Penetration testing, also known as a pen test, is a security exercise that reveals an organization’s security vulnerabilities through a defined testing process. A penetration test may focus on networks, applications, physical facilities, individuals, and more. As cybersecurity breaches continue to plague organizations, compliance mandates are expanding, more organizations are attempting to deploy a strong security program, and requests to test access controls for effectiveness are on the rise. All of these needs have led to a rapid increase in demand for third-party pen testing. With all of the strategic advantages third-party pen testers can offer to enhance your security posture, should enlisting their services become standard practice? Read on to explore the importance of pen testing and discover why bringing in external pen testers makes sense for every organization.
How Pen Testing Reduces Your Risk
NIST indicates that cyber risk or information security risks arise from the loss of confidentiality, integrity, or availability of information or information systems, and reflect the potential adverse impacts to organizational operation. A risk assessment is a process every organization should conduct to learn about the potential dangers it may face. Penetration tests should be part of any organizational security program and have many benefits, including:
- Identifying vulnerabilities before cyber criminals do and eliminating weaknesses that could be exploited in the future.
- Increasing resiliencies against cyber attacks to ensure continuous business operation. Cyber attacks often end up crippling the business for a period of time.
- Challenging your protective strategy to make it stronger, especially for those assets that are key to your business.
- Meeting government and industry compliance rules that are needed for operation.
- Creating a security-conscious organization not only for external stakeholders, but also for internal consumption.
Unfortunately, the availability of expert pen testers is limited, so many organizations do not have pen testers on staff or regularly conduct pen testing. Yet this challenge can be addressed with third-party pen testers and emphasizes three critical reasons why pen testing should still be prioritized:
1. The Low Cost of Pen Tests Compared to the Cost of a Breach
One of the metrics used when analyzing cybersecurity risks is the cost of a breach. Although it is sometimes difficult to determine the exact cost of a data breach, there are multiple variables to take into account. A recent study conducted by IACIS includes three different categories:
- Direct costs—These costs are related to post-breach actions, ranging from operational blackouts to contracting legal teams and notifying customers. This category usually carries high expenses, a substantial revenue drop, and is seen immediately after the breach.
- Indirect costs—These costs are related to the loss of trust that occurs after a breach. This can affect all different parties, from customers to employees to investors. These costs are usually seen in the mid-term.
- Hidden costs—This category is the most difficult to identify and measure. These costs are related to lost business, the negative impact on business reputation caused by a breach, and the time spent on recovery. This can affect both an organization’s budget as well as long-term revenue. These are usually seen over the long-term.
In a 2020 research study, IBM found that the average cost of data breach is about $3.86M, with the United States having the highest country average breach cost at $8.64M.
To minimize these costs, it is necessary to invest in cybersecurity, no matter which stage your organization is currently in. You might be in the early stages of securing your organization or you might have a strong program deployed. Cyber risks are not static, meaning constantly improving the cybersecurity posture is mandatory for a strong program. Depending on where your organization stands, your needs may vary, but selecting solid solutions and providers is key for everyone.
Your penetration testing vendor should assess your needs, understand your level of maturity, and propose a pen testing plan that aligns not only to your needs, but also to your budget. The average cost of an expert penetration testing service depends on the type of project and scope of work, and represents only a fraction of the cost of an average breach.
Using a third-party skilled group of penetration testers, especially if you don’t have an internal pen testing team, is vital in order to test what measures are already in place. Third-party pen testers can find ways to improve your security, including increasing user awareness, finding new vulnerabilities, circumventing access controls, and finding paths to compromise high-value assets that were not explored before.
2. An External Point of View for Objective Pen Tests
Sometimes it’s difficult for internal IT or security teams to see every problem because, as in everyday life, being habituated to the situation or environment can make it difficult to see the forest for the trees. Functionality typically takes precedence—when a system or a process is working, you have a defined operation process. Security may not be given as high a priority simply because things work.
The purpose of having a third-party vendor test the security of your systems is to have an objective, novel, and expert view your security posture. Following a comprehensive process, expert practitioners, known as ethical hackers, explore the different ways in which a cyber attack could cause damage. These third-party pen testers discover security gaps by following a goal-based exercise to gain access to high-value assets or challenging your cyber-defense organization.
Even those with an established security posture can’t afford to grow idle. In order to maintain a fully developed management program that takes the entire environment into account, third-party pen testers should be used to continue to validate your program. Regular testing can uncover new vulnerabilities, ensures that any previously taken remediation measures are effective, and can confirm that you remain compliant.
3. Applying Different Skillsets to Your Environment
In addition to having an unbiased third-party perspective, a new set of testers brings with them a new set of skills. While certain standard processes may be followed, each pen tester also identifies weaknesses with own unique combinations of tactics and techniques. Third-party pen testers are also valuable for providing an external view into how different threat actors may approach an attack, bringing in fresh perspectives from any internal testers.
Even if you have an internal security team, chances are they don’t spend 100% of their time pen testing. Third-party pen testers are fully dedicated to ethical hacking, and can stay up to date on the latest attacks.
Of course, it’s important to be discerning of third-party providers to ensure you are working with reputable and competent pen testers. Typically a team should be led by senior consultants with at least five years of experience, solid technical skills (ideally holding at least one industry certification), and the ability to deal with changing test conditions.
It is also valuable to know the experiences and expertise of the other members of the team. Experience within the cybersecurity industry can be extremely broad. Some testers come directly out of school, while others have spent time in another area of IT or cybersecurity. Having a team with diverse experiences, such as network infrastructure, software development, auditing, and assessment can be particularly useful.
Take the Next Right Step
Once you’ve decided to incorporate third-party pen testing into your security stance, you’ll want to take the time to select the right partner for your organization. The right team can validate industry standards and regulatory requirements. And most importantly, they can provide expert insights on how to stay one step ahead of attackers.
Ready to Introduce Pen Testing Into Your Security Strategy?
Watch our webinar, How to Take Your Vulnerability Management Program to the Next Level to find out where your organization stands and how to best incorporate pen testing.