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Karen Cohen

By: Karen Cohen on December 02, 2023

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What Is Pen Testing And How Does It Keep Your Business Safe?

Cybersecurity | IT Support

Whether you are a business leader or an IT professional, security is likely top of mind. With reports of the latest cyber incidents in the news on what seems likely a daily basis, and new cyber threats emerging regularly, we are often asked which tools we recommend to keep business infrastructures safe. 

In this article, we'll explore penetration testing (also known as "pen testing") and how it can help keep your data and network secure

After you read this article, you'll have a full understanding of what penetration testing is, the main goal, why it's important, what it can detect, and how it differs from vulnerability scanning, so you can confidently decide whether your organization would benefit.

Instead of trying to sell you something you don't need, we provide unbiased information you can use to figure the right technology path for your organization. We provide information, so that you can make an educated decision.

What Is Pen Testing?

Pen tests are hands-on, manual investigations that are typically conducted by an IT professional who you pay to poke around your network looking for vulnerabilities. As part of the test, the expert explores what would happen if someone with malicious intent exploited them.

It's basically an ethical cyberattack (within a certain level of predetermined parameters) that you authorize to be carried out on your network. 

These tests provide a "snapshot in time" look at the vulnerabilities that exist so that the leadership team understands the risks and can proactively address cracks in the technology infrastructure. 


What Is The Main Goal Of Penetration Testing? 

The main goal of penetration testing is three-fold:

  • Identify vulnerabilities
  • Develop a prioritized action plan to address the existing vulnerabilities
  • Implement the action plan so that your infrastructure security is optimized 

The results of a penetration test are provided in the form of a report that includes a prioritized action plan. The plan outlines which actions should be performed first to ward off the largest threats immediately.  

Why Is Penetration Testing Important? 

Penetration testing provides business leaders with a look at hidden vulnerabilities.

In the same way that an x-ray identifies cracks in your bones that aren't readily visible, penetration tests expose fractures in your infrastructure that you would otherwise not know were there. 

The information that penetration tests provides gives you an inside look at the vulnerabilities that could expose your infrastructure to a cyber incident, so you can rectify them before any damage is done (just as an x-ray helps medical professionals determine the best way to address and repair a cracked bone).

What Can Penetration Tests Detect? 

Penetration tests can identify a variety of weaknesses. Some of those weaknesses could be the result of application flaws that haven’t been patched and updated, easy-to-guess passwords, human error, and devices installed on the network with default passwords still intact. 

How Is A Penetration Test Different From A Vulnerability Scan? 

While both are important tools that can help identify vulnerabilities within your network, they approach the task in different ways. 

Vulnerability scans are typically automated and provide general, top-level information. Your internal IT team can use existing software to run a vulnerability scan or you can hire an external partner to perform the scan for you. 

Vulnerability scans will provide information about the risks that exist, but you will need to distill the results and develop your own prioritized action plan. Many business leaders work with an external IT expert to understand the results and rank the action items in order of importance. 

Read this article to learn more about vulnerability testing.  

What's The Bottom Line? 

After reading this article, you have a full understanding of penetration testing. You know what it is, the main goal of the exercise, why it's important, the kinds of things it can detect, and how it differs from vulnerability scanning.

At this point, you have the information you need to decide whether penetration testing is right for your organization. 

Based on our experience, penetration testing is a valuable tool for organizations of all sizes. Having said that, if your business is small and has minimal risk, you won't need penetration testing as often as a large, more complex organization with high risk. 

We recommend that all organizations conduct vulnerability scanning on a regular basis. While the safest approach is to conduct daily vulnerability scanning and frequent penetration testing, we understand that most businesses don't have the financial and staffing resources to make that happen.

The frequency of testing depends in large part on the nature of your business and contracts and the level of risk inherent in your industry.

Because penetration testing is more invasive and more expensive, businesses often rely on regular vulnerability scanning in combination with less frequent penetration testing. We encourage the use of both tools because penetration tests often identify issues that vulnerability scans don't catch. 

A regular schedule that includes frequent vulnerability scans and less frequent penetration testing provides regular access to big picture cybersecurity vulnerabilities and with occasional deep dives.  

Penetration tests and vulnerability scans are only two of the cybersecurity tools every organization needs. Learn the best cybersecurity tools to protect data and infrastructure.

Find out the most frequently overlooked cybersecurity tool.

Want to evaluate your organization's cybersecurity efforts? Click the button below for a checklist you can use to perform a self-assessment.

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One piece of advice: if you are considering using an external IT provider to conduct penetration testing, make sure to explore several options so that you find one with ethical standards you trust. 

No matter what services you may be looking for, always explore several providers to ensure that you find one that fits well with your organization. An external team should be an extension of your organization, so choose wisely. 

Just beginning to explore external IT? Learn your options for external IT support.

Already evaluating outsourced IT support? Read this article for 10 of the best questions to ask any external IT support provider.  

Have questions and just want to talk to a person? Click the button below and one of our IT solutions experts will schedule a 15-minute call at your convenience. 

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About Karen Cohen

Karen brings unending curiosity to her role as Kelser's Content Manager. If you have a question, she wants to know the answer.

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