Network Penetration Testing: A Primer - Security Boulevard

Network Penetration Testing: A Primer

Today, with the world adjusting to the new normal, preparing for cyberattacks requires stringent protective strategies. Experts predict that in 2021, a cyberattack will occur every 11 seconds (nearly twice as frequently as in 2019). Is your network prepared for this? One way to make sure that your network’s security is up to the mark is by conducting network penetration testing. In this article, we discuss everything you need to know about what network pen testing is, the benefits and how to perform a successful network pen test.

What is Network Penetration Testing?

A network penetration test, or pen test, is a method of assessing a network’s security and identifying vulnerabilities in the network by the intentional use of malicious penetration techniques. In simple terms, an ethical hacker tries to hack your organization’s network, with your permission, to reveal underlying security risks to your network.

DevOps Experience

You may ask, “I have conducted a vulnerability assessment. Do I need to conduct a network penetration test, as well?”

Vulnerability assessment makes use of automated tools that only help pinpoint common security vulnerabilities. In contrast, during penetration testing, security experts act as hackers and simulate a potential cyberattack. They observe how your system will react to a cyberattack by a cybercriminal. They identify security weaknesses, and may provide remediation advice applicable to software, hardware, or even human management of the system.

Although some high-quality vulnerability assessment tools categorize security risks, assign risk levels and offer remediation suggestions, the need for pen testing can not be fulfilled by vulnerability assessment alone.

So, the answer is yes. For a complete picture of your network’s security, network penetration testing is a must.

What are the Benefits of Network Penetration Testing?

Network Baselining

Network baseline is the measure of performance of a network in real-life situations. Taking baseline readings for your network traffic is the first step to efficiently spotting potentially fraudulent activity.

Test Security Posture

Security posture refers to the collective security status of your system in terms of hardware, software, networks, data and processes. It defines how well your system can predict, prevent and respond to cyberthreats. Network pen testing allows analysis of your current security posture so you can update it with respect to defend against evolving cyberthreats.

Strengthen Information Security

Data is the new currency. According to Symantec, an average of 4,800 websites a month become victims of form-jacking code. To ensure your website is not one of them, you have to strengthen information security protection. The best way to do that is to strengthen the weakest links in your security system. Network penetration testing allows you to assess your system’s vulnerabilities before attackers get a chance to exploit them.

Determine Risk Levels

Network penetration testing helps determine the risk levels your organization might be facing across different facets – hardware, software, network, or people. conduct a risk assessment to get a better understanding of what your organization stands to lose and where the greatest dangers are. This would help you allocate your resources accordingly.

How to perform successful Network Penetration Testing

Determine the test type

Network penetration tests fall into three categories depending on the extent of security information shared with the tester.

Black Box: This is a simulation of a real-life cyberattack in which the hacker is an external agent and has little or no knowledge of the internal systems or the network. Through black-box penetration testing, the security analysts test the vulnerabilities in the publicly visible part of the network.

White Box: This type of network penetration test is performed from the position of an IT user, or a person with strong credentials to account for internal threats. This is the most robust type of penetration testing.

Gray Box: This is a hybrid version of both the black box and white box penetration tests. Testers develop these simulations to understand issues that an average system user could cause if they had bad intentions or if their login permissions were stolen.

Determine your risk level and choose the type of test suitable for your organization. There are some other details that you’ll have to think about like:

  • When to carry out the test; during office hours or down time?
  • Should penetration testers have access to a live system or a copy of the system?
  • What level of penetration should the security analyst be allowed?

Reconnaissance And Discovery

During reconnaissance (or recon, for short) the analyst analyzes ports and peripherals using port scanning tools. This gives an overview of the existing vulnerabilities in the network. These vulnerabilities are then exploited to enter the system.

Social engineering is a deceptive method to extract information like login credentials or personal data for fraudulent purposes. Social engineering assessments look into the potential social engineering weaknesses of the system. This is an important part of the procedure, because even the best security systems could fail if employees don’t adhere to a good governance policy.
The information collected during recon is used to discover a path to penetrate the network.

Develop and Run Tests

Then, testers run live tests based on their discoveries. They run multiple pre-built or custom scripts to test potential hazards. Each script is custom-built to exploit one issue. Hence, multiple scripts have to be run to get a complete picture.
The testers look at both the technical and human aspects. Technical tests probe for vulnerabilities to common threats like SQLi or weak peripheral security. A human test looks for access using attacks like phishing or privilege escalation.

Report and Remediation

A network penetration test is conducted to test the strengths and weaknesses of a network. Once the test is successfully completed, the testers will generate a complete report of the findings and the procedures used during the test.

The report includes details about the process, the vulnerabilities, the evidence collected and information about the various risk levels of any uncovered threats. This helps the owner to make informed decisions regarding the security of the organization.

It is important to note that, in a successful network penetration test, the tester might not always be able to breach the security. This is just indicative of good IT security audit posture of the current system. Penetration testing offers you the only true way to know if your digital assets are truly secure and, if they’re not, what security measures you can take to strengthen them.

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Kanishk Tagade

Kanishk Tagade is a cybersecurity enthusiast and marketing manager for Astra Security. Kanishk's work has been featured on Business Insider, Economic Times, Bleeping Computer, Mashable India, Inc42, LiveMint, News18, In LiveMint, Free Press Journal, Analytics India Magazine, and many other news and digital publishing sites.

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