Cyber-criminals are opportunists by nature. So no matter how hard we try to protect our systems; there will always be one of them waiting for the best chance to take advantage of some weak point in our networks. Due to this vulnerable situation to which we are constantly exposed; security professionals have proposed a solution that has managed to put the systems hacking to the service of threat detection, it is called Pentesting.
This security resource, also sometimes called Ethical hacking, has become a critical strategy for any organization that wants to protect the integrity of its sensitive data. Do you want to know exactly how it works and what are its advantages? Read on and find out everything you need to know about this security practice.
Pentesting: The practice that attacks your systems to teach you how to better protect them
Pentesting or Ethical Hacking refers to a security strategy that, in order to detect vulnerabilities in a system; deliberately penetrates and attacks its networks. The term has its origin in the combination of two English words: Penetration and Test. Although its origin is not recent its use has become popular thanks to the constant increase in cyber-attacks that companies have experienced as a result of the transformation of the digital world.
In this process, it is a security expert who carries out an organized set of actions to try to access confidential data. The main objective of this practice is to analyze the behavior and resistance of a system to the influence of external attacks. At the end of the evaluation; the results should help the pentester (also called Ethical Hacker or White Hat Hacker) to establish the best recommendations and solutions to protect the networks he or she has evaluated.
It is also called Ethical Hacking because although it involves a premeditated intrusion; its implementation must always have the authorization of the owner of the system the Pentester will evaluate. In this case, the professional who carries out the pentesting must guarantee the integrity and confidentiality of the data to which he will have access.
Advantages of Pentesting:
- Helps to establish more effective defence measures.
- Contributes to ensuring compliance with standards and certifications.
- Guarantees the continuity and competitiveness of the business.
- Sets out the scope of the organization in terms of Digital Security.
Stages of Pentesting
Any good penetration test must follow a methodology in order to ensure that the evaluation is as complete as possible. As main phases of Pentesting we can name the following:
This first stage serves to define the legal framework within which pentesting will be carried out. To do this, the organization interested in evaluating its networks and applications; establishes a contract with the pentester which must determine the scope of the test, and the limitations, related to access to certain types of data, to which the security expert may be exposed.
This contract must include the following points:
Authorization to access the system.
- The needs and expectations of the client.
- The objectives of the assessment.
- The limits of assessment.
- The duration of pentesting.
At this point, the pentester must map the attack surface of the system to obtain information on all the elements that make it up. This includes servers, internal and external networks, operating systems, applications, connected computers, and even security tools.
For this stage, the pentester can use several tools to make its work easier. For example, Google Hacking to access a rich database; Nslookup for IP address mapping or Tenable to run a vulnerability scanner.
The objective is to determine known and unknown failures and weaknesses in order to determine possible vulnerability exploitation scenarios. Pentesting can often end at this stage; if the organization establishes that its objective is only identifying the extent of its attack surface.
Once the pentester identifies vulnerable points, it is time to attack them. In this phase; the scenarios of exploitation of vulnerabilities identified in the previous phase are developed. There are many ways in which the Pentester can perform this stage, for example; it can attack the system infrastructure and evaluate the physical access to the servers.
In this phase it is possible to check the existence of the weak points listed in the previous phase.
Finally, the Pentester must make a report that presents the results of the evaluation. It should include a summary of the activities that the security expert carried out; as well as a detailed description of the vulnerabilities found, their classification, degree of severity and the elements affected.
Once the pentester has explained the contents of the report to the client; he should proceed to provide the client with a set of recommended protection measures, their cost and the duration of their implementation.
Why is pentesting important?
In today’s context, where security challenges are becoming increasingly large and numerous, organizations cannot afford not to know the true level of protection for their system infrastructure. That is why pentesting is so necessary, because it allows us to establish a real panorama of threats that companies could ever face.
In short, despite the fact that there are already several effective approaches to protecting our systems, such as the implementation of good security practices or the installation of a comprehensive high-tech tool, Pentesting remains a vital resource for the IT security team as it helps to define a truly robust and effective defence strategy.
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