Pratum Blog

Internal and External Penetration Testing

Is your organization secure from a cyber-attack? Unless you’ve done some thorough research, you may not be able to answer that question confidently. Knowing the strength of your security program is paramount in protecting your data, and your clients’ information!

Penetration testing is one of the most effective ways to ensure your business is prepared against an attack. Testing for both external and internal threats can help protect your company and give you some peace of mind. Knowing where your vulnerabilities are will help you secure your network, and knowing which tests are right for your organization is a good first step.

What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing, often called “Pen Testing”, is done by a cybersecurity expert who tries to infiltrate an organization’s systems using a series of tests. The goal is to try and find vulnerabilities in the security protocol that could be used by criminals.

There are two steps to a “typical” Pen Testing process: external and internal. Each one offers unique insight into the security strength of your organization. Taking the time to understand what they involve and offer your company can help you prepare for the process.

External Pen Testing

External Penetration Testing is the practice of testing security programs through external access. That includes anything that has a public facing service or IP or URL. This could be a web application,firewall, server or IoT device. Depending on the motivation of the attacker, they could utilize a vulnerability or chain vulnerabilities in order to gain access to sensitive data. In various parts of the internet, zero day (0-day) exploits are often sold or exchanged for these purposes.

The goal of External Pen Testing is to find those vulnerabilities a threat actor may use to get into your company’s network to steal valuable information from within your company.

External Pen Testing Methods:

  • IDS/IPS Testing
  • Segmentation Testing
  • Manual Testing Identified Vulnerabilities
  • System Screening/Port Screening/Service Scanning for Vulnerabilities
  • Checking Public Information for Leakages
  • Foot-printing/Banner Grabbing
  • Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) reconnaissance
  • PCI, HIPPA and other compliance-based testing

The tester may also try to gain access to external facing assets such as email, file shares, or websites.

During testing, the assessor will gather information on all assets within the scope of the test. That includes open ports, vulnerabilities, and other information about the company’s users. This can then be used for various attacks such as: brute forcing passwords, phishing attacks, precise operating system and service attacks.

The External Pen Test should reveal any areas that may be compromised and exploited to gain access to your network. This should also be utilized as an opportunity for clients to verify their current process for detecting anomalous activity. Once a perimeter is breached, testing depending on the rules of engagement, further attacks could be used to gain access to internal network assets, often referred to as pivoting or lateral movement.

Internal Pen Testing

Most organizations focus on the perimeter as far as security goes. Unfortunately, those with direct access to an organizations data pose the most significant threat overall. People are often easily manipulated and prone to mistakes (we are all human). Many times, what happens at the host level goes unmonitored and many organizations aren’t aware of what is entering or leaving their networks. Common misconfigurations are still seen to this day that often lead to full network compromise.

Internal Pen Testing is very important and can encompass many things. For those working from home that may be private networks such as home WIFI, cell phones, cable, streaming services, and the list goes on. All of these can be connected to each other. The threat comes from opening networks to external threats with one of these channels.

The office has potential internal threats, as well. The same systems in place at home can often be found at the office; such as phones, internet networks, and more. Also, if your business has a file sharing system that several employees have access to, and do not require a password, you may want to re-evaluate who is allowed to see the various levels of content. Not every employee needs access to the same data, and unnecessary access could leave you vulnerable to an attack. Not all employees have the interest of your company at heart and could be motivated by financial, vindictive or other means to cause harm to the network or overall company image.

A threat actor who is able to get in through one of these channels can then move about and gather private data by just observing from within. It may not always be an immediate attack. In fact, they may collect data to use later or sell to others. This could go undetected for weeks, months or longer if proper internal auditing, patching and testing is not performed on a regular basis.

During Internal Pen Testing the assessor is trying to find out just how much damage could be done by a threat actor or employee from the inside of the network. A poorly secured domain could lead to total control of a network, but most tests require multiple attack paths to complete the objective. This is often accomplished due to relaxed policies that focus on convenience rather than necessary mitigations.

Once the Pen Tester can access the internal system, the tester will sometimes move laterally within the organization’s system. The goal is to see how much of the internal network is vulnerable if an attacker were to gain access. Internal Pen Testing can also include privilege escalation, malware spreading, information leakage, and other malicious activities.

