Penetration Testing Offers An Opportunity To Improve Network Security

February 16, 2024  |  Mark Hillary

My wife used to work for one of the largest startups in Brazil. They had thousands of employees at their head office in São Paulo, and their service was entirely focused on their app. The company tore up all the rules about how people rent a home — they made it easy for people to find and rent in a market that was traditionally very bureaucratic and managed by traditional estate agents.

However, this also meant that they needed to manage some very sensitive customer data, such as income and bank account details. Security was extremely important because one data breach would mean a catastrophic loss of reputation.

The company had a security team and everyone across the company was trained in how to avoid cyber attacks, but they also regularly used penetration testing to check that the training had worked. This was when an external security company would try to gain access to their network, as if they were real hackers.

Sometimes this would be a disguised attack. All employees might receive an email saying they have won a prize and need to click a button to claim it — once they click, then the hackers have access to their system. Only a small percentage of people would click these links, but in the real world, only one is needed.

I always thought it was interesting that in a hi-tech startup environment, where everyone has been trained in cyber attacks and phishing, people will still click on a link because it says you have won the lottery. These are highly educated people that have been trained to be suspicious — yet some will still click the links.

This personal experience highlights the value of penetration testing — also known as pen testing. It can play a crucial role in strengthening corporate security by simulating the tactics and strategies of real-world hacker or attackers. This proactive approach allows companies to identify and address vulnerabilities in their systems before they can be exploited by malicious actors.

By conducting penetration tests, a company gains insights into potential weaknesses in its network, applications, and other systems. These tests mimic the actions of cybercriminals, trying to breach security defenses using a variety of techniques. This process not only uncovers technical flaws, such as unpatched software or misconfigurations, but also helps in assessing the efficacy of the overall security posture, including policies, employee awareness, and response procedures.

When vulnerabilities are identified, organizations can take specific, informed actions to rectify these issues. This could involve updating software, reconfiguring network elements, reinforcing firewalls, or enhancing encryption practices. Importantly, penetration testing also helps in prioritizing the vulnerabilities, allowing companies to allocate resources effectively to address the most critical issues first.

Another significant aspect of penetration testing is compliance. Many industries have regulations and standards that require regular security assessments, including pen testing. By conducting these tests, companies not only comply with these regulatory requirements, but also demonstrate their commitment to maintaining robust security practices.

Penetration testing also plays a vital role in shaping a company’s security policies and employee training programs. Insights gained from these tests can guide the development of more effective security protocols and inform employees about potential threats and best practices for preventing breaches.

Furthermore, regular penetration testing helps organizations keep pace with the evolving landscape of cyber threats. Attackers continually refine their techniques, and new vulnerabilities emerge as technology advances. Ongoing testing ensures that a company’s defenses remain effective against the latest threats.

Penetration testing is a critical element in strengthening corporate security. It provides a realistic assessment of a company’s vulnerabilities, guides the improvement of security measures, ensures compliance with industry standards, shapes policies and training, and helps companies stay prepared against evolving cyber threats. This proactive approach to security enables organizations to defend themselves more effectively against potential cyber attacks, ultimately protecting their data, reputation, and bottom line.

Penetration testing adds a critical additional layer of security, because no matter how secure your physical network is, it is really only as secure as your employees allow it to be. There is almost always a way in, if people allow it.

For more information on IBA Group Penetration Testing security services, please click here.

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