Whether you operate a business of one or thousands, Continuous Penetration Testing is the best way to protect your company from cybersecurity threats. Although penetration testing as a service may sound complex or intimidating, it’s a fairly painless and highly illuminating process – especially if you know what to expect and how to prepare.

The right preparation will help your organization get the most out of testing, from invaluable insights into your organization’s cyber vulnerabilities to actionable recommendations on how to shore up your defenses.

Understand that you’ll never be fully prepared, and that’s to be expected

Before you begin, take a deep breath and acknowledge that you’ll never be fully prepared for a penetration test – and that’s okay! Hackers won’t attack with a warning, and pentesting is designed to simulate a cyberattack. It’s infinitely better to discover these exploits during a penetration test than during an actual attack, which can be catastrophic in terms of financial and reputational damages. So, sit back, accept that your pentesting firm will find exploits (even the most advanced systems have them), and breathe a sigh of relief that you’ll have the opportunity to address them before a hacker does.

Penetration testing identifies unknown IT risks

Even the most comprehensive IT security roadmaps will have some blind spots. Vulnerability scanners are only half the battle. The goal of penetration testing as a service is to identify these unknown threats so your staff can remediate them before an attacker exploits them. Since it’s impossible to know when an attack will occur, it’s recommended to start testing as soon as possible. There’s no such thing as pentesting too early – businesses of all sizes, from start-ups to multinational corporations, benefit from having stronger cybersecurity protections.

Plan your scope with the help of the testing firm

Before testing can begin, you’ll need to set the scope of the penetration test. In building-block terms, the scope is the list of all IT assets that will be tested and examined by your pentesting team. Specific assets may include networks, devices, applications, users, accounts, and more. Setting an appropriate scope for the penetration test is critical to getting the most value out of the testing process.

Too narrow a scope can leave blind spots that a real-life hacker could later exploit. Your testing firm will be able to help you narrow down your scope. Together, you’ll create a plan that meets your purpose and objectives, whether testing your staff’s ability to spot phishing emails or ensuring that sensitive patient data is protected according to HIPAA regulations.

Run a vulnerability scan to address low-hanging fruit

A vulnerability scan is an automated test that identifies and reports potential security issues in your organization’s IT assets. This passive testing is excellent for assessing network devices like servers, routers, and firewalls. If you haven’t run a vulnerability scan yet, it’s highly recommended that you do so prior to the penetration test. By identifying the more obvious weaknesses ahead of time, you can free up the pentesting team to focus on problems that are more complex and harder to detect.

How to get the most out of your penetration test

  • Technical controls validation: Various hardware and software components protect your system from potential cyberattacks. These may include firewalls, encryption, intrusion detection systems, and more. Penetration testing will apply pressure to these controls and reveal which ones are working effectively and which, if any, are vulnerable to being exploited.
  • Test alerts and logging during testing: Depending on how robust your current detection tools are, pentest as a service may or may not trigger alerts along the way. The timing of these alerts can tell you a lot about the speed and effectiveness of your current incident detection program. Monitoring and logging are also essential for effective breach detection. Logs are an invaluable source of data for recreating the incident and, if necessary, recalibrating your team’s response. In the case of penetration testing, logging will create a record of what happened during the attack.
  • Be engaged and communicate with testers: During the pentest itself, you may have questions, concerns, or other issues you’d like to discuss with the firm. The pentesting team’s lead will be your point of contact in these situations. An open communication channel will ensure you can quickly address any questions or unexpected discoveries that may arise during testing.

Notify your team

...Or don't if it is covert testing.

As the testing day approaches, you can either inform your internal staff or keep the test covert. The decision largely depends on the type of penetration testing being performed and your objectives for the test. If the test is announced, inform your IT staff of the date and time the penetration test will be performed. You may also wish to inform them of the source IP address the “attack” will come from. This allows your staff to monitor for actual intrusion attempts that, although unlikely, could overlap with the pentest.

Improve your organization's security posture with the testing results

Once testing is completed, the penetration testing firm will provide you with a detailed report that you should use to address any vulnerabilities in your organization’s networks or systems. This report will include a detailed attack breakdown, actionable takeaways, and recommendations for future risk mitigation. Remediation steps can be as easy as installing a security patch or as complex as implementing a security awareness training program for your non-technical staff.

Introduce penetration testing into your IT security roadmap

Lastly, it’s important to remember that penetration testing is not a one-time event. As technology evolves, so do the tools and techniques used by cyber-criminals. This can leave previously secure IT assets vulnerable to attack. Your organization may periodically introduce new, untested assets to its technology stack. You can avoid nasty surprises by conducting Continuous Penetration Testing and proactively shoring up potential exploits before an attacker gets ahold of them.

Continuous Penetration Testing allows you to identify and remediate vulnerabilities before cyber criminals can exploit them. It also helps you to stay ahead of the constantly evolving threat landscape by testing against the latest tools and techniques used by attackers. Without Continuous Penetration Testing, your organization may unknowingly be at risk from vulnerabilities that have been introduced through new technology or changes in your environment. By making penetration testing a regular part of your cybersecurity strategy, you can proactively identify and address potential threats and minimize the risk of a successful attack.

If you’d like more information on preparing for penetration testing and our Continuous Penetration Testing services, feel free to reach out to the team at Sprocket!