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Penetration Testing - Everything you need to know

What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration Testing (also known as Pen Testing) is a proactive method of ethical hacking / testing of computer systems, networks or applications to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities and risks before they can be exploited by an attacker.

What is the purpose of conducting a Penetration Test?

The objective of a penetration test is to evaluate the effectiveness of the organisation's security systems and address identified security gaps / vulnerabilities before attackers / hackers can exploit them.

What are the benefits of Penetration Tests? Why are they important?

  • It provides tangible evidence on security gaps: Penetration tests can be used to evaluate an organisation's security measures and determine its level of readiness in preventing, detecting and responding to cyber attacks. The tangible evidence from the tests can help the organisation understand the potential impact of cyber attacks and the security gaps. The organisation can then make informed decisions about which vulnerabilities are most critical and where they should allocate their resources for remediation, to improve their security posture.

  • It enhances security awareness: Businesses can share the results of the penetration testing with employees to help them understand the types of threats the business may face and the potential impact of a successful cyber attack. An employee security awareness training can be conducted to further enhance employees' knowledge and skills in identifying and mitigating potential threats and educate them on best cybersecurity practices. These efforts help to promote a security-aware culture within the organisation and encourage all employees to take an active role in maintaining a secure environment and minimising the risk of successful cyber attacks.

  • It helps meet regulatory and compliance requirements: Many industries and regulatory bodies require businesses to conduct regular penetration tests to ensure compliance with security standards and regulations. This may include the following in Southeast Asia: Singapore: Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), Cybersecurity Act, Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act Indonesia: Personal Data Protection Law (UU PDP) Malaysia: Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) Philippines: Data Privacy Act (DPA) Thailand: Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) Failure to comply with these requirements can result in fines, penalties, and damage to the business's reputation.

  • It demonstrates due diligence: It is important for organisations to demonstrate due diligence, especially in the area of cybersecurity, to show that they have taken reasonable steps to secure their systems and protect sensitive data. Demonstrating due diligence help maintain customer trust and loyalty, and safeguard their reputation in the market. It also demonstrates a commitment to being responsible and accountable for their cybersecurity practices.

  • It identifies and helps mitigate risks: Penetration testing can help businesses reduce the risk of a cyber attack and mitigate potential legal and financial risks. Businesses can therefore better protect their data, prevent data breaches, financial losses, and other negative consequences of cyber attacks.

Overall, penetration testing is an important tool for businesses to proactively identify and address security vulnerabilities, reduce risks associated with cyber attacks, and ensure compliance with security standards and regulations.

When do organisations need Penetration Testing?

Organisations can consider penetration testing under the following circumstances:

  • After significant IT changes : If an organisation has recently made significant changes to its IT infrastructure, network, applications, or systems, it is essential to perform a penetration test to evaluate the impact of those changes on security.

  • To fulfill regulatory requirements: Organsations operating in regulated industries such as finance, healthcare, and government are often required to perform regular penetration testing to comply with industry regulations and standards.

  • Prior to launching a new product or service: If an organisation is about to launch a new product or service, it is essential to conduct a penetration test to ensure that the new offering is secure and doesn't introduce any security vulnerabilities.

  • After a security breach: If an organisation has experienced a security breach or cyber attack in the past, a penetration test can help identify the root cause of the breach and strengthen the organization's security posture.

  • As a best practice: Regularly schedule penetration testing is a best practice for maintaining a strong security posture and identifying any new vulnerabilities or weaknesses that may arise.

In summary, an organization should consider penetration testing as a proactive measure to identify and mitigate security risks. Regular testing can help ensure that security systems and processes are effective and can keep up with emerging threats.

What are the types of Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing can be conducted in several ways, depending on the scope, objectives and complexity of the test. The most common types of penetration tests are categoriesd below: Based on the source of the attack:

1) External Testing

A testing approach in which the source of the attack is from an external source (i.e. someone who has no prior knowledge of the target system and is outside the organisation, such as a hacker who have bypassed or gained access to access credentials).

2) Internal Testing

A testing approach in which the source of the attack is from an internal source (i.e. someone with authorised access to the target system such as an employee or contractor within the organisation). Network, Mobile / Web Application, Wireless Penetration Tests can be performed as external or internal testing.

External tests identifies vulnerabilities that can be exploited in the network perimeter, web applications and other internet-facing systems, while internal tests identifies vulnerabilities in the internal network and systems.

Internal tests provide insights on how it would be if an attacker was in the internal environment i.e. how internal attackers would evade defenses, gain access to privileged credentials, move laterally throughout the environment, access critical data and deploy backdoors etc. Based on the attacker's level of knowledge / access of the target systems:

3) Blind Testing

A testing approach where the tester has limited / no knowledge and no access to the target systems, internal workings or source code of the system being tested.

4) Double-Blind Testing

A testing approach where the tester has limited / no knowledge and no access to the target systems, internal workings or source code of the system being tested, and the organisation's security team is also not aware of the test. Social Engineering and Red Team Penetration Tests are typically performed as double-blind tests.

Both blind and double-blind tests provides insights on the effectiveness of the organisation's security controls and incident response procedures.

