Penetration Testing: Questions answered

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1. Why perform penetration testing?

Penetration testing is an instrument for getting additional information about the systems’ state of security. A penetration test shows where hackers may breach your system; hence, this information can be used to support the decision-making process when implementing protection mechanisms.

In a nutshell, penetration testing would help with:

  • Vulnerability analysis for the target system,
  • Assessment of the loses due to a potential breach,
  • Gaining an unbiased view on the state of the system and protection mechanisms,
  • Gaining insight on the qualification of the internal security staff.

2. Who should perform penetration testing?

To get unbiased view, penetration testing should be performed by third party independent professionals.

You should also consider the ethical aspect, and only hire teams with a proven reputation in the field. Otherwise, information about companies’ critical vulnerabilities may be leaked to competitors.

3. When is the best time to perform penetration testing?

The best time to perform penetration testing is after the implementation and configuration of a new system. You should apply all the security mechanisms according to the good practices and legal and regulatory requirements before undergoing a penetration test; otherwise the necessity of such an exercise would be questionable.

4. Who would benefit from penetration testing?

Organizations that realise the importance of information security and protection of information assets would highly benefit from penetration testing.

Banks and insurance companies are not the only ones on this list. There is nothing more valuable that human life, which is why penetration testing could be valuable for transport and energy companies.

But what if a company is not large enough for the system breach to cause a crisis or substantial financial losses? Even in these cases, penetration testing may prove to be useful. Small and medium-sized enterprise are likely to have a website which helps to sell goods or services. Losses due to a system breach could substantially harm their reputation and competitive advantage.

5. What penetration testing approaches are there?

White box: where the penetration testing team already has some initial information on the system, including the range of IP addresses, ports, source code, hardware and software components, etc.

Black box: where the penetration testing team has no information on the system at all. The team has to model a potential hacker’s actions from the ground up. In doing so, they might, for example, use social networks to find victims of social engineering. This approach is usually more expensive and requires more time.

6. Penetration testing: only a set of tools?

One may think that penetration testing is limited to running several vulnerability scanners, password cracking utilities, traffic sniffing tools, etc., which are, no doubt, the main tools that are used by penetration testing professionals. These are, however, only limited to aiding the expert in finding weaknesses. A comprehensive and robust penetration test mainly relies on the expert’s skills and experience..

7. Can a penetration test be performed to discover vulnerabilities, which don’t lead to significant financial losses?

An attacker might not be motivated by the financial gain, but still can cause some harm. For example, a company might use network printers. Each printer would have it’s own IP address with the open 9100 port. An attacker might:

  • discover the printers’ addresses by scanning the network
  • remotely connect to a printer using the ‘telnet <printer’s IP address> 9100′ command
  • print messages at his / her own choice.

8. What should one expect as a result of the penetration test?

The company that commissions penetration testing  normally receives the following full descriptions on:

  • penetration testing activity and its stages.
  • tools used
  • vulnerabilities discovered
  • exploited vulnerabilities
  • likelihood and risk of the identified vulnerabilities and their potential impact
  • recommendations on how to mitigate the outlined risks

Image courtesy of hywards/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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3 Comments on “Penetration Testing: Questions answered”

  1. mk says:

    I am a student of “Information Security” Although IT is not my major field but I want to have some insight into this field . You blog so informative . Thank you for sharing your knowledge and insights with the world .

  2. mk says:

    * Your blog is so informative . Sorry for the typing error .


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