayed remediation, and inconsistency; therefore, experience cybersecurity experts accompany pen testing with other approaches to guarantee ultimate protection against potential cyber-attacks—for example, red teams, white hats, and vulnerability scanning.
Going through all the details of what's enough and what's not in cybersecurity is a headache. That's why companies need a one-stop platform to perform continuous cybersecurity checks across multiple levels and report back to demonstrate what seems to be wrong; this way, experts can decide where to focus and what to prioritize.
Salience is the cybersecurity monitoring platform Humanize developed to offer C-suite executives a real-time glimpse of the cybersecurity status in their firms. In addition to its high-level cybersecurity features, the platform comes in a simplified, easy-to-use interface for C-suite executives to utilize without expertise in the domain. It's worth mentioning that penetration testing is only part of what Salience offers in terms of regular testing.
Keeping the system and network safe is a priority for companies in the digital era. Hackers are getting more professional and looking for any vulnerability to attack. Although pen testing has been considered an adequate practice to protect businesses against cyber-attacks for a long time, the infrequent testing, outdated systems, inconsistency, and other reasons make it insufficient for cyber security, and complementary procedures must be considered to provide effective cyber security.