The tester will often use less important systems, that are easier to access, as a channel to get through to the more secure areas with higher levels of protection. This is typically where sensitive data or controls will be.

Internal Pen Testing Can Include Using:

  • WIFI Networks
  • Firewalls
  • IDS/IPS
  • Employees
  • Computer Systems
  • Mobile devices
  • HVAC
  • Cameras
  • Physical access

Internal Pen Testing is important, even if your External Pen Testing seemed secure. Threat actors may still be able to infiltrate your system. There could also be attacks from individuals from inside your organization. Knowing all levels of your security system will help you prepare and prevent a breach.

External vs. Internal: What’s Right for You?

Trying to decide the right security path for your business is not always simple. When it comes to Penetration Testing, knowledge really is power. Being able to know areas of strength and weakness can help better prepare you for possible threats. Whether it’s preventing an outside attack from an external threat, or an internal issue that could put your company in jeopardy, there are ways to know what you’re ready to handle.

There isn’t a “standard” penetration test for every organization, everyone is different. No matter how large or small your organization is, Pratum can customize a solution that provides value to your organization. If you feel budgetary constraints are an issue for you, talk to one of our experts and you’d be surprised as to what you still can do.

If you’re interested in seeking a third-party expert to conduct Penetration Testing, or just discuss your options, be sure to reach out to a Pratum consultant now.

Penetration Testing, or Pen Testing as it’s often called, is a proactive approach to discovering exploitable vulnerabilities in your web applications, computer systems, and networks. It’s an overall test of your organization’s security.

A Pen Tester, or Ethical Hacker, will conduct a series of tests to make sure your cybersecurity posture is strong enough to withstand the potential threats you would face as a business. That is a simplified explanation, but the process as a whole is much more involved and important to the protection of your company in the long run. We’re going to explain what a Pen Tester is typically looking for, and why this process is a critical step in building up your cybersecurity program!

Benefits of Pen Testing

Before investing time and money into any project, you want to make sure it’s worth it for your business and the goals you have for the future. With Pen Testing, you have to ask yourself if you are 100% confident the security measures you have in place across the enterprise are suitable for the kinds of threats you may face. Through this process you can discover these vulnerabilities and begin to remediate the issues before an attacker is able to interrupt your business operations.

With a Pen Test, you’ll also be able to identify which threats need to be addressed more urgently. Cybersecurity risks are often considered at different levels. If the risk is high and would create significant issues for your company, it’s something you need to address quickly. Not knowing where threats are, or if they even exist within your company, could leave you open to more potential problems down the road.

Some breaches can be executed and used by attackers for years before anyone even knows they’ve occurred. A Pen Test can help identify gaps in your security process and trace any threats that may come up later or already exist within your network.

Necessity

Not only is Penetration Testing a benefit for your company, it may also be a requirement within the industry you serve. Pen Testing is regulated and required within healthcare, government systems, and financial services. Someone who is certified in Penetration Testing should be able to help you reach the requirements and standards your company needs to meet. Even if the industry of your business is not required to do Pen Testing, it can still be a beneficial step in your cybersecurity process.

Three key reasons you need to be Pen Testing your organization:

  • Secure Storage – Being able to secure your data and the systems you have in place is crucial to the success of any business. In many cases, client data is stored on a computer system of some sort. No matter where it is within the network, it could be vulnerable to an attack.
  • Interruption Analysis – If an attack were to happen and you were not familiar with the security processes in place, that could cause a significant interruption in your business operations.
  • Reputation Protection – Explaining a data breach to clients is the last thing any business wants to address. Not only does it hurt existing relationships, it damages brand image and can deter future business deals.

Phases of Testing

Now that you have a better understanding of why Penetration Testing is so important, let’s look at what the process entails.

1. Scoping & Pre-Engagement – Defining what the success criteria are.

2. Reconnaissance – Gathering information.

3. Discover & Vulnerability Assessment – Testing authentication, data validation, and management.

4. Exploitation – Verifying vulnerabilities, and false positive and false negative elimination.

5. Analysis & Reporting – Consolidate and overview findings to report vulnerabilities.

Pen Testing addresses the overall security of a company. The tester looks at processes in place to protect your business against threats, how they react, and the reaction time. During this process the Pen Tester looks at a few different components of the security process; devices and people.

