What is penetration testing? (in cybersecurity assessments)

by Riversafe

Understanding your threat cyber landscape is essential to remain safe digitally. To make better decisions about your cyber security you need to know your vulnerabilities. But this is increasingly difficult when our databases grow exponentially every day.

Security penetration testing helps you proactively safeguard your data by assessing your security protocols. It can help you analyse, test and build a robust cyber defence – no matter how vast your data stores. This article will give you a complete overview of why every IT system and business needs pen testing.

What is penetration testing?

Penetration testing means testing a network, computer or system for weaknesses. Also known as ethical hacking, it involves attempting to hack in to check for vulnerable spots that real attackers could exploit.

The tester will choose a target, gather information, search for possible security gaps and then report their findings. This can be performed manually or automated with the use of software applications.

5 key steps in penetration testing:

  1. Reconnaissance or Planning – defining the parameters of the test and researching the target.
  2. Scanning – scanning the code/platform to see how it will respond to an attack.
  3. Vulnerability analysis – uncovering vulnerabilities and targeting them to hack.
  4. Exploitation – conducting the attack and testing the extent of the vulnerabilities. 
  5. Analysis – creating a report of results and establishing a plan to remedy vulnerabilities.

What is a VAPT assessment?

VAPT stands for Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing. It’s an approach to security testing comprised of two main methods. First, vulnerability assessment identifies any vulnerabilities present. Then penetration testing is conducted to classify and test the exploitable weaknesses.

The second step gives greater insight into the risk a vulnerability presents and its potential impact. Using these methods together, organisations can effectively assess the strength of their security.

RELATED: Risk management in cyber security assessments

What are the main aims of penetration testing?

Ultimately, the aim is to safeguard your data and network against cyber attacks. Penetration testing allows you to assess your security framework and its ability to defend. It provides key information about high-risk weaknesses and common vulnerabilities in your network.

This helps decision-makers take appropriate action to create a stronger defence against threats. It also helps you evaluate how effective your existing security strategy or policy really is.

How does big data affect pen testing?

Pen testing isn’t a limited test – it can span large networks and many devices. As big data becomes more important to the way organisations run, pen testing becomes more essential. Such a large database is even more likely to have vulnerabilities and be subject to attack. Pen testing allows you to frequently monitor your big data stores, ensuring its safety and therefore usefulness.

What are the most common penetration testing techniques?

You can conduct a pen test in various ways to achieve different objectives. The following are the most common types of penetration testing:

Network service tests

Network penetration testing is the most common, and maybe most important, approach. It evaluates the user network both internally and externally for weaknesses. Areas of the network to look into include firewall configuration, DNS testing, stateful analysis and more.

Client-side tests

Here the pen test searches for local threats on user software. It will identify vulnerabilities on a workstation and attempt to break in.

Web application tests

These tests require thorough and detailed planning to perform. Web apps pose increasing and evolving threats which users may interact with on a daily basis. The end points, from browsers to plug-ins, will be examined for exploitable weaknesses.

Social engineering tests

This approach tests whether employees or third parties will facilitate a breach. False hackers target people through phone calls or emails, asking them to reveal sensitive company data.

Wireless security tests

This test analyses wireless devices and networks for breach of security policies and weak spots. It will identify threats such as low-security, open hotspots and unauthorised access points.

Find out more about the common cyber security threats you should know


What are the key benefits of penetration testing services?

  • Identify weaknesses: The main goal is to find weaknesses in your network, system or device from a number of access points.
  • Measure risks: Exploitability identifies exactly which vulnerabilities pose a threat.
  • Proactive: Pen Tests allow you to stop being reactive. You can identify and fix vulnerabilities before an attack takes place.
  • Cyber Strategy: You can use the results to evaluate and improve your overarching cyber security strategy.
  • Real-world insight: Not only will you see where and what your vulnerabilities are, but pen testing shows you how a hacker may attack these points.
  • Compliance: These tests will help you maintain and meet security standards.
  • Reduce attacks: You can prevent likely attacks to protect your business and customers.

What is the checklist for penetration testing services?

 The main steps to include in a penetration testing methodology are:

  1. Gather information about the organisation
  2. Become familiar with the premises
  3. List the requirements and objectives for your pen test
  4. Get permission from the relevant people involved in testing
  5. Identify the main limitations and successes of the organisation
  6. Understand the compliance standards and requirements
  7. List the areas and devices that need testing
  8. Determine what type of pen testing to conduct
  9. Outline a timeline for the tests
  10. Conduct the tests and create a report

How much does website penetration testing cost? 

The cost of a penetration test will vary based on a variety of factors like your requirements, objectives, and scale. But because these tests need to be performed by specialist teams it can cost anything from a few thousand to roughly £50,000.

But don’t be put off, the value you get from a pen test is worth the cost. And as they can be complex, you’re more likely to get the insights you need from a professional service.

What is RiverSafe’s approach to penetration testing?

RiverSafe’s threat intelligence solution can help you monitor your attack surface and assess risks. Our timely and actionable insights can help you conduct a thorough cyber security assessment.  This allows you to be proactive; to defend against potential hackers and improve your cyber security strategy.

Our experts and cyber platforms will help you understand your threat landscape and common attack pathways. We ensure your business is secure by future-proofing your systems and aligning our solutions to your needs.

Get in touch to find out more about our diverse cyber security solutions.


By Riversafe

Experts in DevOps, Cyber Security and Data Operations