The IT industry encompasses terms and procedures that many people do not fully understand. As techies, we receive many questions from different people on a typical day about technical terms and practices. One of these questions is the difference between Cyber Security and penetration testing.
So, what is the difference between cyber security and penetration testing? Cyber security consists of technologies that protect against infiltration and cyber attacks whilst penetration testing involves simulating a cyber-attack on a computer system to identify weaknesses. Once weaknesses are identified, they can be fixed to provide protection from cyber attacks.
If you are thinking of trying out penetration testing, you need to know what a good penetration test involves. Read on to understand what a good penetration test entails, gain an in-depth understanding of the difference between penetration testing and Cyber Security, and understand the importance of penetration testing in Cyber Security.
Differentiating Between Cyber Security and Penetration Testing
With the connection that people get from computer networks arises the need for defense programs to prevent attacks from hackers. Common types of cyberattacks include the loss of information and money, extortion, and identity theft. Most hackers access people’s devices to steal their data, money, and identity, then commit crimes with the help of what they steal.
To prevent cyber-attacks from happening, computer network users embrace a set of tools and practices to improve security. The different instruments and mitigation practices aimed at protecting the various networks and the information they hold from attacks all fall under cyber security.
Some of the Cyber Security best practices include applying safe password practices, avoiding unknown emails or links, regularly backing up data, connecting to secure Wi-Fi only, and using a firewall. Nevertheless, after embracing all these necessary precautions, how can one tell if those precautions can keep attackers away? Through penetration testing.
In a penetration test, the tester tries to find vulnerabilities by launching a cyber-attack (a simulated one), to find weak spots in systems, and through findings, a company can implement necessary changes. The penetration test is part of cybersecurity since it is a practice that exposes weak spots and encourages the implementation of modifications to safeguard computer networks and systems.
Consider banks as an example. In banks, there are various tools and mitigation practices aimed at preventing burglary. For instance, CCTV cameras and the hiring of armed guards. A bank might decide to hire someone to impersonate a burglar and steal from the bank. This individual compares to a penetration tester.
If the individual fails, then the bank will know that its security measures are adequate. On the other hand, if the person succeeds, the bank will have information about its weak points, and from the report, necessary changes can occur to improve security.
Why Is Penetration Testing Used in Cyber Security?
Penetration testing helps in the assessment of the security of IT hardware and software. Cyber-attacks can happen to the best of the best, and these attacks can bring losses to companies, both financially and in the form of losing information. Apart from losses, cyber-attacks ruin a company’s reputation, and at times data might fall in the hands of rivals.
A company might embrace some of the best cyber security practices in one area but fail to adopt appropriate security practices in another. The area that lacks proper protection becomes vulnerable to an attack. Penetration testing helps companies identify inadequacies in their hardware or software before they turn into critical liabilities.
Without a penetration test, a company with a shortcoming in its IT infrastructure only realizes the fault after a real attack occurs, and that might be too late. Due to this, many organizations are now incorporating the use of penetration testing in their cybersecurity planning.
Here is a summary of the main reasons why penetration testing is used in cybersecurity:
- Penetration testing helps with the determination of the strengths or weaknesses of networks, applications, and individuals. Testing the applications is vital because most applications are prone to cyber-attacks. The developers of applications being human can err despite them being experts in software development. Correcting errors becomes easier when you conduct a pen test to identify the faults.
- Through penetration testing, a company can come up with control measures and then implements them to improve security.
- Regular penetration testing is vital to ensure that all protection measures are updated and implemented effectively. This is not only important for securing computers, but also for reassuring senior management that the IT department is competent enough.
- Penetration testing is crucial, as it helps detect new bugs that might come into existence after particular updates or patches. As much as these can correct vulnerabilities, they can also introduce new issues.
- It shows companies and individuals how an attack on a small vulnerability could lead to devastating damages.
- It also tests how network defenses perform against attacks.
- Helps prevent future attacks when the implementation of measures happens promptly and correctly.
- Pen testing determines the viability of different security protocols under various attacks.
What Should Good Penetration Testing Include?
A good penetration test is not only about conducting the test but about the events that happen before the test and what follows after the test. A good penetration test involves;
- Initial engagement
- Follow up
The initial engagement involves communicating with the team that will conduct the test. You need to ensure that whoever you engage to perform a penetration test possesses the necessary qualifications. Let the team know the exact specifications of the job, and in case of any rare systems, share the information so that you engage people with the necessary skills.
A scope document should outline any technical restrictions of a test and the type of penetration test set to happen. It should also outline other items such as;
- The time and effort it will take to conduct the test.
- Any requirements that the testers might have so that you can have ample time to prepare.
- Any regulations that the test should meet.
Only after engaging the testing team and preparing the scope document should the test happen. During a penetration test, you must remain in contact with the testing team in case of any arising questions or issues. Additionally, testers should also do their best to ensure that they do not cause more harm than good when testing (although there are never any guarantees).
Like any other work, reporting is vital after a penetration test. A test report should indicate information such as;
- a list of security issues uncovered (if any)
- the level of risk of vulnerabilities
- potential solutions that can resolve the issues
After the test team provides a report, you need to assess the information provided. For example, assessment is essential because it helps you judge whether the testers rated vulnerabilities correctly. In case you find that a weakness falls under the category of a low-risk defect, yet it should fall under a high-risk defect, you should correct it.
Once you assess the report, prioritize new vulnerabilities that you didn’t know existed. Lastly, you need to select solutions, not only based on what the testers recommend but also based on the advice you receive from your team of technical staff.
Penetration Testing Is an Important Part of Cyber Security
Now that you fully comprehend what penetration testing entails, you know how vital it is as part of cybersecurity. Even after taking all the necessary precautions, sometimes attacks happen and you need to be prepared.
Penetration testing is an effective way of avoiding cyberattacks by identifying vulnerabilities and correcting them early enough. By engaging a qualified team and working with the testers, you can prevent financial losses, the loss of information, privacy, and other damages.