Why Network Penetration Testing Is an Essential Cybersecurity Practice

Will your cybersecurity setup prove resilient even in the face of a damaging cyberattack like ransomware? Network penetration testing can give you the answer. It’s a stress test of sorts in which cybersecurity experts simulate cyberattacks in a controlled environment to see if your infrastructure will respond and perform as expected.

The advantages of performing network penetration cannot be overstated. Read on to understand the risks associated with not doing so and discover the one solution at the forefront of helping you stay vigilant.

What is network penetration testing?

Network penetration testing is a cybersecurity service to test the efficacy and resilience of an organization’s security setup in the event of a potential cyberattack. Businesses hire security experts who scan their networks for vulnerabilities and simulate realistic cyberattacks on their infrastructure to see if it is good enough to hold off real attempts.

The experts, called pen testers, use every strategy or tool one can find in the cybercriminal’s manual to break through the IT defenses of their clients and simulate a data breach. Some of the commonly used tools are network discovery and vulnerability scanners, password-cracking tools and exploitation frameworks. Since the goal is to identify and plug vulnerabilities in the system before hackers exploit them, network penetration testing is also called ethical hacking.

Most experts perform penetration testing manually, leveraging a combination of their skills and simple software solutions, but this is far from ideal. With cyberattacks coming in hand over fist, businesses need solutions that leverage automation to run comprehensive penetration tests whenever and however frequently they like.

What is the goal of network penetration testing?

Businesses conduct penetration tests to discover defects in their security posture and test the resilience of their systems, applications, communication channels and product integrations if a real-life cyberattack transpires.

With new attack vectors popping up by the dozen daily, penetration testing helps businesses fortify their IT environment against the latest, stealthiest and most dangerous cyberattacks like ransomware, business email compromise and account takeover, and DDoS. Doing this regularly also helps organizations meet their compliance requirements without fail.

In today’s volatile cybersecurity environment, conducting penetration testing regularly ensures your organization and employees are ready to deal with internal and external cyber-risks if and when they show up.

Why is network penetration testing important?

Pen testing puts your IT security setup through the wringer and measures how well it fares against the dynamic nature of current-day cyberthreats. A successful test uncovers hidden and high-risk network vulnerabilities and gives an understanding of the possible attack vectors a hacker can use to break through your defenses. It’s an essential risk management strategy.

Moreover, regular pen testing of your network will generate massive amounts of actionable data you can leverage to keep improving your cybersecurity policies while meeting compliance requirements. Although conducting pen tests is essential, it can betime-consuming and cost-intensive if done manually. An automated pen testing solution quietly does the work in the background, freeing you to focus on your primary revenue-generating business goals.

Modern and state-of-the-art automated network penetration solutions also come with built-in reporting features. This means the solution creates extensive reports after every successful pen test through which you can showcase the effectiveness of your cybersecurity strategy to your clients and executives. By demonstrating the financial implications of a data breach that penetration testing helps avoid, you can build trust in your brand and win prospects and budgets easily.

How does penetration testing improve network security?

There are two distinct approaches to network penetration testing that determine how it can improve your network security. The first addresses issues from an external perspective, while the other looks at internal threats.

External network penetration testing

External penetration testing aligns with the commonly preconceived notion of pen testing, where ethical hackers attempt to breach an organization’s environment from the outside. They try to find security vulnerabilities in internet-facing assets, such as websites, routers, connected devices and servers.

Internal network penetration testing

In this approach, security professionals don the guise of malicious insiders to find ways they could take advantage of your organization’s IT infrastructure. They launch attacks from inside the organization targeting business-critical assets, such as intellectual property and sensitive information about employees and customers.

What types of tests can be used for penetration testing a network?

Now that you understand the two pen testing approaches, let’s discuss the different techniques cybersecurity professionals use to carry out their tests: black, gray and white box testing. Each method is categorized based on the amount of information given to a tester about a company’s IT.

Black box testing

In black box testing, a tester gets no information about the target environment or system. The pen testers are tasked with finding vulnerabilities across the network using their technical experiences, tools and skills alone.

Black box testing requires a tester to simulate an attack like an external threat actor would who has no prior knowledge of an organization’s digital assets. However, there are distinct downsides to this type of pen testing. It is time-consuming, can result in unexpected spending and may fail to provide a holistic picture of your organization’s security posture.

