While conducting a penetration test is a popular strategy that organizations use to enhance their security posture, there are a number of pitfalls that can cost you in terms of quality, time, and expenses. Getting the most value out of these tests requires a strategic approach. By taking a few small proactive steps, you can ensure that your penetration test delivers the most beneficial insights and helps fortify your defenses against potential threats.
Here are six steps you and your team can take to get the most out of your penetration test.
1. Conduct a pre-assessment
By conducting a pre-assessment, you can ensure your systems and infrastructure are prepared, up-to-date, and aligned with security best practices. This step allows for a more accurate evaluation of your security posture and, more importantly, can save you time and money in the long run. Imagine how frustrating it would be to pay and prepare for a penetration test, only for the team to spend their time on issues that would have been easily remedied with baseline automation and scanning.
Use your staff to eliminate the low-hanging fruit so that the penetration testers can provide the value you’re looking for—finding the gaps that aren't so obvious.
2. Set specific goals
Setting precise goals will help focus the test and provide actionable outcomes for your team moving forward. What are your organization’s most high-value assets, and what systems are in place to protect them? Are you working towards meeting any particular compliance goals? Having specific goals prior to the initial interactions with your vendor will help define a better scope of engagement, reducing the number of assumptions and questions made by penetration testing teams. Determine with the most specificity possible what you want to achieve from the test, such as identifying vulnerabilities, testing specific systems or applications, or evaluating the effectiveness of security controls.
3. Set the right scope
In setting the scope, your team will be balancing two distinct objectives: setting the stage for a comprehensive test of your systems while simultaneously ensuring that the parameters are clearly defined. While it’s important to keep your goals at the forefront of your mind, remember that real attackers won’t limit themselves to only a few segments of your security environment.
Consider the systems, networks, and applications you want to include in the test; and make sure that you can describe them as accurately as possible. If you mistakenly say that a network has 20 endpoints when it actually has 50, your reports won’t be as accurate.
Your predetermined Rules for Engagement will clearly convey your expectations, goals, and any specific concerns or areas of focus. Engage in an open dialogue with the pen testing team, share relevant information about your systems and infrastructure, and be responsive to their queries. Regular updates and progress reports should be exchanged to maintain transparency and promptly address any emerging issues.
Communicate internally any potential risks and impacts associated with the exercise, as discussed with the vendor. Depending on the type of testing, scopes and rules of engagement, consider preparing your Security and IT Operations teams of any change of the number of alerts normally received. Thoughtful planning can help you and your team avoid these headaches and streamline the process.
5. Bring your team together
On that note, try to inform and involve more staff than just your security team. A comprehensive penetration test should involve multiple groups, each bringing their unique expertise. Ideally, your organization should bring at least one person from each team that has ownership and expertise either over the environment being tested or over the mitigation process. Look for ways to bridge the awareness gap for non-technical decision makers. Insights and cooperation across your organization will be valuable for understanding the test results, interpreting their impact, and effectively implementing remediation measures.
6. Make a post-assessment plan
Planning for the post-assessment phase is as important as the test itself. Be sure to clearly communicate with the penetration testers what your expectations are for reporting. You’ll likely receive details on the tests performed, the results, and an overview of any vulnerabilities discovered; and at MindPoint Group, we’ll provide information on the remediation strategies we recommend.
Ensure you have a well-defined plan in place to address the identified vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Evaluate the test results in collaboration with your internal teams and prioritize next steps based on risk severity. It is crucial to have a plan in place for escalating high-risk findings. As we mentioned earlier, if you’ve involved multiple teams throughout this process, you’ll have a much easier time creating and communicating an effective remediation plan. You’ll also want to monitor and track the progress of remediation efforts to ensure vulnerabilities are adequately addressed – having all of these reports readily available will be hugely helpful when it’s time to schedule your next test.
Remember, a penetration test is just one piece of the larger puzzle of maintaining a robust security posture, as well as evaluating the effectiveness of an organization’s security program. Continuously monitoring, updating, and enhancing your security measures based on the test results will enable you to stay ahead of evolving threats, minimize their potential impact, and protect your valuable assets. If you’re interested in hearing how any of these strategies can benefit your business, connect with the experts at Mindpoint Group to learn more.
Jorge Berrios – SME
Mack Sutton – Graphic Design