You’re looking to make your network more secure from cyber threats. You’re considering conducting penetration testing to discover the vulnerabilities in your security environment.
You may be asking, how does a professional penetration testing service work, and is it worth the cost?
At Proven Data, we help clients discover their risks through penetration testing and create customized preventative cyber security solutions to mitigate risk. Our cyber security experts are ready to help you discover and resolve your network vulnerabilities before a cyber criminal exploits them.
By the end of this blog you will:
Who should conduct a penetration test?
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of how a professional penetration testing service works, we want to proactively answer a question our clients often ask: can I conduct a penetration test myself or do I need a service?
Technically the answer is you can conduct a pen test on your own. However, to achieve the most thorough assessment possible, a penetration test should be performed by someone who holds the necessary qualifications and is organizationally independent of the security system’s management.
A penetration testing service employs cyber security professionals (also known as ‘ethical hackers’) who have experience with permissibly hacking systems with the sole purpose of detecting vulnerabilities.
Naturally, as a company offering pen testing services, you’d expect us to recommend working with a penetration testing company, but don’t just take our word for it.
Below, you’ll find a list of reasons why someone from inside your organization shouldn’t perform a pen test:
- Lack of expertise can increase the risk of issues arising during the test and decrease vulnerability detection success. This risk could lead to business interruption or downtime
- Regulations require penetration testing be performed by someone independent from the management of the organization’s security systems
- An insider wouldn’t qualify as a third-party tester who can assess the environment and construct a report that you can provide to clients and auditors
- An internal tester may be biased and overlook a vulnerability that an outside resource would detect
Due to these factors, working with a penetration testing service is advised for the initial assessment of your security framework. We understand your cyber security budget is tight, so do-it-yourself penetration testing may be an appealing option for maintenance scans which should occur more frequently.
However, start on the right foot and work with a professional penetration testing expert to get the most thorough evaluation possible to set you on the path to cyber security success.
Step by step process of penetration testing
Now that you understand why working with a professional pen testing service can produce the most thorough assessment of your security environment, what exactly does a professional pen tester do?
Below you will find a breakdown of the five-step process you can expect when working with a penetration testing service.
1. Pre-test interaction
The penetration testing company will begin by discussing your objectives and goals for the test, outline the logistic details, and set expectations for the process from start to finish.
Penetration testers use this initial phase to thoroughly understand your specific risk and your organization’s security culture to develop a customized strategy to conduct the most effective pen test.
In this stage, a penetration tester will work with you to determine what type of pen test will be the best fit for your organization. This stage will identify the scope in which the pen tester will work on your network.
Below, you will find basic info on internal or external penetration testing to decide which one is right for you:
An internal pen test:
- Is performed within the perimeter of the target environment
- Determines actions an attacker could take within the environment
- Models internal threats
An external pen test:
- Is conducted remotely
- Tests perimeter security effectiveness
- Helps determine attack vectors that could be targeted by outside threats
2. Gather reconnaissance information
The second step is to conduct reconnaissance to gather information about the network. Also known as Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), this stage is when a penetration testing specialist will uncover the specified amount of information designated by the pen test type.
Depending on the type of pen test you request, the reconnaissance will identify the information necessary to understand the specific vulnerabilities and attack vectors.
A professional penetration testing service will follow an extensive checklist for discovering unsecured entry points and vulnerabilities within the network. The OSINT Framework provides a plethora of details for open information sources.
Penetration tests use intelligence collecting techniques including:
- Search engine queries
- Domain name searches
- Social media
- Whois lookups – helps identify who owns a target, hosted company, location of servers, IP address, Server Type, and more.
- Social engineering
- Footprinting – a pen tester attempts to gather sensitive public-facing information of the organization while posing as an attacker.
3. Identify targets and attack vectors
The third stage involves identifying targets and mapping attack vectors based on the reconnaissance gathered in previous steps.
The reconnaissance information provides the penetration tester with details used to decide the attack methodology to employ during the penetration test.
Penetration testing services typically focus on the following areas when mapping and identifying vulnerabilities:
- Internal threats: threats posed by staff or vendors
- External threats: threats posed by unsecured ports, applications, network traffic and protocols
- Organization assets: employee, customer and technical data
The vulnerabilities discovered during the pen test will be relayed to you in the final report of the findings.
4. Attempt to exploit vulnerabilities
Once the attack landscape has been created, the penetration tester will attempt to exploit the vulnerabilities as if they were hackers.
This vulnerability exploitation by an ethical hacker allows you to:
- Discover whether a cyber criminal could gain and maintain unauthorized access
- Test the effectiveness of your detection protocol
5. Analysis, reporting and recommendations
After the agreed upon vulnerabilities have been exploited during the pen test, documentation of the attack methods used will be recorded for analysis.
The pen tester will analyze the data collected to determine the value of the exploited systems and the value of the data compromised.
The penetration testing service will then present you with a report that includes a prioritized list of recommendations to secure your network to ensure vulnerabilities are addressed.
The report will include:
- Detailed explanations about the critical vulnerabilities that need to be secured
- Information on attack vectors discovered during the reconnaissance and target identification stages
- Remediation recommendations on how to patch security issues that were exploitable during the pen test
After the recommendations have been made, the pen tester will clean up your network and reconfigure and secure any vulnerabilities that they opened up during the exploit.
How much does a professional penetration test cost?
The average cost of a penetration test ranges from $4,500 to $20,000. A pen tester will usually work on your security environment for a minimum of 20 hours for a basic test.
The more extensive the network and the more complex the security environment, the more expensive and lengthier the test will be.
The type of pen test and the hours needed to conduct the test’s designated scope will influence the cost of working with a professional pen testing service.
Next steps to improve your security
Once the penetration test is complete, you should immediately implement the recommended security measures to close up dangerous vulnerabilities. Most companies who offer pen testing will provide actionable steps you can take to secure your network and help you close the vulnerabilities that may exist.
Consulting with a cyber security professional can help you find the cyber security products and services that are right for you. The cost of cyber security doesn’t have to break the bank, but you can’t afford to leave known vulnerabilities unsecured.