The importance of penetration testing in any security program

With the growing trend of cyber-attacks, it is essential that organizations deal with cyber security in a smart and structural way. In addition to hackers and cybercriminals, there are also internal factors that can compromise the confidentiality, integrity and availability of systems and data. Therefore, each organization needs its own security strategy and approach.

Moreover, cyber and information security are complex topics. Both the set of risks and the (technological) solutions are in continuous development and it is not always clear how and where to start. Although organizations realize that taking action is necessary, many are still looking for an appropriate, focused and well-thought-out strategy. This in order to secure reputation, financial interests, continuity and thus further growth.

Cedric Brosens – Managing Partner Infosentry

The need for a security program

To ensure that organizations make the right decisions (in terms of budget and resources) to structurally mitigate their security risks, it is crucial that organizations put work into a “Security Program”. Such a program must contain the full, multi-faceted security strategy and governance that protects your organization’s sensitive data and capabilities. Having a strong security program helps your organization ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of your client and customer information, as well as the organization’s private data through effective security management practices and controls.

The security program must be tailored to the context in which an organization operates to set the right priorities. Therefore, in preparing its program, an organization must take into account:

  • The most important data and systems (often called “crown jewels”);
  • The internal and external context with regards to information security;
  • The information security risks and cyber threats to which the organization is exposed;
  • The organization strategy and vision as well as the risk appetite of the organization;
  • The current as well as required resilience and security maturity of the organization;

The Security Program must enable an organization to continuously adjust its security measures and minimize the chance or impact of cyber-attacks in both the short and long term.

The need for (penetration) testing

Since a good security program starts from an organization’s current security maturity, it is essential that organizations know their most important vulnerabilities and cyber risks. This means that an organization must start with an AS-IS assessment and security testing.

There are different forms of security testing: interviews, automated vulnerability testing, code review, community-based testing, … But probably the most cost-effective way to reduce your risk of cyber attacks is through penetration testing. Penetration testing is an invaluable process that can identify vulnerabilities and issues that traditional IT security tools may not pick up. Penetration testing provides a way to test the effectiveness of the system’s security controls. It helps organizations design their security processes and security controls to be more effective.

Penetration testing should be part of every security program to analyze on a regular basis whether the security program is still appropriate for the organization. It tests if the security processes (e.g., disaster recovery, secure development, patch management, …) are well implemented and if security controls are still appropriate to keep cyber risks under control.

Benefits of penetration testing

  1. Safeguarding user data and protecting infrastructure

Secure infrastructure is extremely important for any organization. There are many ways to test a security infrastructure and one of the most common ways is penetration testing.

A penetration test is a non-destructive way to map out potential security gaps before an attack occurs, and thus helps in finding out the weak spots in the application or the network which can be easily exploited by a cyber criminal.

  1. Obtaining top management buy-in

Preparing or implementing a security program involves security investments. It is not always easy for IT or security managers to defend these investments to top management. The added value of security investments is difficult to measure, which makes the decision-making process more complex.

Through penetration testing, the consequences of a cyberattack can be more tangibly demonstrated to top management. Since security of the organization’s data is of paramount importance, this should make the challenge of putting a security program into place with sufficient resources and management buy-in easier.

  1. Customer trust and company reputation

It takes years to build a reputation and a few minutes for a cyber incident to ruin it. By structurally incorporating penetration testing into a Security Program, and of course efficiently eliminating vulnerabilities as well, an organization demonstrates that they are continually questioning their security posture and continually trying to further optimize security. In this way, it has a direct impact on the trust that customers and other stakeholders have in the organization, and thus the reputation of the company.

  1. Meeting compliance requirements

Finally, penetration testing is also increasingly becoming a contractual or even legal requirement. Customers demand that their suppliers do the necessary testing to adequately know and eliminate vulnerabilities in their systems. Legal frameworks such as GDPR and NIS2 or industry regulations such as DORA require companies to take the necessary technical and organizational measures to adequately secure (personal) data and systems that process it. Standards such as ISO27001 require organizations to do sufficient testing to adequately secure their infrastructure and applications. Penetration testing is thus an extremely appropriate tool to meet compliance requirements and demonstrate accountability.

Conclusion

Penetration tests are an essential part of any security strategy. A penetration test is a powerful tool for identifying current technical risks and creating a roadmap of areas for improvement. For many companies, this is already a quick win or confirmation that they are on the right track. Keep in mind that this should always be part of a bigger picture (Security Program). Security is a complex issue and should therefore be supported by the entire organization because it can have an impact on every facet of it.

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