A penetration test, or pen test, is an attempt to evaluate the security of an IT infrastructure by safely trying to exploit vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities may exist in operating systems, services and application flaws, improper configurations or risky end-user behavior. Such assessments are also useful in validating the efficacy of defensive mechanisms, as well as end-user adherence to security policies.
Penetration testing is typically performed using manual or automated technologies to systematically compromise servers, endpoints, web applications, wireless networks, network devices, mobile devices and other potential points of exposure. Once vulnerabilities have been successfully exploited on a particular system, testers may attempt to use the compromised system to launch subsequent exploits at other internal resources, specifically by trying to incrementally achieve higher levels of security clearance and deeper access to electronic assets and information via privilege escalation.
Information about any security vulnerabilities successfully exploited through penetration testing is typically aggregated and presented to IT and network system managers to help those professionals make strategic conclusions and prioritize related remediation efforts. The fundamental purpose of penetration testing is to measure the feasibility of systems or end-user compromise and evaluate any related consequences such incidents may have on the involved resources or operations.
Penetration testers, also known as ethical hackers, evaluate the security of IT infrastructures using a controlled environment to safely attack, identify, and exploit vulnerabilities.
Pen test evaluates an organization’s ability to protect its networks, applications, endpoints and users from external or internal attempts to circumvent its security controls and gain unauthorized or privileged access to protected assets.
Pen tests provide detailed information on actual, exploitable security threats. By performing a penetration test, you can proactively identify which vulnerabilities are most critical, which are less significant, and which are false positives. This allows your organization to more intelligently prioritize remediation, apply needed security patches, and allocate security resources more effectively to ensure that they are available when and where they are needed most.
These days, there’s no one solution to prevent a breach. Organizations must now have a portfolio of defensive security mechanisms and tools, including cryptography, anti virus, SIEM solutions, and IAM programs, to name a few. However, even with these vital security tools, it’s difficult to find and eliminate every vulnerability in an IT environment. Pen testing takes a proactive approach, uncovering weaknesses, so that organizations know what remediation is needed, and if additional layers should be implemented.
Without the proper visibility into your environment as a whole, changing your security posture may result in you eliminating something that was not actually problematic. Pen tests don’t only tell you what isn’t working. They also serve as quality assurance checks, so you’ll also find out what policies are most effective, and what tools are providing the highest ROI. With these insights an organization can also intelligently allocate security resources, ensuring that they are available when and where they are needed most.
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