What is Network Penetration Testing and How Does it Detect Security Threats?


What Is Network Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing, also referred to as pen testing is a cyber-security exercise carried out by experts with the intention of finding and exploiting vulnerabilities in an organization’s IT infrastructure.

Pen tests simulate cyber-attacks, focusing on discovering any weak points in a computer system’s defenses which cybercriminals can use to gain entry and access an organization’s sensitive information.

Due to the prevalence of cyber-attacks, it’s critical to perform regular network penetration testing to identify and resolve any vulnerability quickly. Find out more about network pen tests and why these exercises must be a critical part of your information security plan.

What Is Network Penetration Testing?

The simplest way to define network penetration testing is that it simulates the processes hackers would use to attack your business network, network applications, business website, and attached devices. This simulation aims to identify security issues early on, before hackers can find and exploit them.

When properly completed, penetration tests go beyond merely stopping bad actors from unlawful access to an organization’s network and data. It helps create real-world situations to show organizations how effectively their current security defenses would act when facing full-scale cyberattacks.

Penetration tests can also help an organization in its effort to achieve security compliance with government regulations, control frameworks and certification requirements (ex. PCI, SOC reporting).

How Does Network Penetration Testing Detect Security Threats?

Penetration tests involve a series of steps, each designed to mirror the stages hackers often utilize to breach an organization.

Here’s how it works:

 Creating a scope for the test

First, an experienced developer will define the goals of the testing exercise, taking into account the network processes and systems a hacker would target. Testers then define rules for the pen test operation alongside determining the methods and tools to be used.

Scanning and reconnaissance

Here, the analysts gather intelligence on the network using various methods, such as reverse engineering, social engineering, and researching publicly available information about the organization and its systems. The goals are to get as much data as possible for identifying potential vulnerabilities to exploit and create attack scenarios for execution.

Gain network access

After penetration testers have enumerated the system and network vulnerabilities, they exploit those flaws to enter the system. Similar to cyber attackers, they will typically start by accessing low-value assets before gradually moving up in the network, infiltrating and escalating system privileges wherever possible.

Evade detection and maintaining network access

Depending on the extent of the penetration test, pen testers are required to mimic advanced hackers by remaining persistent in their efforts to exploit networks and apply similar tactics to hide proof of their intrusion. Remaining in this stealth mode requires delicacy and time. In the real world an attacker may lay low for days, weeks, months or longer. Operating within budget constraints requires penetration testing efforts to be scoped for a certain period of time to yield useful results. These tests can help determine how long the internal security team takes to discover their simulated destructive behaviors.

Reporting and deep analysis

Penetration tests are summed up by a detailed report that analyzes the specific security weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the network. These records will also include the sensitive data the testers accessed, the duration of evading detection, and information security recommendations. This analysis can help organizations close security gaps by changing their processes or switching to new technologies.

The Difference Between Vulnerability Scans and Penetration Testing

A vulnerability scan refers to a manual or automated high-level test designed to search networks, computers, and/or business systems for security flaws. They are a passive method of addressing information security concerns since they are limited to offering reports on the detected vulnerabilities. In contrast, penetration testing simulates the actions of perpetrators trying to access your network. It’s a much more comprehensive, proactive method of determining how your security processes work when facing a threat.

Contact SCA for Network Penetration Testing

SCA’s external, internal and wireless network penetration testing identifies the notable weaknesses and strengths of your current network environment. We also perform application penetration testing to evaluate the security of web and mobile applications. Our penetration testing reports help you understand how your security protocols would handle different kinds of cyberattacks. Using these results, we create a customized, comprehensive remediation strategy to help you reduce cyber risks.

Contact us today and let us help you identify, evaluate, and address all your cybersecurity concerns.

Whether you want to enhance your security protocols after structural changes or a data breach, or you’re looking to meet strict information security compliance requirements, our experienced team is ready to conduct a penetration test for your organization.

Check out our Breach Notification Guide for information on your state’s breach notification laws and requirements.