What is penetration testing?
Penetration testing (pen testing) is a method of testing a computer system, network or web application to find security vulnerabilities that a hacker could exploit.
Also known as ethical hacking, pen tests highlight any issues that need to be fixed or patched. The pen testers use the same principles that hackers use to find holes and try to ‘break’ the website or application.
Penetration tests can be carried out manually or with automated software. The testing service is charged on a daily rate and testers often spend several days attempting to access the system or website. Usually, major security holes are identified within a short time frame, as ethical hackers replicate the same methods used by malicious hackers.
Why is it important?
Penetration testing is one of the most thorough ways to test a website or infrastructure for security holes. It is also often a requirement for businesses to pen test their site, network or application to meet certain compliance requirements.
Pen tests can identify any security weaknesses, test security policies and a business’s ability to identify and respond to security incidents. They are also used to test staff awareness of security policies and network security.
Pen testing is ideally carried out once a year by larger companies, to test the entire network and to protect businesses against attacks. It is advisable to carry out testing whenever a new network or infrastructure is added, significant upgrades or security features are made, or when moving to a new office location.
Top 10 critical risks
The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) is an international non-profit organization dedicated to web application security. Their most well-known project is the OWASP Top 10, which highlights the most critical web application security risks.
The report is put together by a team of security experts from around the world and is regularly updated with the most critical security risks. These security flaws could be identified during a penetration test, and the most common risks are likely to be tested for first.
A security flaw that tends to be repeatedly exploited is Injection, which is an instance where an attacker could enter SQL database code into a form that expects a plain text username. If that form input is not properly secured, this would result in SQL code being carried out, which is known as a SQL injection attack.
Prevention is the best policy
Aside from carrying out regular penetration testing, it is important to also have a robust security suite of products to protect sites and networks. Vulnerability scanning also helps to protect sites and applications by inspecting multiple areas of the web server to ensure that there are not any opportunities for vulnerabilities to be exploited.
With an Intrusion Detection System (IDS) networks are monitored for any malicious activity such as an attack or security incident. This would mean that these security holes would be identified before the penetration test was conducted, improving overall security practices.
A Web Application Firewall (WAF) can also be used to create a shield between a web app and the internet, which can be used to mitigate common attacks. It filters and monitors HTTP traffic and protects against attacks such as cross-site forgery, cross-site-scripting, and SQL injection. WAFs can be used as part of an integrated security suite to protect against a range of different attacks.
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