One of the most effective ways to identify security weaknesses is to simulate attacks with penetration testing vendors. Penetration testing aims to find loopholes in organizations’ web architecture so that they can be fixed and patched before malicious attackers exploit them.
Often done by penetration testing experts, the tests aim to mimic the behavior of attackers, find security weaknesses, and try to break into networks using a variety of techniques and tools.
Although penetration testing is widely considered as necessary, it is important to plan thoroughly and put it in practice. If you lack expertise or experience, penetration testing would be substandard and would not succeed to identify all of the potential weaknesses, which can put you at risk. To avoid that scenario, we are sharing 7 common mistakes in penetration testing and how to avoid them.
Mistake 1. Not Prioritizing Risks
One of the first things to do when trying to strengthen the security posture is to establish priorities for risks. For instance, if only the client side has security measures, a server can potentially expose a critical weakness that allows remote code execution, and all the accounts on the server can be compromised. This is why organizations should determine what areas would be under the biggest threat, which would lead to building efficient penetration testing objectives and scopes. This process should consider common attack targets, such as customer data, intellectual properties, and corporate financial data. By prioritizing risks and taking the worst case scenario and damages into account, organizations can develop focused security efforts and activities around aspects where attackers would generate the most value. Please keep in mind that It's easy to spot non-critical problems, but attackers focus on critical issues that can maximize their attacks.
Mistake 2. Using outdated techniques
Organizations need to constantly evolve their plans for penetration tests. Otherwise, it will quickly become obsolete as new techniques, tools, and new vulnerabilities always appear. Attackers are always on the lookout to find weaknesses and attack methods that the public is not aware of yet so that they can optimize their attacks. Penetration testing plans should reflect the latest information and findings. It is also important to ensure that penetration testing vendors use the latest hacking and penetration testing methods.
Mistake 3. Not using adequate tools
There are many tools available in the market to aid the penetration testing process. However, it takes a lot of expertise to know what tools are appropriate and how to configure them properly. Purchasing a commercial penetration testing tool can create chaos if it interferes with the internal IT team and their workflow. Organizations can rely on third-party vendors instead of purchasing tools, but it is often only for a short term yet still costly. This is why automated penetration testing tools can be worth investing in. An automated penetration testing platform helps identify security weaknesses and build effective defense strategies.
Mistake 4. Conducting infrequent penetration tests
Many companies conduct penetration tests once or twice a year. However, it does not guarantee “peace of mind” as the test results are relevant only to the time when the test was conducted. It is necessary to continuously check the security posture with penetration tests as the system gets new updates and releases frequently. Moreover, after discovering security weaknesses, it is crucial to verify that all the security fixes and remediation are in place. There are always possibilities that new updates and patches can bring new security vulnerabilities and weaknesses. This is why we emphasize continuous penetration tests. If organizations are concerned about the time and cost for frequent penetration tests, we recommend considering automated penetration testing platforms.
Mistake 5. Confusing reports
If third-party penetration testing vendors do not provide clear and succinct reports, it can be challenging to understand the vulnerabilities and potential impacts found. Not every organization has well-equipped security resources so it is important to have penetration testing reports that are easily understandable. Also, erroneous reports can make it difficult to distinguish critical issues that attackers can take advantage of. Many tools and vendors in the market tend to provide reports with hundreds or thousands of vulnerabilities that are not necessarily critical, which can complicate the remediation strategy. A good report should filter out “noise” and “false positive errors,” and highlight only the parts that matter to organizations. It would help building appropriate security remediation plans with proper prioritization.
Mistake 6. Testing only for compliance
If a penetration test is done with a sole intention of meeting requirements and compliance, there’s a possibility that the test might not capture all potential security weaknesses. Compliance is important but it should not be the only reason to do penetration tests. Cybercriminals do not carry attacks based on certain compliance’s checklist. They rather try to exploit weaknesses that are most likely not on the compliance requirements. This is why it is important to do penetration testing with a purpose of discovering security weaknesses, not of checking the box for regulations.
Mistake 7. Not remediating discovered security weaknesses
Finding security weaknesses with continuous penetration testing is the first step towards strengthening the security posture. However, organizations should never forget that taking actions based on the penetration testing results is as important as initiating the tests. When the test results are shared, we recommend assigning an internal member to take charge of the remediation plans. This practice would help prioritizing security issues to fix as soon as possible. When the team is confident that all the security remediation is in place, it is strongly encouraged to repeat a penetration test to verify the security patches. Often called as a remediation test at this stage, it tests the target again to check if the discovered security weaknesses are addressed and properly fixed. This is helpful as sometimes adding new security patches could bring new security problems. The remediation process may seem tedious, but it is the best practice to validate new security measures. By repeating the process of conducting penetration tests, security patches, and remediation tests, organizations would be able to get a strong grip on the security posture and be well-prepared for potential security threats.