Penetration Testing – What Is It and Who Is It For?

If recent events have taught us little else about network security, it’s that the ideal doesn’t quite match the reality for most businesses. It sounds like a rather doomy and gloomy subject to broach, but given the fact that huge names like Sony and Microsoft have proved to be in no way impervious to attacks, what sort of chance does the rest of the world have?

Well, the simple answer is in fact a relatively good chance indeed as while large-scale hacks continue to happen all over the world, each and every one can usually be pinned on a rather glaring security oversight. The simple fact of the matter is…brace for a cliché…that the security fence you establish around any business or network is only as strong as its weakest link. And unless you’re able to know when and where these weak links appear, how can you possibly know how to repair them?

This is where penetration testing comes into the equation – a security measure that was once considered an optional extra for bigger businesses but is today nothing of the sort. Once again, the fact that even the biggest brands struggle to keep tabs on their own IT and network security pretty much sets in stone the importance of bolstering your own efforts – pen testing being a great place to start.

What Does Pen Testing Involve?

Summed up in a nutshell, pen testing is all about finding out just how possible or indeed how easy it would be for an unauthorised person to gain access to your own private or business networks if they wished to do so. It’s probably the best and in some ways the only way of finding out exactly where the holes in your own security fence are, without having to wait for them to be highlighted by a criminal hacker. Pretty much every eventuality will be looked into as too will the damage that could be done were a hacker to make their way into the system. From corrupting your files to stealing the data of your subscribers and right through to wiping everything you’ve worked for off the face of the Earth – they’ll bring to light the grim truth of the kinds of risks you face.

How the Test Plays Out

In order for the tests to be carried out, you’ll essentially give a group of ethical hackers permission to hack away at your networks and IT systems to see how easy it is to gain entry. Chances are they’ll ask for very little information as they’ll be doing what they do from the perspective of an outside party looking to gain access to your systems with no privileged information at all. They may attempt to hack into private areas of your network externally and internally alike, in order to assess how easily an employee could breach established barriers should they wish to do so.

You’ll have the option of whether or not to inform the rest of the business that a planned hack is set to take place, though it’s generally advised that only those who absolutely need to know about it are informed. After all, in order to gain a good understanding of all security risks, the network and IT systems must be assessed in accordance with how they function on a normal working day.

Is Pen Testing Important?

In terms of what it is that makes pen testing so important, it really all comes down to looking after your own interests and those of your business/customers. Not only do you have an obligation in accordance with law to look after the personal data of any customer you do business with, but the kind of damage that could be done to your operations as a whole were you to be targeted really doesn’t bear thinking about. Microsoft and Sony lost tens of millions of dollars in no more than a few days when their own systems were targeted – a smaller business may not be able to survive this kind of downtime.

The best way of looking at this kind of testing is as something of an insurance policy to back your existing policy. It’s one thing to have what you feel to be a robust network security system in place, but how can you possibly be confident that it would be effective if it has never been put to the test?

There are really only two ways of finding out – organise a pen testing package from the pros, or try your luck against the real hackers if they decide to target you next.