If you followed the presidential debates in the last few months, you might have noticed how both the candidates often talked about issues like cyber security and data breach. There’s been a lot of talk about Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails, and her accusing Russian hackers for the leaks and meddling in the US election.

While we can’t be sure what’s true and what’s not, we can at least be sure about one thing – cyber security is getting mainstream attention and is now more widely acknowledged as a critical business function. Indeed, spending in the security sector will rise from $22.45 billion in 2016 to an astounding $101 billion by 2018. By 2020, spending could rise to as high as $170 billion.

Last month, Yahoo revealed that at least 500 million user accounts were hacked in 2014. Earlier this year, almost $100 million were stolen from the Central Bank of Bangladesh by hackers who exploited poor security infrastructure at the Bank to execute the heist.

Every day, hundreds and thousands of fresh malwares are developed and new security attacks are launched to try to hack into seemingly secured network and data systems. And your company could be just as vulnerable to such attacks – unless you continuously identify potential threats in your system and mitigate the risks before they can be exploited by an external attacker. And this is where penetration testing comes into play.

Penetration Testing: Do I Need One?

Penetration testing, or pentesting, is the process of testing your IT infrastructure for security vulnerabilities and errors. A penetration test is usually a lot more through than a ‘vulnerability scan’ or ‘security assessment’. A thorough test doesn’t just expose the vulnerabilities in a system, but it also extrapolates the findings to look for additional issues that could rise from these flaws.

So testers do not only try to break through the system’s defence, but they also want to understand the breadth and depth of the vulnerabilities. An in-depth penetration test will usually utilise multiple attack vectors together to identify complex vulnerabilities that would otherwise go unnoticed (things you wouldn’t usually notice through an automated network or application scanning software).

A penetration test not only strengthens your system, it also helps you prepare for the worst by reducing your security response time in case of attacks. Usually conducted by professional “white hat” or ethical hackers, the process involves using the same techniques and tools that blackhat hackers would use to infiltrate your company’s IT system, except for they do it on your permission.

And pentests do not necessarily have to involve expensive third party consultants; many companies perform in-house pentests by their own experts. For example in order to do an affordable pentest one may buy a crypter that can bypass Antivirus (the first line of defense) and then use the Metasploit framework to deploy exploits in order to gain remote access.

Benefits Of A Penetration Test

  1.  Test ability of your existing network defenders

This is a great opportunity to test the performance of your existing network defending system. The pentest results in invaluable real world experience for your team as they learn how an actual attack would work and how they can act efficiently to stop escalation, minimise damage and get everything back in order.

  1.  Improve security response time and business continuity

Viewing the results of a pentest could sometimes be stressful, but the knowledge gained is invaluable as you can apply them to build a stronger security stance. Use your findings to develop and update your security response policies. Preparedness will ensure lower downtime in case of attacks and ultimately will improve your business continuity.

  1.  Assess the magnitude of potential business and operational impacts in case of successful attacks

The test enables you to find the business and operational impact of a security breach. Analyse how each business function is affected, and how they in turn may affect other areas. Then plan and priorities accordingly.

  1.  Seal security holes

A thorough pentest will reveal all existing weaknesses and flaws in your system and practices. Use the findings to seal the security holes and make the overall system stronger.

  1.  Meet compliance goals

Some industries might require penetration testing as a regular compliance requirement. Many of the regulations, such as PCI DSS, SOX and HIPAA require complying organisations to perform an annual penetration test by a third party.

  1.  Strengthen trust and loyalty

A security breach could be disastrous for your business, especially if you are in an industry where trust is held at high regard. No company is immune to a security breach risk, and when it happens, it will largely compromise the trust of your customers and other key stakeholders. Regular penetration testing and other security assessments will assure your stakeholders that their information and transaction are secure.