Understanding Network Penetration Testing: Its Significance, Requirement, and Compliance

June 9, 2023 By Billy Steeghs, OnDefend COO

With hackers constantly on the lookout for vulnerable targets, it’s important for organizations to stay one step ahead. Working in cybersecurity over the last two decades, there we can all agree pentesting continues to be one of the most powerful tools in any companies’ arsenal. A tried and true for a reason. Network Penetration Testing, commonly known as “PenTesting” is a bit like a fire drill for cyber-attacks, allowing organizations to identify and fix weaknesses before real hackers find them. But what exactly is Network Penetration Testing? Who needs it, what rules mandate its use, and why is it so important? Let’s dive in to answer these questions.

What is Network Penetration Testing?

Network Penetration Testing is a process by which trained and certified ethical hackers mimic malicious attacks on a network to identify vulnerabilities before actual hackers can exploit them. This testing process involves attacking the network’s infrastructure – servers, network devices, and system endpoints – to identify weaknesses in its defenses.

The purpose is not to cause harm, but to understand the potential weaknesses in the system. It’s about uncovering areas of improvement and ensuring that the appropriate measures are taken to secure the system.

Example of a Comprehensive Pen Test

A comprehensive penetration test, like those conducted by OnDefend, involves a systematic and thorough evaluation of your organization’s network security. Here’s a typical sequence of steps in such a test:

  1. Planning and Scoping: The first step is to define the scope and goals of the test, including the systems to be addressed and the testing methods to be used. This stage also involves gathering intelligence to understand how the targeted systems work and what potential weaknesses might exist.
  2. Reconnaissance: This phase involves deep-dive information gathering about the target. This might include identifying IP addresses, domain details, network topology and, in some cases, gathering information from public sources (also known as OSINT or Open-Source Intelligence) about the company or its employees.
  3. Vulnerability Assessment: Using manual or automated tools, the testing team identifies potential points of exploit on the target systems. This might include using software to scan for known vulnerabilities, such as open ports or insecure software configurations.
  4. Exploitation: In this stage, the pen tester attempts to exploit the vulnerabilities identified in the previous step. This could mean trying to gain unauthorized access to systems, extracting sensitive data, or performing other activities that real-world attackers might attempt.
  5. Post-Exploitation: Once access is gained, the focus shifts to what can be done with the exploited system. This might involve identifying and documenting sensitive data, accessing user accounts, or trying to escalate privileges to gain more control over the system or network.
  6. Reporting: The final step involves compiling a detailed report documenting the vulnerabilities found, the exploitation steps taken, and the sensitive data that could potentially have been exposed. This report also includes recommendations for mitigating the identified vulnerabilities.

Through this comprehensive process, OnDefend can provide your organization with a clear picture of your current security posture, potential vulnerabilities, and the most effective ways to address them. By revealing weak spots, a comprehensive penetration test helps organizations prioritize their security measures and ensure the most robust defense against real-world cyber threats.

Who Needs Network Penetration Testing?

The short answer is – everyone. All businesses, irrespective of their size or industry, should consider regular PenTesting to safeguard their sensitive data. This includes small businesses, corporations, government entities, and non-profit organizations.

For small and medium-sized businesses, PenTesting helps protect customer data and other sensitive information. For large corporations and government entities, it helps safeguard not only the customer and proprietary data but also their reputation and stakeholder trust.

Why is Network Penetration Testing Important?

In an era where cyber-attacks are not only more frequent but also more sophisticated, Network Penetration Testing is more important than ever. Here are some reasons why:

  1. Identifying Weaknesses: PenTesting helps identify vulnerabilities in your network that can be exploited by hackers. By finding these weaknesses ahead of time, you can address them and fortify your network.
  2. Regulatory Compliance: Many industries have regulations that require companies to conduct regular penetration tests to ensure that their digital assets are secure. Failure to meet these requirements can result in hefty fines.
  3. Preventing Financial Loss: Cyber-attacks can result in financial loss due to downtime, data breaches, or loss of customer trust. By identifying vulnerabilities before they can be exploited, you can prevent these losses.
  4. Protecting Customer Trust: Customers trust you with their sensitive data. A breach could lead to a loss of trust that can have long-term impacts on your business.

What Compliance Requires Network Penetration Testing?

