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How to prepare for penetration testing

It is an undeniable fact that all applications and infrastructures are essentially in need of a penetration test. It is a known fact that humans are the weakest link in the security chain with 60% of breaches occurring from human error. Therefore, developers and administrators may find it challenging to build and configure fully secure systems and applications. They might need a consultation from a security specialist to help identify any weaknesses and discuss with them how to mitigate them. As the need for penetration testing continues to grow in the ever-changing cyber threat landscape, it’s important to understand how to be prepared for one.

Staying within the penetration testing budget

The first preparation step is to ensure what must be included in the penetration test scope and what must not. You might need to prioritise what is in need of an urgent application security assessment based on your budget. Applications that face the internet and are holding customer data should be the main priority.

How to prepare for testing efficiency

Penetration test must be scheduled periodically to identify the latest security flaws. When preparing for a new penetration test, you should ensure that all reported vulnerabilities in previous tests, such as missing patches, are fixed. This can help reduce newly discovered vulnerabilities. To save time during the testing process, it’s important to have a responsible Information Technology (IT) person available for any inquiries or assistance needed by the penetration testing consultant. This appointed IT contact should provide information such as, how to access the target and with which accounts. Furthermore, they should be available during the test to support any technical issues that appeared.

The penetration test simulates a real-world scenario where a malicious hacker attempts to penetrate the application without any prior knowledge. It’s good to note that testers do not have the time that hackers have in order to constantly try to penetrate your systems. Therefore, unless you want to hire a consultant for a whole year, you might consider giving special access to the tester. This can be a firewall whitelist of the IP address, a set of user accounts with different roles on the application or even the application’s source code. The more information you give, the quicker the penetration test is done. The less information that is given, the more time it will take and money you’ll pay. Similarly, a real-world hacker might not be sitting within your corporate network, but you might need to invite a penetration tester to connect his laptop into your network to identify your vulnerabilities within the shortest possible time.

Including policies, processes and people

It’s a good idea to activate processes that are stated in incident response handling policies during a penetration test. The test can help you identify weaknesses in these policies and can help to improve them. Moreover, it would be a good opportunity to train an incident handling team to monitor and review logs that contain attack requests. This will help the team in identifying attack patterns and analysing root cause, which might prevent such attacks from happening in the future.

Once the assessment is complete, you’ll receive the testing report that highlights the security vulnerabilities in your application or infrastructure, and it should contain possible remediation tips that are more likely to work for your environment. It is important to put more efforts into fixing higher vulnerabilities first and as fast as possible. For example, if the report contained one critical vulnerability and 20 low ones then starting with the 20 low vulnerabilities is a bad idea, as it will not reduce the overall security rating. However, solving the one critical issue will greatly reduce the risk rating and makes the application a lot more secure.

In the end, you should understand that it’s impossible to achieve a 100% level of security. Hackers with time and passion have a good opportunity to compromise your application or infrastructure. Therefore, always be prepared for a penetration test, conduct one, get the results and be sure to remediate all highlighted risks.

Penetration testing

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