Penetration Test - Do you Know the Question?
An information security penetration test (pen test) is a systematic probing of a system for vulnerabilities. In most instances, the penetration test is performed externally, from a remote location, testing your systems much like a hacker would, looking for weakpoints.
Penetration tests are used to evaluate network entry points such as a firewalls, routers, and other equipment for mis-configurations and other issues that can allow hackers access to internal systems. In some cases, testing can evaluate web servers and web site code for risks. Since web sites tend to have a lot of custom code, they are subject to a variety of risks including SQL injection attacks, cross site scripting, and many other vulnerabilities.
Security risks develop on a daily basis. A system that is secure one day may be wide open the next. Penetration tests are a means of evaluating your systems to ensure information remains secure and your systems are available when they are needed.
Penetration tests can range from simple automated tools that look for the most basic issues to more comprehensive approaches that rely on the expertise of the person performing the test. These higher end approaches typically emulate the process used by hackers, scanning systems for vulnerabilities, evaluating the results, running other tools to make additional inroads into the network, evaluating and responding as necessary to get deeper and deeper into the system being evaluated.
The approach you use should consider the sensitivity of the information you are collecting and storing, the nature of your business, and the size of your organization. Most of all, the approach taken should answer your most basic question.
The lowest cost approach typically answers the question "Are there any major security holes?" A comprehensive approach takes more time and relies on the knowledge and experience of the person performing the penetration test. The comprehensive approach answers the question "Is our information secure from hackers?"
Before you choose your approach, make sure you know your question. It will help you properly align the right penetration test with your specific needs.
Penetration tests help protect your intellectual property, reduce your risks, improve your competitive position, and enhance your image and reputation.