What is penetration testing? Cyber security experts explain

We live in a predominantly digitally driven world. Information and data are shared frequently and not often do we go a day without using some sort of computer system.

What is a penetration test (pen testing)?

This controlled hacking allows experts to identify weaknesses in an organisation’s system, allowing them to be resolved before a hacker discovers them and exploits it to steal data or other malicious activities. 

How is a penetration test conducted?

The testers will first plan and scope to identify their objectives and the target systems. Rules of engagement are established to ensure that the test is conducted safely and without causing disruptions. Once this has been done, the penetration testers begin the information-gathering phase. During this they will collect data about the target’s architecture, applications and network configuration.

With the information at hand, the penetration testers will then perform a thorough vulnerability analysis. They utilise a combination of automated tools and manual techniques to identify weaknesses and potential entry points. They will then attempt to exploit these vulnerabilities using various tactics and techniques as they attempt to gain unauthorised access to the system.

When a penetration test is completed, the findings are analysed and compiled into a detailed report. The report includes a comprehensive overview of the vulnerabilities discovered during the test, the impact they could have on the organisation, and what actions the cyber security experts recommend to fix these vulnerabilities. 

Why is penetration testing important?

Penetration testing is crucial for organisations as it proactively identifies and exposes vulnerabilities in computer systems. By imitating real-world cyber attacks, organisations then have the knowledge and preparation to tackle their weaknesses and  prioritise security measures.

This proactive approach will help to prevent potential breaches, safeguard sensitive data and ultimately improves your overall cyber security.

Penetration testing vs vulnerability assessment

While penetration testing involves simulating real-world attacks to identify weaknesses and gauge the system’s response, vulnerability assessments  focus on identifying and classifying potential vulnerabilities without actively exploiting them. Both methods complement each other to enhance overall security however Vulnerability assessments don’t provide the same level of assurance as a Penetration Test. Where requirements are for a Penetration Test, a Vulnerability Assessment will not be suitable and caution should be applied when choosing a supplier. On the surface, cheaper suppliers can appear attractive, however, their assurances rarely meet the requirements of Insurance or Accreditations. Caution should be applied when your Penetration Testing appears to be “cheap”.


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