What is a penetration test and what are the benefits?

In the UK, more than 1.6 million businesses are victims of hacking attempts every year. Maintaining a safe and secure IT system is crucial, and penetration testing is one tactic to help you do just that. This guide explores the importance of penetration testing, guides you through its benefits and how to adhere to industry standards that can safeguard your business from potential cyber-attacks.

What is penetration testing?

A penetration test simulates a cyber security breach or cyber attack on a website, computer system, network or application. It aims to discover any vulnerabilities and gain valuable insights ahead of a real-world attack so measures can be put in place to protect assets from potential threats. 

Penetration testing, or pen testing, is a cyber strategy that involves ‘ethical hacking’ of your system and network, exposing weak spots, operational flaws and susceptibility to different types of cyber threats. They can be internal and external attacks on a variety of different entry points on-site and remote. Reports are generated to relay the findings of the test and any recommendations for action. Penetration tests are carried out regularly and may slot into scheduled security audit timings. 

The scope of penetration testing will depend on the needs and objectives set by the company. This will vary depending on the size of the business, as some small businesses may only require a single web application to undergo testing, whereas larger companies may need a full-scale operation across all of their systems. Some companies may require more extensive penetration testing if they work with sensitive data or have a higher risk profile. 

Why is penetration testing important? 

The core reason for penetration testing is for security purposes, to protect the company and its assets, including customer data. Essentially, it helps to reduce the risk associated with cyber attacks. 

Penetration testing is also important for compliance purposes and to protect the public image and reputation of the company. There are many advantages to having regular penetration tests performed, including the ability to prevent unauthorised access to sensitive data and to enhance the resilience against any potential future attacks. 

It is important to ensure penetration tests are only carried out by experts who can tailor the tests to the specific goals of your company, providing you with an accurate evaluation and understanding of any IT weaknesses that need additional attention. 

What are the main benefits of penetration testing?

Penetration testing has many benefits, including the visibility of any gaps in your cyber security before exploitation occurs from a real-world attack. These simulations should be done regularly for maximum benefit and fit with your overall security strategy. Here, we outline the top advantages of penetration testing.

Detect and address system vulnerabilities 

Penetration testing is all about proactive defence, unearthing otherwise unnoticed weaknesses that could be a security risk if left vulnerable to attacks. By detecting and addressing these areas of concern, a prioritisation plan can be put in place that’s based on potential impact. This approach allows companies to allocate resources efficiently to ensure they have the protection needed where it matters most. Remedial strategies help strengthen cyber security and transform any issues, such as problematic access points, into key learnings. As cyber threats are constantly evolving, it is important to put regular testing in place to secure data, operations and reputation in the marketplace.  

Enhancing security defences 

By enhancing security defences for your company, you are able to mitigate the ongoing risk of threats to your data and assets. Avoiding these breaches with enhanced defences can be costly, with losses in sales, legal fees and IT remediation to consider. Taking a proactive approach is beneficial as it assists in the development of your security posture, in turn creating a competitive advantage. It outwardly demonstrates that information security is of high priority and showcases your commitment to maintaining a secure operation. 

Protecting customer trust 

A cyber attack could significantly erode the trust of your loyal customers, tainting the company’s image and reputation. Yet, incorporating regular penetration tests into an expertly managed cyber security strategy and promptly addressing any gaps can positively influence this scenario. Implement these strategic measures, and penetration testing serves as a critical tool in protecting customer trust by mitigating risks and keeping their data secure. 

Adhere to industry standards and regulatory requirements 

There are several industry standards and regulatory requirements in the UK that influence the need for penetration testing. Adhering to these standards aims to protect sensitive information and maintain cybersecurity compliance. These standards and regulations include:

  • ISO 27001 which is an international standard for information security management systems
  • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) for businesses that handle cardholder data
  • The Network and Information Systems (NIS) Regulations 2018
  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
  • Cyber Essentials 

While not all of these specifically state penetration testing is mandatory, they do all require businesses to implement appropriate measures to ensure a high level of security.  

When engaging in penetration testing you should always ensure this is carried out by experts and align with these standards and regulations. 

How often should penetration testing be conducted?

Generally, penetration tests are recommended to be conducted on a yearly basis as a minimum. The regularity of penetration tests is dependent on several things, such as the size of the company, how sensitive the data is, exposure to threats and the network infrastructure. For those in highly regulated industries or at higher risk of threats when processing sensitive data the frequency of testing may increase to quarterly or bi-annually. 

Similarly, if there have been major updates or expansions to the network or IT systems in your business, scheduling penetration tests to check for new vulnerabilities is wise. 

In order to get started with penetration testing, it’s crucial to ensure the right IT support is in place. Keep your business secure and learn more about how our managed cyber security services can help. Got a question about penetration testing? Get in touch today. 

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