5) Black Box Testing

A testing approach that involves involves testing the external functionality and behavior of a system, without knowledge of its internal workings or design. This approach is often used in blind and double-blind testing because it allows the tester to evaluate the system's behavior and performance from an external perspective, without being influenced by preconceptions or biases based on the system's internal design or implementation.

6) White Box Testing

A testing approach where the tester has full knowledge of the internal workings, source code, architecture and design of the system being tested.

7) Gray Box Testing A testing approach where the tester has some level of knowledge of its internal workings or design, such as access to user accounts or network information, but not full knowledge of the system's internals.

What is the process of a Penetration Test?

The process typically involves four main stages:

1) Planning and Reconnaissance Consultation and information gathering with organisation to: * Define the scope and objectives of the test as well as the statement of work * Identify which system/network/application(s) to target * Obtaining permissions from relevant stakeholders * Convey test process and schedule, so it could be conducted in a safe manner with minimal/no disruptions to daily operations

2) Scanning Use of automated tools and techniques to scan the target system/network/application(s) to discover the vulnerabilities/weaknesses present

3) Exploitation (Simulated Hacking) Exploitation of identified vulnerabilities/weaknesses to gain access to target system or network. Should a vulnerability/weakness be successfully exploited, pen-testers may continue hacking to the highest of access privileges to penetrate as deep as possible into the target system/network/application to portray a realistic attack scenario

4) Post Exploitation Analysis and Reporting Once the penetration test is complete, the pen tester analyses the results and prepares a comprehensive report outlining identified vulnerabilities, its level of severity, potential impact and the recommendations for remediation

What are Novias' deliverables of Penetration Testing?

1) Vulnerability scan of assets

2) Prioritised traffic light vulnerability assessment report

3) Scoping and Penetration Testing of:

  • Website (Static)

  • Application (Web/Mobile)

  • Internal Network

  • External Network

4) Technical and Executive Reports (e.g. of successful vulnerabilities exploited, organisation's detection, defence and response capabilities, measurements of potential depth, impact and magnitude of breach etc) 5) Benchmarking of organisation's cybersecurity maturity against similar industries

6) Latest sector-based intelligence and organisational digital footprint reports

7) Support in report interpretation and remediation coordination

What happens after the Penetration Test and what follow-up actions does my organisation need to take?

After a penetration testing engagement is complete, it is important to take several follow-up steps to address the vulnerabilities that were identified and improve your organisation's overall security posture. Here are some of the key steps you should take:

1) Review the penetration testing report: Review the results of the penetration test reports which includes a detailed analysis of the vulnerabilities found, the severity of each vulnerability and recommendations for remediation.

2) Prioritise remediation efforts: Prioritise the remediation efforts based on the severity of the vulnerabilities identified in the report. Focus on the critical vulnerabilities that could be exploited by attackers to gain unauthorised access to your systems or steal sensitive data.

3) Develop a remediation plan: Develop a detailed remediation plan that outlines the steps that need to be taken to address each vulnerability. The plan should include timelines for completion, responsible parties, and any necessary resources.

4) Implement remediation steps: Implement the remediation steps outlined in the plan, working closely with IT and security teams to ensure that all necessary changes are made.

5) Retest the systems: Once remediation efforts are complete, retest the systems to ensure that the vulnerabilities have been successfully addressed.

6) Monitor for future vulnerabilities: Continue to monitor your systems and applications for future vulnerabilities, using a combination of automated tools and manual testing techniques.

By following these steps, you can ensure that the vulnerabilities identified during the penetration testing engagement are properly addressed, and that your organisation is better protected against cyber threats.

How often should my organisation conduct Penetration Tests?

The frequency depends on several factors, including the:

  • Size and complexity of the organsation's IT infrastructure

  • Type of data it processes and stores

  • The industry and regulatory requirements it operates in

  • Whether there are significant changes to their IT infrastructure (such as changes to the organisation's security policies or procedures, introduction of new systems, applications, network devices etc)

  • If there is a data breach or cyber attack - to identify any vulnerabilities that may have been exploited and to prevent future incidents. Regular testing can help organisations ensure their security systems and processes are effective and able to keep up with emerging threats. Generally, organisations are recommended to conduct penetration testing at least once a year, to ensure that their systems remain secure and resilient to cyber threats. However, organisations that process or store sensitive data, such as financial or healthcare information, may need to conduct more frequent testing, such as quarterly or even monthly.

Ultimately, the frequency of penetration testing should be based on a comprehensive risk assessment and determined by the organisation's security team in consultation with its management and other stakeholders.


Penetration testing is a critical component of a robust cybersecurity program. It helps businesses identify and address vulnerabilities proactively before cyber attacks occur, reducing associated risks and meeting regulatory requirements.

By investing in penetration testing, businesses can protect their data from cybercriminals and avoid the potentially devastating consequences of a data breach. Don't wait until it's too late - take proactive steps to protect your business by investing in penetration testing today.

By doing so, you are demonstrate your commitment to cybersecurity and taking a significant step towards safeguarding your business, reputation and valuable assets.

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