IT-system security is gaining in importance due to advancing digitalization and the associated issue of cybersecurity. A crucial strategy to checking one’s own systems for vulnerabilities is penetration testing, the technical term for carrying out a comprehensive security test of individual computers or networks. Cybersecurity has reached the boardroom and has become a hot topic in many enterprises.
The definition of “penetration testing”
Penetration testing is a comprehensive examination of the IT systems or networks of companies, government agencies, and other organizations to determine their vulnerability to potential attackers. A special feature here is that all methods and techniques could also be used by real, unauthorized attackers. The aim, therefore, is to diagnose system security under real conditions.
How does a penetration test work?
Penetration tests can be divided into five steps, which include the entire process from the start of the collaboration to the final tests.
- START: At the beginning, the organization conducts a detailed discussion with the company performing the penetration test about the objective of the test. It is important to consider the legal aspects of such a test. These include, for example, the fact that no IT systems or networks belonging to a third party may be tested (due to legal obligations). It is therefore important for the client to clearly define the systems to be targeted by the test.
- TEST: The second step is the execution of the test. Here, systems are attacked in the same way as potential attackers would do. Conversely, this means that all areas such as (W)LAN, cloud systems, or IP range are tested.
- DOCU: Complete documentation is crucial during the test. This means that both, the way in which the test was carried out and the system(s) under attack and their ability to defend themselves, are documented. This is important because the client and the customer subsequently discuss the vulnerabilities and possibilities for improved protection.
- SHOW: In a follow-up meeting, the discovered vulnerabilities and resulting mitigations to reduce certain risks are presented based on the documentation. Implementing IT hardening measures is not part of the penetration test, but logically follows after vulnerabilities are discovered.
- RETEST: IT security upgrades are usually followed by at least one, but often several retests, which analyze the security of networks after protective systems have been upgraded. While classic bank vaults may be faced with 15 potentially dangerous situations, in the digital age there are thousands of ways to attack a system and steal valuable data. It is therefore important to understand that there is no complete protection against cyberattacks, but that their impact and frequency can be reduced through continuous improvements in the security system.
Cyber security is becoming increasingly important. Technological interconnectedness between systems and networks harbors new risks while, at the same time, there are more and more opportunities for potential attackers to penetrate systems. In its Digital Trust Insights 2021, the auditing firm PwC provided an outlook for 2021 and beyond. The survey polled 3,249 business, technology, and security executives from July to August 2020.
According to the survey results, 98% of companies have changed their cybersecurity strategy as a result of COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic has become a catalyst for digitization. Depending on how long and lasting the effects of the Corona pandemic are, these changes are likely to take root in organizations over the long term. At the same time, just over 50% of companies plan to further increase their cybersecurity budgets in 2021, according to the survey. What is clear is that cybersecurity has reached the boardroom. Already 59% of CEOs want to work closely with their Chief Information Security Ofﬁcer (CISO) to increase their company’s resilience.
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