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by Zach Fuller
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Purpose of Penetration Testing and Risks of Not Testing

"Do we need penetration testing?"

"What the risks of not penetration testing?"

These are very valid and important questions we get occasionally from organizations establishing a cyber risk management program for the first time. Here is a quick overview about the purpose of penetration testing if you're wondering, "Does my organization need a penetration test?"

 

A penetration test must be performed on networks and applications in order to truly identify technical risk. An organization can have great controls and believe the right activities are occurring to keep them secure. The very best technologists still make mistakes so it is important to see what cybercriminals will see, before they're looking at your environment. Penetration testing is the best method to validate that your technical security controls are functioning effectively. 

Penetration testing is both an industry-recognized best practice and a requirement for many compliance frameworks. Proactive organizations will test their external network environments and any proprietary/homegrown web applications on an annual basis at a minimum. Cybercriminals are constantly identifying new methods to compromise existing technologies. Professional penetration testers follow the latest trends and utilize tools that are constantly loaded with new attack signature data to help identify vulnerabilities. After exposing security flaws, an organization can understand where remediation has to take place.

Why Perform Penetration Tests?

  • Identify exploitable attack surfaces before the cyber criminals do
  • Remediate deficiencies
  • Validity that security controls are functioning properly
  • Test technology assumptions
  • Fulfill compliance requirements
  • Show customers that you're taking proactive cybersecurity measures to protect their data
  • In some scenarios, test the ability of internal or 3rd party technology professionals to identify, respond, and contain malicious activity


Web applications are especially susceptible to cyber attack due to the simple fact that they are complex in nature and accessible to anyone in the world. There are an immense number of variables when it comes to the development of an application and the environment where it is hosted. Both the application and the environment (even cloud platforms like Azure and AWS) are only as secure as the technologists make them.

Many applications contain immense operational data. When an attacker compromises your application, they are generally going to use an extortion method to get paid. Usually this means they'll attempt to encrypt or corrupt the data, offering to return it for a large sum of money. They'll sometimes threaten to notify the people whose data has been breached, promoting lawsuits and other financially threatening exposure. Meanwhile, the downtime can be tremendously costly for organizations relying on the applications. For these reasons, large SaaS companies are constantly pen testing their technologies.

Risks of Not Penetration Testing:

  • Failing to find exploitable flaws before a breach occurs
  • Not understanding current exposure
  • Focusing efforts and budget on remediating vulnerabilities that aren't realistically exploitable
  • Lack of alignment to compliance requirements
  • Lack of ability to demonstrate a proactive approach to security with clients and prospects


Also, it is important to note that most breaches are not targeted toward a specific organization. Most breaches are the result of cyber criminals using tools to scan massive ranges of IP addresses. The tools pick out potential attack surfaces and then the cyber criminal implements more of a hands-on approach to determine what can be exploited. In other words, most cyber attacks don't originate from someone targeting your company. They originate when your company presents a viable attack surface which is identified by their tools. Penetration testing allows you to remediate issues and make your company appear to be a hard target to a cyber criminal, so they move on to an easier victim. 

The vast majority of cyber attacks are financially motivated which means cyber criminals are looking for ROI. When you make it more costly to breach your organization than the criminals' potential gain, they will generally move on.

Schedule an introduction call to learn what type penetration testing is appropriate for your organization.

About the Author

Written by Zach Fuller

Zach Fuller is an entrepreneur who has built businesses in multiple industries. He served as Green Beret in the U.S. Army, conducting highly sensitive combat operations in Afghanistan. Zach was awarded a Bronze Star Medal and other decorations for his actions overseas. He later built an investor relations team for a private equity company. Holding the role of Executive Vice President, he lead the team to raising well over $300,000,000 in private capital to acquire real estate assets and making it to the Inc. 500 list of Fastest Growing Private Companies. Zach is a Certified Ethical Hacker and founding partner of Silent Sector, where he is focused on mid-market and emerging companies which he considers to be the backbone of the American economy and our way of life.