Your 6-step guide to penetration testing for better security

According to the Ponemon Institute’s 2017 Cost of Data Breach Study, 70% of organisations believe their security risk increased significantly in 2017. 

Technology by its very nature poses a threat to cybersecurity, making it increasingly challenging for us to identify and eliminate the onslaught of data breaches. 

However, there is something we can do to reduce the onslaught of those cyber attacks…

Enter penetration testing. 

A penetration test analyses and simulates attacks against your network, web applications, personnel, and computer systems and in some cases even ensures compliance.

Read more here ?  5 Ways security compliance can grow your bottom line

A penetration test is usually conducted once a year which enables you to assess the strength of your IT infrastructure but also presents the opportunity to identify weaknesses within your systems that cybercriminals could exploit. 

In this blog post, we’ll outline 6 steps you need to follow in order to achieve a productive and successful penetration test. Let’s get started:

1. Ink an accord

A pen test can be performed inhouse along with your IT team or you can outsource these services to a trusted third-party security provider.

In fact, if you are ready to reduce your digital risk you can schedule a call with one of our security experts to get started right ? here

If you choose to use an outsourced provider for this, you will sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that will cover the methodology that will be used and the exploitation levels that will be reached for the operational check. 

This is signed in the case of the tester changing data in a way that brings to light vulnerabilities, but it puts your business and its data in a precarious position. 

This NDA, therefore, is an essential element to protecting your business and it’s data during the testing procedures. 

CTO’s take a look at this 7-step guide to a great IAM strategy right ? here

2. Gather details

This next step will see your penetration tester gathering as many details about the agreed-upon target. This can be done by using open-source intelligence as well as gathering general the information needed

If for example, you are testing a particular web application there are loads of online tools you can use to help produce detailed reports around your various operating systems and web server software. 

Here are two tools you could look into for your pen test: 

Take a look at 6 ways your IT team can promote security awareness today right ? here

3. Gain access

The process of scanning in our previous step would have highlighted very specific vulnerabilities. Your penetration tester will then attempt to leverage those weak areas by gaining access through those identified vulnerabilities. It’s during this phase that the tester will essentially be hacking into your system. 

4. Maintain data access

The goal of the penetration tester is to gain access into your system, once this has been achieved, they then aim to maintain continued access to your system even if you try to reboot or reset. 

This simulation allows the tester to gain knowledge about the technical environment, which means it’s only a matter of time until the tester will have enough knowledge and data to go ahead and pursue the attack in the form of data theft, malware or ransomware attacks. 

This brings us to our next step… 

5. Exploit the system

This step is where the tester will attempt to access your data and compromise your security system. These simulated attacks are normally very controlled so as to avoid the very real chaos it can cause on your network. Everything during this phase is carefully documented in order to understand the vulnerabilities your network may have. 

6. Collate data

After completing your penetration test, you need to collate all the evidence of the exploited security weaknesses and begin building detailed reports of the outcome.

A report like this should outline the methodology used along with detailed events and findings during each phase of the test. 

This report will have identified your network vulnerabilities, this data will then influence your cybersecurity strategy going forward. 


Here’s why penetration tests are so important for your business: 

  1. It will identify areas of security weakness, which gives you the ability to fix those weaknesses before any damage can be caused by potential cyber threats. 
  2. Compliance is a constant battleground. Some regulations like the PCI-DSS stipulate the need for a penetration test to ensure a secure network.
  3. A penetration test is a great way to keep your internal security team up to date with the latest in cybersecurity trends, but it also plays a role in crucial skills development. 
  4. A successful penetration test has the ability to highlight the damage a potential breach could cause, which allows for adjustments to your security strategy.


Key Takeaways

We know that cyberattacks have the ability to completely destroy a company. It is, therefore, essential to ensure you have a safe security infrastructure. One where you understand your vulnerabilities and are actively working towards a more secure environment. 

This level of foresight will help your business to continually evolve in a way that’s sustainable, competitive and, of course, safe. 

Download our latest eBook to see how your role should change to match the evolving needs of modern cybersecurity ?

A cybersecurity expert dedicated to protecting organisations against the digital risks associated with digital transformation.

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