April 18, 2023
Identifying Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities with a Penetration Test
Simulating attacks on your environment with a penetration test can reveal key gaps in your cyber defenses that may be easy for attackers to exploit.
With cybersecurity threats of all kinds on the rise, it’s more important than ever for organizations to take proactive security measures that ensure the safety of their assets against unauthorized access, theft or exploitation.
Penetration testing is one of the most effective ways to put your current security posture to the test and determine where vulnerabilities may exist within your environment—before attackers do.
What Is Penetration Testing?
Penetration testing, or pen testing, is the mimicking of malicious actors attacking a company's network in an attempt to exploit their systems. By attempting to infiltrate systems that outsiders shouldn’t have access to, penetration testing can help organizations identify and respond to both known and unknown cyber vulnerabilities.
During a typical pen test, a team of trained cybersecurity experts stage a simulated attack on your security environment using some of the most cutting-edge cyberattack strategies in the field. They employ several tools and techniques to probe for weaknesses within those systems, including social engineering tactics, network scanning and more.
Though there are several types of penetration tests that look for weaknesses across networks, web applications, mobile applications and wireless networks, it’s crucial to strive for a comprehensive penetration test. This will provide a holistic view of weaknesses throughout your environment and allow you to address them directly.
A comprehensive penetration test can reveal vulnerabilities and weaknesses within your:
- Application servers
- Operating systems
- Mobile applications
- IoT devices
- People and operations
- And more
What Kinds of Vulnerabilities Can Be Discovered with a Pen Test?
Oftentimes, penetration tests reveal weaknesses that vulnerability assessments or automated scans are unable to discover. This is because developers cannot design these automated tools to look for every possible instance in which a cyberattacker may abuse the system.
Recently, I had the opportunity to help identify potential security weaknesses for a retail client who was running a website with a shopping cart function. A traditional vulnerability scan revealed no issues with the site itself. It wasn’t until CDW experts performed a comprehensive pen test that a critical security vulnerability was uncovered.
While the shopping cart functionality first appeared to be working normally, our testing determined that changing the cart quantity to a negative number (1 to -1) could have resulted in a payment to the customer, rather than a charge. If a malicious actor had exploited this weakness, commonly called a price manipulation attack, it could have been possible to wreak financial havoc on this client.
By interacting with these systems in new and unexpected ways, penetration tests can reveal much more about not only potential risks within your environment, but empower you with the tools to respond to incidents as well.
Why an Expert Partner Should Conduct Your Penetration Test
So, what’s the best way to conduct a penetration test? After all, any penetration test is inherently better than an automated vulnerability scan, right?
Well, yes and no. Having an expert partner conduct your penetration test is an essential piece of the puzzle for several reasons:
- Advanced technical skills. Most organizations are just not equipped to conduct a thorough penetration test on their own, even with a skilled internal security team. A security partner with a dedicated team of experts will ensure that your pen test is conducted quickly, safely and effectively.
- Experience and training. Experience in the security field is just as important, if not more important, than expertise. A solution provider with years of technical experience solving security challenges will know which weaknesses are the most critical to address and which may be hidden beneath the surface.
- Soft skills are required. Beyond identifying “the problem” within your environment, an expert partner should have a vested interest in helping your organization respond to and solve for that problem, should it arise in the future.
- Connections to the security community. Conducting a thorough penetration test requires thinking like a hacker. An expert security partner will have close contacts within the hacker community to ensure they are up to date on the latest cyberattack tactics.
As cyberattackers become more adept at subverting traditional cybersecurity entry points, comprehensive penetration testing should play a critical role in your security strategy, as it will allow your organization to stay one step ahead of malicious actors, ensuring threat detection and improving incident response.
When making this decision, trust an IT security solution provider who has already made this investment across their security customers.
Story by Jeremy Archer, Managing Director for Offensive Security at CDW.