Busting the common misconceptions about penetration testing

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Cyber threats are evolving at an unprecedented pace, meaning businesses are having to continuously strengthen their digital defences. That’s where penetration testing comes in. As a crucial component of cyber security that helps organisations identify and rectify vulnerabilities in their systems, pen testing is a first class option for businesses looking to protect their assets. 

However, there are several misconceptions about penetration testing that may be putting businesses off harnessing this valuable tool. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the most common myths, debunking them and shedding light on the truth.

Myth 1: Penetration testing is just a vulnerability assessment

One of the most common misconceptions is that penetration testing is the same as a vulnerability assessment. While both are essential components of a comprehensive cyber security strategy, they serve different purposes. A vulnerability assessment identifies and categorises vulnerabilities, providing a snapshot of potential weaknesses. However, it stops there. On the other hand, penetration testing simulates real-world attacks to exploit these vulnerabilities, allowing organisations to understand the potential impact and test their defence mechanisms.

A vulnerability assessment is only a small part of a penetration test.

Myth 2: A penetration test only takes a few days to carry out

Another misconception is that penetration testing is a quick, few day process. In reality, the duration of a pen test varies based on factors such as the complexity of the network, the scope of the test, and the depth of analysis required. So, you get as much as you pay for. 

A thorough penetration test involves multiple stages and rushing through these stages undermines the effectiveness of the test and may lead to crucial vulnerabilities being overlooked. Remember, cyber criminals spend weeks – sometimes months – trying to hack into one system. It’s their full-time job. So, in order to simulate a realistic attack, cyber security professionals need more than just a few days to carry out their tests.

Myth 3: It’s an off-the-shelf service

Some believe that penetration testing is a one-size-fits-all, off-the-shelf service. In truth, successful penetration testing requires a customised approach tailored to the specific needs and infrastructure of each organisation. If a business has been asked to carry out a penetration test by an insurance company, they may simply look for a quick-fix solution. However, a cookie-cutter approach neglects the unique nuances of a business’s technology and software, potentially leaving critical vulnerabilities undiscovered. 

Due to this, businesses need to know what it is they want tested during a penetration test. If you simply ask for a ‘penetration test’, many more details will be needed. So, before you look to book yours, first research into what exactly you need. Of course, cyber security professionals can also help you figure this out.

Myth 4: Fully automated pen testing gives as good results as manual pen testing

Automation has become a significant aspect of cyber security, and some businesses may believe that fully automated penetration testing tools provide results just as well as manual testing. While automated tools can efficiently identify known vulnerabilities, they often lack the sophistication and adaptability of human testers. On top of this, they can actually cause damage as they are not being guided. 

Manual penetration testing involves creativity, intuition, and the ability to identify complex vulnerabilities that automated tools may overlook. They can also avoid doing any real damage, as they are able to recognise the limits. 

Manual testing does include some automation, but at a much lower level. Therefore, the  combination of both automated and manual testing is key.

Myth 5: Businesses don’t need to go via a CREST registered pen tester

Some organisations may question the necessity of hiring a penetration tester registered with organisations like CREST (Council of Registered Ethical Security Testers). While there are skilled professionals without this certification, choosing a CREST registered tester ensures a high level of expertise and guarantee of ethical practices. CREST certifications signify a commitment to industry best practices, giving businesses confidence in the quality and integrity of the penetration testing service they receive.

Without this certification, quality and ethicality cannot be guaranteed.

Myth 6: It’s not worth the cost

The cost of penetration tests can sometimes put off businesses. However, the potential financial repercussions of a cyber attack massively outweigh the initial expense of a penetration test. A successful breach can result in data loss, penalties, reputation damage, and legal consequences, all of which are typically more costly than the investment in proactive cyber security measures. 

Penetration testing is an essential investment in mitigating these risks and safeguarding the long-term success of a business

Myth 7: Businesses won’t benefit from a pen test if they’ve already had a vulnerability test

As mentioned previously, some organisations mistakenly believe that conducting a vulnerability test eliminates the need for penetration testing. While a vulnerability assessment provides a foundation for understanding potential weaknesses, penetration testing takes it a step further by simulating real-world attack scenarios. The combination of both tests ensures a comprehensive understanding of a system’s security posture, identifying vulnerabilities and assessing the actual risk they pose. From this, those vulnerabilities can then be secured.

Myth 8: Businesses don’t need them annually

Have you ever heard that businesses don’t need penetration tests annually? It’s a common mistake to assume that one test is sufficient for long-term security. However, cybersecurity threats evolve continuously, and new vulnerabilities emerge regularly. Meaning security systems can quickly become vulnerable again. 

Conducting penetration tests annually enables organisations to stay ahead of potential threats, ensuring that their security measures are robust and up-to-date. Regular testing is particularly crucial for industries with strict compliance requirements, as it helps to ensure they maintain within regulation. 

On top of this, pen tests should also be carried out when any major changes to IT systems are made, to ensure they’re secure from the start. It’s also recommended to change your pen tester every year, to ensure reports aren’t simply repeated and new vulnerabilities are picked up on.

Penetration testing with SupPortal

SupPortal is founded and run by Richard, a CREST registered pen tester and cyber security professional. Therefore, our thorough penetration tests are carried out to a CREST standard, prioritising industry best practices, quality and integrity. 

Find out more about our penetration tests here or get in touch on 02380 982218. 

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