Several industry standards and regulations necessitate regular network penetration testing. These include, but are not limited to:

  1. Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS): For any organization handling cardholder information, regular penetration tests are required to remain compliant.
  2. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA): For healthcare providers, penetration testing is recommended to protect patient information and avoid breaches.
  3. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): This European regulation requires companies handling EU citizen data to conduct PenTests to ensure data security.
  4. Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA):S. federal agencies or contractors and businesses dealing with federal agencies must adhere to this act, which includes penetration testing.
  5. ISO 27001: This international standard outlining best practices for an information security management system (ISMS) recommends regular penetration testing.
  6. System and Organization Controls (SOC) 2: Developed by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), SOC 2 is a voluntary compliance standard that applies to service organizations. It focuses on five trust service principles: security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy. Though SOC 2 doesn’t explicitly demand penetration testing, conducting such tests aligns perfectly with its emphasis on security. Regular penetration testing is considered a best practice to validate the effectiveness of security controls and ensure ongoing compliance with SOC 2 requirements.

Adopting Security Frameworks: NIST CSF, ISO 27001, and CIS20

Whether a business must comply with a specific regulatory standard or not, adopting a comprehensive cybersecurity framework is essential for maintaining robust security posture. These frameworks, such as the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF), ISO 27001, and CIS20, provide structured and systematic approaches to managing cybersecurity risks. Let’s delve into these popular security frameworks:

  1. NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF): Developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the NIST CSF is a voluntary framework primarily intended for critical infrastructure organizations to manage and mitigate cybersecurity risk based on existing standards, guidelines, and practices. However, the flexible and scalable nature of the NIST CSF allows its use by a wide range of businesses and organizations.
  2. ISO 27001: The ISO 27001 standard is an international standard for how to manage information security within an organization. It provides a set of standard procedures for an Information Security Management System (ISMS), detailing how to handle information in a way that ensures its accessibility, confidentiality, and integrity. Regular penetration testing, as recommended by this standard, can help organizations continuously monitor and improve their ISMS.
  3. CIS Critical Security Controls (CIS20): The Center for Internet Security’s Critical Security Controls (often referred to as CIS20) is a concise, prioritized set of 20 controls that can drastically reduce the risk of cyber threats. These controls are a combination of policies, procedures, hardware, and software that provide a defensive architecture and cover various aspects from data recovery capabilities to penetration tests and red team exercises.

For organizations that don’t have any regulatory compliance requirements, adopting one or more of these security frameworks can provide a comprehensive and proactive approach to cybersecurity. They offer methodologies to identify potential threats, protect against cyber-attacks, detect anomalies, respond to incidents, and recover from them. Furthermore, following these frameworks and implementing regular network penetration testing can greatly enhance an organization’s security stance and resilience against cyber threats.

How OnDefend Can Help with Your Cybersecurity Needs

In an ever-evolving digital landscape, securing your business from cyber threats can seem like an uphill battle. That’s where OnDefend comes into the picture. As a cybersecurity company dedicated to helping organizations fortify their digital infrastructure, we have in-house seasoned red teamers who can help protect your business and maintain the integrity of your digital assets.

Penetration Testing and Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS) Services

OnDefend excels in providing both Penetration Testing and Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS) services. Our certified ethical hackers execute targeted cyberattack simulations to identify your network’s vulnerabilities. Complementing this, our BAS services offer continuous, automated testing that emulates real-world threats, providing real-time insights into your security readiness. These dual services allow OnDefend to offer a comprehensive analysis of your organization’s security status, empowering you to maintain robust defenses against cyber threats.

Comprehensive Security Assessment

Beyond penetration testing, we conduct thorough security assessments to identify potential risks in your cybersecurity framework. By assessing your existing security measures against globally recognized frameworks like NIST CSF, ISO 27001, and CIS20, we provide insights into your security stance and provide recommendations to enhance it.

Cybersecurity Consulting

Our cybersecurity consulting services help you build or improve your cybersecurity program. Whether it’s ensuring compliance with various industry regulations like PCI DSS, HIPAA, GDPR, FISMA, and SOC 2 or designing a security plan from the ground up, OnDefend’s team of security experts is equipped to guide you every step of the way.

Training and Awareness Programs

Recognizing that human error often plays a part in successful cyberattacks, OnDefend offers training and awareness programs. We help educate your team about the latest cyber threats, safe digital practices, and incident response procedures. This empowers your team to become an active part of your cybersecurity defense.

With OnDefend, you’re not just investing in a cybersecurity service; you’re partnering with a team dedicated to protecting your business from cyber threats. Our objective is to help you achieve the peace of mind that comes with knowing your organization’s digital assets are well defended.

Solutions Tailored to You

At OnDefend, we understand that each organization has unique security needs. That’s why we offer tailored solutions to match your specific requirements and industry best practices. Our team works closely with your organization to understand its structure, needs, and potential threats, designing a cybersecurity strategy that is as unique as your business.

Ready to learn more? Contact@ondefend.com


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