What is Cyber Security Penetration Testing?

In our latest blog, we explain the various types of Cyber Security penetration testing, and why each is necessary to ensure the safety of your business from a cyber attack.

Cyber Security penetration testing is a vital element of ensuring that the cyber defences of a business are not just water-tight in theory, but that this holds true in practice. For those less familiar with the discipline of Penetration testing, what it entails, and the various types which must all be considered to provide complete protection, this article aims to outline the fundamentals, in non-technical parlance. Let’s look at each type of Penetration testing in turn:

Infrastructure Penetration Testing (External /Internal Network Penetration Testing)

Infrastructure penetration testing is what most people think of when they think of Cyber Security penetration testing (which we will refer to as ‘pen testing’ from now on).  Internal network pen testing probes the cyber vulnerabilities within a firm’s network – in other words, recreating the scenario of a member of staff, contractor, or anyone else with trusted access to your internal systems, trying to cause harm – e.g. a disgruntled member of staff who wishes to add code to an e-commerce website which would lead to the theft of money, or perhaps deliberately spread a computer virus.

External pen testing is the endeavour of finding gaps or weaknesses which cybercriminals external to your firm could utilise to compromise your systems, data, and people.  This may include finding vulnerabilities in user security, firewalls, email systems, web servers, FTP, and databases.

Wireless Network Testing

Imagine a scenario whereby a malicious individual was able to access your internal systems through one of your firm’s own wi-fi hotspots.  They might conceivably be able to eavesdrop on your internal emails, phone calls, steal data, or even launch a cyber-attack, all from the comfort of their car while conveniently parked outside your office building.  Wi-fi cyber breaches are widely considered to be the access route of choice for many cyber criminals due to the lack of proper access control and security configuration; which those in the know can quickly and easily take advantage of.  This challenge is made no less easy by the reliance of many businesses on a common wi-fi protocol, called WPA2, which has known weaknesses allowing the malicious interception and theft of data being transferred by wi-fi.  As such, it is vital that all aspects of physical and wireless network security are understood and any possible gaps in defences closed.

Web Application Testing

Web applications involve many layers of technology, all of which must work in synchrony in order to function safely, effectively, and with optimal performance; however, even the smallest vulnerability at any level can allow a cybercriminal to wreak havoc.  A pen testing specialist will identify problems relating to the user’s front end, services, network, database, web pages, and business logic within a web application.  Vulnerabilities can include:

  • SQL injection – whereby a hacker uses the code within your web app to access or cause damage to your database
  • Cross-site scripting (XSS) – whereby a web app client script is altered, allowing criminals to manipulate what the user sees.
  • Cross-site request forgery (CSRF) – whereby a cybercriminal manipulates a user into carrying out actions which they (the user) did not intend to do.

Social Engineering – Physical

All organisations should now have in place processes and procedures designed specifically to prevent members of staff from being vulnerable to a social engineering attack.  Physical, social engineering involves situations whereby someone with malicious intent gains the trust of a member of your staff in person (i.e. they are physically present with the member of staff) in order to gain access to your system.

Physical, social engineering pen testing will seek to determine if members of staff are adhering to organisational policies, procedures, and training designed to avoid this eventuality.

Social Engineering – Electronic

Social engineering by electronic (in contrast to by physical means) involves cases whereby a member of staff is manipulated into allowing system access or divulging important company information, but the breach is carried out by an individual not physically present onsite.  ‘Phishing’ is a particularly common method of social engineering whereby an employee is duped into providing confidential information (such as usernames and passwords), perhaps after opening an email which appears to be from a client or internal and looks entirely genuine, but asks the staff member to click a link to a webpage into which they are deceived into entering private information.

Mobile Device (Application) Testing

Another area of considerable vulnerability for companies is in relation to mobile device applications.  Many businesses are highly reliant on bespoke or proprietary business mobile applications, which, if not fully tested from the perspective of Cyber Security, can open them to the risk of a data breach and deliberate attempts to cause system outages.  Rather like web application testing, each of the technology layers needs to be reviewed in order to identify and eliminate vulnerabilities.

Internet of Things (IoT) Testing

Perhaps the newest area of Cyber Security relates to the Internet of Things (IoT).  The IoT is a term that refers to the connection of devices that traditionally were not connected to the internet, now being connected (e.g. vending machines, fridge/freezers, cars, cameras, etc).  In addition, a plethora of new IoT specific devices which will be developed over the coming years (e.g. health monitoring, home delivery drones, and environmental monitoring devices).  Pen testing of IoT is vital in ensuring that such devices cannot be hi-jacked and used for the benefit of a cybercriminal.

What are the advantages of penetration testing services?

Most businesses lack the full range of people and skills necessary to undertake ongoing penetration testing, either because of the extent and scope of testing required or due to the cost of hiring teams on a permanent basis.  It is for these reasons that many of the world’s largest organisations, and most SME’s engage the services of penetration testing services from specialist Cyber Security businesses.  Not only does this ensure costs are controlled (such businesses often work for a set monthly fee), specialists Cyber Security companies are constantly learning from experiences across the range of clients they serve and will apply that knowledge and experience to your business.  And importantly, once engaged, they can deploy and start to protect your organisation rapidly, given their knowledge and mature delivery processes.

Lineal is a global leader in Cyber Security.  To find out more about our services, please call us on +44 (0)20 7940 4799 or email info@lineal.com.