To Test or Not to Test

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Penetration Testing


10 Reasons Why Your Organization Should Perform a Network Penetration Test

With the cybersecurity landscape constantly evolving, organizations struggle to stay ahead of the bad guys. As we can see in the daily headlines announcing data breaches, hackers continue to be successful and they are motivated to exploit any and all vulnerabilities in order to gain entry to networks, access or steal valuable information, install malicious software, and disrupt critical services.

How do you know if the security tools and network configurations you have worked so tirelessly to deploy are effectively protecting your organization’s systems and data? You may have invested significant resources into your security program and spent your limited budget on new technologies, but is your organization still vulnerable?

The best way to find out is through a comprehensive penetration test. Below are 10 reasons your organization should consider conducting a network penetration test sooner rather than later:

  1. Real-world Testing
    Penetration testing will assess the real-world effectiveness of your security controls. Unlike a vulnerability scan, a penetration test doesn’t simply identify potential vulnerabilities, it goes a step further to actively exploit those vulnerabilities and demonstrate the attack vectors that can be used to successfully gain access to your organization’s systems, assets, staff, etc. Penetration testing is a manual effort and requires highly skilled, credentialed individuals to utilize different tools and methodologies to attempt to circumvent security measures.
  2. Understanding Your Weaknesses
    You are only as strong as your weakest link, so knowing and understanding what that weak spot may be is critical. Invest in the time to uncover any gaps and, once you know where they are, you will have to fix them. You will be better positioned to protect your systems if you are able to accurately pinpoint gaps and then remediate those deficiencies.
  3. Prioritizing Risks
    With all the various security risks to contend with, it is crucial for IT decision makers to be able to prioritize risks in order of importance. A well-written penetration test report will include not only the details of any vulnerabilities identified, but also a measurement of risk that gap represents. Once that report is delivered, you will know which potential vulnerabilities could have the greatest impact on your network and this allows you to allocate your IT resources accordingly. You can quickly address high-risk areas where breaches are more likely to occur or have a larger impact, and then build plans to address the lower risks items in your long term security strategy.
  4. Preventing Costly Breaches
    As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Penetration testers are able to locate potential gaps or vulnerabilities that you may not have found on your own. Resources may be tight so consider segmenting the tests to start – begin with those areas that touch sensitive data, identify and remediate findings there, and then move on to other areas. Remember, hackers aren’t going to feel bad for you and give you a pass just because your IT budget is limited. Better to find out on your own schedule than to instead find yourself scrambling to recover from a data breach.
  5. Preparing Your Team
    Even if you don’t have the time and resources to immediately resolve all identified gaps, knowing what those risks are is half the battle. Now you can use this knowledge to develop an incident response plan. You can identify key players, educate them regarding potential risks, and more closely monitor vulnerable systems. This preparation will allow you to more quickly identify an actual attack and be better positioned to respond effectively. Penetration testing can not only identify locations where an attacker could breach your system, but it will also help you prepare your security team to react.
  6. Gaining Executive Support and Buy-in
    A well-conducted penetration test will provide your team with evidence to both demonstrate the value of your current security tools and support increased security investments should the tools prove to be inadequate. The penetration test report will not only point out potential entrance points, but will also highlight areas where attempts were made but the testers were successfully blocked. Time, money, and resources are three things that Information Security departments rarely have enough of, however, being able to demonstrate the value of investing in necessary solutions can help support your requests for additional resources in the future.
  7. Complying with Regulatory Standards
    Penetration testing is necessary for compliance efforts; depending on your environment, it is required by the PCI DSS. Conducting a penetration test will definitely ensure you are complying with the requirements, however, if you are completing a pen test just to meet a specific compliance requirement, you are most likely focusing on one specific segment of your network or specific applications. While these focused penetration tests are valuable, for most organizations a network pen test that tests your overall security posture will be more valuable in the long run.
  8. Gaining an alternate perspective
    Partnering with a third-party who has not been involved with the implementation of your security tools will allow you to put fresh eyes on your network. This separation will often help you reveal security faults that had previously gone unnoticed during internal reviews.
  9. Industry Benchmarking
    We always want to know how we measure up to others. A thorough penetration test will provide useful information that will allow you to compare your company’s overall security risk with others in your industry. The penetration testing report will include an explanation of the methodology used, often a framework like NIST SP 800-115, and an industry accepted risk ranking that can be compared to other published metrics.
  10. Saving Money
    Investing in a pen test does require upfront costs, but your return on investment will exceed that initial budget request. A penetration test will help you identify and fix weaknesses, prevent data breach costs and fines that could be far more significant, and build confidence in your overall security posture.

For most organizations, the threat of a real world attack is what keeps your information security executives up at night. The knowledge and experience gained from conducting a penetration test can help calm those fears and ensure you have the proper defenses in place when the hackers come knocking.

Some additional guidance from the Penetration Testing Team below:

[Sullivan]: One of our biggest goals as pen testers is to provide customers with substantiated evidence of where they are the most vulnerable and ways they can prevent and mitigate risks that don’t show up in a vulnerability scanning report. That manual process of identifying and exploiting risks, and chaining multiple vulnerabilities together can help give your organization a better real-world view of what attackers are able to do and how prepared your organization is to detect them.


About the Author
Katie Johnson

Katie Johnson


Manager, Operations Support

As the manager of Operations Support, Katie leads the team responsible for supporting and delivering CampusGuard services including online training, vulnerability scanning, and the CampusGuard Central® portal. With over 15 years of experience in information security awareness training, Katie is also the Product Lead for CampusGuard’s online training services. As a Senior Customer Relationship Manager for a limited number of customers, Katie assists organizations with their information security and compliance programs and is responsible for coordinating the various teams involved.