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How Network Penetration Testing Can Boost Your Cybersecurity

Network Penetration Testing 101 - What you need to know - Corsica Technologies
Network Penetration Testing 101 - What you need to know - Corsica Technologies

First published July 21, 2020. Updated and expanded Dec 12, 2023.

Are you easy to hack?

How would you know until it’s too late?

That’s the thinking behind penetration testing services, which put your network up against the tactics of real hackers in the real world. It’s a critical component of cybersecurity.

But what goes into penetration testing? Can you test your own network by yourself? What should you look for in a penetration testing service?

Here’s everything you need to know.

What is network penetration testing?

Penetration testing is a cybersecurity exercise in which authorized agents, also known as ethical hackers, are given permission to attempt to penetrate your defenses. The ethical hackers use any known vulnerabilities, but they also scan the network for unknown vulnerabilities. Once the hacking exercise begins, they try to exploit any and all vulnerabilities.

Theoretically, you could conduct penetration testing with internal resources. But if your IT and cybersecurity staff are the ones who set up your defenses, they may not be the right people to do this exercise. No one wants to prove that the systems they’ve designed, implemented, and maintained are vulnerable.

This is why it’s best to hire a third-party service to conduct network penetration testing. An outside partner will approach your network impartially. They have no skin in the game other than providing accurate test results.

Why conduct penetration testing?

Network penetration testing helps determine your organization’s cybersecurity risk profile. It indicates whether your current network security controls are working effectively, or if they need to be improved.

Network penetration testing also goes farther than other cybersecurity exercises. It provides real-world outcomes from real-world exploits conducted by ethical hackers. There’s just no other way to get this type of information.

How is this different from vulnerability scanning?

While penetration testing sounds a lot like vulnerability scanning, the two processes are actually quite different.

The main distinction is that a penetration tester will attempt to utilize multiple system weaknesses to customize an attack chain that allows them to access the underlying system.

In contrast, most vulnerability scanning tools only identify the vulnerability. They can’t chain together all the weaknesses to identify potential exploitation vectors–i.e. potential paths that a hacker could take to breach a system. This is where a network penetration test provides enhanced threat analysis and targeted recommendations based on real world scenarios.

What’s included in a network penetration test?

Vulnerability scanning is one component of a proper penetration test. Research has shown that a first-time penetration test will find an average of 34 high-impact vulnerabilities. An ethical hacker can show you how these vulnerabilities can be exploited. This is essential to save your business from the financial and reputational costs of data breaches and data loss.

When an organization wants to perform a penetration test on their networks, they typically reach out to a trusted cyber security managed services provider (MSSP). While some unspecialized IT companies may offer pen testing, MSSPs like Corsica Technologies are experienced in providing organizations and even government bodies with this type of evaluation.

Penetration testing is a multi-phased approach. It culminates in a written report that contains supporting evidence of the organization’s assigned risk score. The agent will conduct open-source intelligence gathering to establish how the client-provided assets map to the information on the internet. Searches are done for information that could assist in later exploitation attempts, mimicking the activities of a threat actor.

This phase is followed by threat modeling and vulnerability analysis to aid in the exploitation activities. If the agent gains access, they document what level of access they gained and what data they could reach.

Most importantly, they collect the data and information learned during the testing process and present it to you. They also provide an action plan and recommendations to remedy any vulnerabilities or inefficiencies found during the test.

Benefits of penetration testing services

Network penetration testing reveals how effective your cybersecurity really is. Otherwise, you’ll never know whether your security system is actually strong enough until you experience a real cyber attack, when the stakes are much higher.

An effective penetration test can detect possible threats to your security that come from software weaknesses, network inefficiencies, human error, and more. It shows you the real vulnerabilities that cyber criminals could exploit to gain access to your systems. By doing this, it helps your organization better anticipate any security threats and prevent the type of unauthorized access to your network that can devastate your business.

Getting an expert, third-party opinion on the state of your defenses reveals how you could improve your security standing. Most importantly, it helps you recognize measures you may have overlooked.

Additionally, a pen test is especially useful in ensuring that your system is compliant with all the necessary laws to help you avoid non-compliance penalties. While compliance audits remind you of best practices to employ, they can’t test the real-world effectiveness of such practices like a penetration test can.

Overall, network penetration testing gives you peace of mind that you are aware of the potential threats that your systems face. It provides written documentation that you can use to allocate resources and make informed decisions, and it prepares your company to defend against real attacks that hackers could make.

 

Want to learn more about penetration testing?

Reach out to schedule a consultation with our security specialists.
Corsica Technologies
Corsica provides personalized service and a virtual CIO (vCIO) who serves as a strategic advisor. When it comes to the complex integration of solutions for IT and cybersecurity, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We offer cybersecurity solutions, managed services, digital transformation, resale services, and one-off technology projects. Corsica unifies any combination of these services into a complete, seamless solution.

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