Testing Devices

Think of all the devices used within your organization that may be connected to your internal network. Even seemingly harmless devices like printers and telephones could actually be a threat to your security if they’re not properly monitored and protected.

Any device that may be connected to your business network or internet connection can be used as a portal for threat actors to gain access to your system. That’s why Pen Testers take the time to evaluate the devices used in your organization to find where there may be gaps in security.

Testing People

While software and electronics may seem like the obvious threat to a cybersecurity program, the biggest issues typically come from humans. People are the most vulnerable aspect of a security system. Not only do employees have access to highly sensitive data, they also are subject to possible scams that a device would not fall victim to.

While testing the human aspect of your security network, a Pen Tester will evaluate which employees have access to sensitive data, and if that access is necessary. Many times, employees will have access to data, or channels to data, that is not required for them to do their job. A Pen Tester will be able to spot those potential threats.

Nearly every account online now requires a few extra layers of security. From answering questions about your first pet in order to check your email, to receiving a code through text message for a gaming app, there are more and more efforts to protect your online accounts. While it may feel excessive to some, these extra steps are important layers of protection designed to help you called Multi Factor Authentication (MFA).

Definition of Multi Factor Authentication – National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST):

MFA, sometimes referred to as two-factor authentication or 2FA, is a security enhancement that allows you to present two pieces of evidence – your credentials – when logging in to an account.

Your credentials fall into any of these three categories:

  • Something you know (like a password or PIN)
  • Something you have (like a smart card, phone or token)
  • Something you are (like your fingerprint)

Your credentials must come from two different categories to enhance security – so entering two different passwords would not be considered multi-factor.

Protection of MFA

MFA is a simple way to boost your business’s cybersecurity strength. While other security programs and software can potentially be bypassed by a threat actor, a solid MFA is more difficult to hack. Not only will the hacker need access to your name and password, they’ll also need information from one of the other categories such as access to your smartphone or your fingerprint.

This sort of protection is especially important when dealing with business networks. Having access to things like client data, employee information, and proprietary documents can be extremely valuable to a hacker. That’s why MFA is a good idea when protecting your business information. Before implementing Multi Factor Authentication, each organization should do a Risk Assessment to determine their levels and sources of threats. Once you know where and how someone could infiltrate your system, the better prepared you’ll be to enable security, like MFA, in the proper places. You’ll also be able to see which members of your team need higher levels of security. For example, members of the executive team may need to have a stricter security access process than someone working janitorial services. It’s all about being able to examine the needs of your organization and working from there.

On top of protecting your business information from being stolen, you’re also protecting it from being damaged. Not all threat actors want to steal data. Some malicious attacks are done with the intent of destruction. Using a simple, extra layer of security with MFA can help protect your data from both.

You’re Already Familiar

The great thing about MFA is that most people are already using it! That includes most banks, credit cards companies, Amazon account, college savings accounts, investment and retirement accounts. Your employees have probably been using MFA for a few years now with their personal emails and through other accounts.

Since several large corporations are now requiring MFA, that should make the transition for your company even more seamless. People should feel more confident using MFA, since it’s been part of daily life already for many people using online services. The less confusion when introducing a new security program, the better!

It’s also something clients will recognize when you’re trying to explain the security of your business to help ensure confidence in business dealings. When you are able to tell a potential client you have MFA set up within your organization, that will help instill some confidence in your protection of their data.

It’s (Typically) Easy

Just because it works, doesn’t mean it has to be complicated. While much of cybersecurity can appear confusing and overwhelm people, MFA is pretty straightforward. There are even some free applications, like Google Authenticator, to setup MFA on personal devices.

When choosing an MFA program for your business, there are several options designed for organizations of different sizes. To choose the best option for your operation, talk with a cybersecurity consultant to determine what will work best for your needs.

Extra Security is Necessary

While anti-virus and firewalls are important, they’re not always effective alone. MFA can make your existing security measures even stronger. It may take a few extra steps and a little more time, but the benefits of MFA can greatly outweigh the additional work.

First decide where MFA is necessary in your organization, then determine which program is the best fit for your company. Once you have it established, continue to monitor the effectiveness of the MFA program and your cybersecurity as a whole. For more information on how to analyze your security strength and choose an MFA program, reach out to a cybersecurity expert with Pratum today!

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