Pen Testing

What Is Penetration Testing : A Hands on Introduction

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the internet was as secure as it is accessible? With over 3 billion users around the world accessing the global network, not to mention almost 95% of those people connecting via mobile devices; the web has never been more readily available.

Security has always been a huge deal and although hundreds of digital agencies work tirelessly to combat the attempts of hackers and other unsavoury individuals; there’s no fool-proof way to guarantee the security of those that use the web – and that’s a fact.

The average internet user will have no idea of just how many times their identities, activities and browsing habits come under threat by external sources. In fact, statistics show that even a home network will be subjected to a variety of access attempts on a weekly basis and these events can occur every single time that a person accesses the internet.

As far as a business is concerned (especially one that relies on the web to promote their products and services), this consistent threat isn’t something to be taken lightly.

We’ve all heard the horror stories about huge websites and market leaders that have had their site’s infrastructure reduced to rubble – by hackers and their very effective tools. Each time a new security technology is introduced, hacking techniques will be developed to exploit its features. This game of cat and mouse has been taking place since the establishment of the internet and it doesn’t look like it will come to a halt anytime soon.

So, you might be wondering how companies can all but guarantee to remain secure online, whilst protecting the activities and transactions of their customers. Well, if you’ve ever heard the phrase ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’, then you’ll most likely already understand where we are going next.

Fighting fire with fire

Hackers rely on a range of advanced pieces of software and a variety of experiences to practice their unsavoury activities. Many were getting away with it – until recently when security experts and software developers decided to get together and create platforms that could actually turn the capabilities of hackers against themselves.

This is where penetration tests come into the fray; these incredibly effective solutions make it easy for website owners, companies and authorities to employ the services of would-be hackers. Instead of exposing their databases and site structures to unwanted attention; they instead offer compensation to those with the technical knowledge and prowess to evaluate, discover and report bugs, glitches and weaknesses in return for a reward.

So, what is penetration testing and how does it work?

Well, for simplicity it relies on a few particular processes to get the job done:

  1. First, a website owner will need to make the decision to properly protect their site from the latest hacking attempts and techniques
  2. The URL will then be made available to white hat hackers – those with the knowledge and expertise of regular hackers, but are willing to extend their services to improve the web
  3. An ethical hacker will then set about attempting to penetrate a website from a variety of angles; all with the intention of discovering any weaknesses and flaws within the structure
  4. Companies are willing to pay hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to these ethical individuals in return for information on potential problems that could leave their security exposed
  5. Once discovered and reported, the white hat hacker can then walk away with a substantial amount of compensation – so much so that many experts have actually pursued careers in this service

Even the most stringent firewall and security software will only ever be as good as the developer’s ability to stay updated in the face of threats. As newer hacking technologies are created it’s not always possible to stay one step ahead of them – and it’s this very weakness that has led to the exploitation of so many big names around the globe.

Hackers excel at a few things and one of them just so happens to be testing every single angle of a site’s security measures until they find a way in. And what happens when they get inside? Literally anything from stealing information and identities, all the way to corrupting servers and damaging websites beyond repair.

This crippling effect is something that ALL website owners should want to avoid and is the main reason why so many are turning to penetration testers.

By hiring an expert (or even a group of experts) to try throw their best resources and expertise into accessing a websites’ internal data, any flaws can quickly be dealt with to ensure the integrity of the site itself.

The best case scenario will be that ethical hackers are able to discover weaknesses – but consider the worst case for a moment, a scenario that places a regular hacker at the point of discovery, and you’ll soon begin to understand just how vital this type of service is for anyone that owns a website.

No matter the size of the problem and regardless of how long it may have been present – knowing that a reliable expert has discovered it can make a lot of difference. If one of these professionals can gain access to a site’s internal structure then why wouldn’t a criminal hacker be able to do so, too?

The great thing about testing a website to see if its security features can be penetrated is that if the result is positive, measures can be put into place to restrict this possibility from happening again. Even the most persistent of hackers will give up if they face rejection after rejection – so why risk leaving your website to the global threats that are actively occurring every day?

The only way to maximize the security of a website is by ensuring that all angles are covered and when it comes to identifying potential issues; there’s no better experts than those that fully understand the threat.