Penetration testing is one of the essential elements needed to gain insight into your current cybersecurity posture. It enables you to identify how you may be susceptible to unknown weaknesses that external parties may be able to exploit. Making the decision to have a penetration test done to your network is a great first step. Understanding what having the test done will show you, is one step further.
A penetration test is the best representation of how your network appears to potential attackers. These tests simulate a real network attack using the security shortcomings (if there are any) that are currently present in your systems. A penetration test is a 5-step process that involves reconnaissance, enumeration, vulnerability analysis, exploitation, and reporting. Following this, testers are able to document the steps taken to access the system and provide real insight on how the network appears to potential hackers.
First of all, it’s important to know that penetration tests and vulnerability assessments are not the same. Your final report on your penetration test should include a narrative of how the penetration testers, also known as an ethical hacker, executed the testing, detailing how vulnerabilities were identified and exploited.
This is not a report of your vulnerabilities that were identified through automated scans. If you receive a document with hundreds of pages listing patch-based vulnerabilities, that is the results of a vulnerability assessment, not a penetration test. The penetration test could exploit unpatched vulnerabilities, which is one of the goals of the test; however, it should also help you assess your network configuration and setup to determine what information could potentially be exploited. Having a penetration test should be viewed as a great way to engage IT teams to enable them to understand where the network infrastructure can be improved.
This report should not be a sales pitch to purchase more hardware. If you are prudent with updating your technology, it is highly likely that you already have spent money for the proper equipment to secure your IT infrastructure. The penetration testing will ensure that your money was well spent, and your environment has been configured to appropriately leverage that technology. The penetration testing report should also help you to assess whether the penetration points are able to be fixed with the current technology you have in place, and may even result in identifying both long- and short-term solutions to fix the penetrable points.