Gray box testing

In gray box testing, experts get some information on the target system, such as IP addresses, network diagrams, or usernames and passwords. They then simulate an attack taking the path an insider who knows enough about the organization’s IT environment would. It’s best for testing the resilience of individual infrastructure components, such as web applications, databases, and networking equipment like routers and switches.

White box testing

In the white box penetration testing scenario, testers have full access to an organization’s IT environment, including source code and application configuration information. They try and imitate the tactics an insider with complete knowledge of the network and other connected assets would use.

White box testing assesses the reliability and integrity of complex IT architecture while offering a comprehensive assessment of the network’s security posture. It is important to note that this method can prove to be expensive and laborious and often may not be necessary for all components of your organization’s IT network.

What are the five steps of network penetration testing?

Listed below are the five steps involved in executing a successful penetration test:

1. Planning and reconnaissance

During the planning and reconnaissance step, the tester attempts to accumulate as much information about an organization’s IT infrastructure, such as network topology, IP addresses, and user and operating system data for each connected device. For this process, testers may use vulnerability scanners to consolidate data and strategize an attack.

There are two kinds of reconnaissance: active and passive. The active approach to collecting data requires the tester to engage with the target organization’s IT directly. On the other hand, the passive method of gathering information uses whatever information is publicly accessible about the business.

2. Vulnerability scanning

Scanning for vulnerabilities marks the second step in a typical pen test where testers use scanning and monitoring tools such as internal threat detection and network assessment solutions to identify weak links in the network. A robust vulnerability scanning tool can identify gaps like open ports and address them before they snowball into bigger problems.

3. Vulnerability assessment

In this stage, a pen tester carefully analyzes all the data collected in the first two steps to ascertain existing and potential vulnerabilities and how each may get exploited. Pen testers also access data reservoirs, such as the U.S. government’s National Vulnerability Database (NVD), to rate known vulnerabilities for high or low risk via the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS).

4. Vulnerability exploitation

In this step, a tester launches a prepared attack against the organization’s IT network and systems, targeting previously discovered vulnerabilities. Penetration testers must be extremely careful not to compromise the organization’s operational efficiency while conducting such tests. They must demonstrate their skills to get past the company’s IT security undetected.

5. Analysis and reporting

After successfully exploiting each vulnerability, pen testers are responsible for compiling detailed reports on every incident and observation to help organizations identify and remedy weaknesses in their security systems and practices. The information helps drive better decision-making, investment in the right security tools, revisions to cybersecurity policies and employee training in best practices. Lastly, incident remediation becomes extremely streamlined after a properly executed penetration test.

What are the benefits of network penetration testing?

Here are the top four benefits you can expect after a penetration test:

Network system maintenance

Following a regular penetration testing routine keeps your organization’s IT infrastructure in tip-top shape. Not only do you learn of the best solutions to mitigate cyber-risks, but you can also keep track of general maintenance and upkeep of IT assets.

Fortified network security

A good pen tester can highlight several issues that need attention across your organization, help you manage security more proactively and boost your risk management capabilities.

Improved data protection

Penetration testing exposes how valuable enterprise data could fall into the wrong hands, either by internal or external means. It guides you to implement best practices and effective risk management strategies to safeguard your business and profits against business-damaging threats.

Meet compliance requirements

As mentioned above, when you’ve made sure to keep your security systems up to date, you are avoiding unnecessary remediation costs and simplifying your compliance management. Adhering to regulations like PCI becomes easier after implementing the learnings of a thorough penetration test.

Conduct network penetration testing with Vonahi Security

Kaseya acquired Vonahi Security in April 2023 in a bid to expand its offerings under the IT Complete platform. Vonahi, a pioneer in automated network penetration testing, brings value to Kaseya’s security suite by expanding its scope and reach to meet a wider set of customer needs.

vPenTest, an automated network penetration test platform developed by Vonahi, combines a hacker’s knowledge, methodology, processes and toolsets into a single, deployable SaaS platform. It’s designed in such a way that organizations of all sizes can use it to strengthen their IT environment easily.

By performing a penetration test within their environment at any time, organizations can ensure that their security setup is always up to date. The best part — vPenTest provides more value at similar to less costs compared to traditional penetration tests. With its unique capabilities and lucrative price point, vPenTest is a game changer in the security sector. Click here to know more about vPenTest and a free demo.

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