The Growing Need For Vulnerability Assessment And Penetration Testing

Cybersecurity 101 Series
As cyberattacks are growing in sophistication and complexity, the chances of businesses falling into the traps of cyber attackers are also increasing rapidly. Having anti-virus software and a firewall, as well as assuming that your business is secure, is no longer enough. The data losses due to this are typically of two types - either the data is confidential to the organization or it is private to an individual. Regardless of the category, data losses result in the loss of money or reputation. The average cost of a data breach in 2020 is $3.86 million, according to a new report from IBM and the Ponemon Institute.

This makes it essential to learn as much as we can about the threats and the weak points in your own systems. To mitigate the risk of a security incident and avoid the cost of a cyber attack, we need to be able to prevent, detect, respond and recover from such attacks. One way to go about this is by performing a vulnerability assessment and penetration test or commonly known as VAPT. Organizations often misinterpret the different between a vulnerability assessment and a penetration test.
What is Vulnerability Assessment (VA)?

Vulnerability assessment (sometimes referred to as 'scanning') is the use of automated tools to identify known common vulnerabilities in a system's configuration. Vulnerability assessment typically seeks to validate the minimum level of security that should be applied – and is often the pre-cursor to more specialized penetration testing. It does not exploit the vulnerabilities identified to replicate a real attack, nor does it consider the overall security management processes and procedures that support the system.
What is Penetration Testing (PT)?

A penetration test is an ethical attack simulation that is intended to demonstrate or validate the effectiveness of security controls in a particular environment by highlighting risks posed by actual exploitable vulnerabilities. It is built around a manual testing process, which is intended to go much further than the generic responses, false positive findings and lack of depth provided by automated application assessment tools (such as those used in a vulnerability assessment).
The need for a Penetration Testing Assessment

Undertaking a series of penetration tests will help test your security arrangements and identify improvements. When carried out and reported properly, a penetration test can give you knowledge of nearly all of your technical security weaknesses and provide you with the information and support required to remove or reduce those vulnerabilities. Research has shown that there are also other significant benefits to your organization through effective penetration testing, which can include:
· Reduce network downtime
· Significant changes to business processes
· Enable regulatory compliance
· Protect the company's reputation and customer trust
· Raising awareness about possible Cyber security attacks.
· The impact of serious (often cyber related) security attacks on similar organizations
Challenges Organizations Face When Carrying Out Penetration Testing

There is no arguing that a penetration test can be an invaluable exercise to evaluate the security of an IT infrastructure. Despite the necessity for these critical evaluations, many organizations are facing a number of more general challenges when carrying out penetration testing.

Findings from the research project carried out by CREST indicated that the top six penetration testing challenges for organizations included difficulties in:

1. Determining the depth and breadth of coverage of the test
2. Identifying what type of penetration test is require
3. Understanding the difference between vulnerability scanning and penetration testing
4. Identifying risks associated with potential system failure and exposure of sensitive data
5. Agreeing the targets and frequency of tests
6. Assuming that by fixing vulnerabilities uncovered during a penetration test their systems will then be 'secure'
In order for these challenges to be identified and addressed effectively, an organization should adopt a systematic, structured approach to penetration testing as part of a wider penetration testing programme, including the selection and management of external suppliers. Organizations can carry out penetration testing themselves, sometimes very successfully. More often they will decide to employ the services of one or more specialist third party penetration testing providers. There are many reasons why an organization may wish to employ external penetration testing providers, such as:

1. Provide more experienced, dedicated technical staff who understand how to carry out penetration tests effectively
2. Perform an independent assessment of their security arrangements
3. Carry out a full range of testing (eg. black, white or grey box; internal or external; infrastructure or web application; source code review; and social engineering).
4. Deploy a structured process and plan, developed by experts
5. Increase the scope and frequency of tests
6. Conduct short term engagements, eliminating the need to employ your own specialized (and often expensive) staff
7. Reducing the cost of training (and re-training) internal teams

In conclusion

How can security be improved and how can attacks be prevented? The first step is for management to treat security seriously and assign appropriate budget, training and resources to it. Furthermore, hire a security contractor to perform regular audits and drills and simulate attacks in case any challenges does arise as discussed before. In this way vulnerabilities will be discovered and resolved before a real attacker finds a weakness and takes advantage to exploit them. As Former FBI Director Robert Mueller once said, "There are only two types of companies: those that have been hacked, and those that will be." Which one are you?

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