By and large, more and more UK businesses are beginning to understand the importance of investing in cyber security. It was revealed in a recent study that more than half of businesses in the UK spent more money on cyber security across 2017 than in any previous year. There is a simple reason for this: it has become necessary to do so.
Unfortunately hacking attacks and breaches are becoming commonplace for everyone, from huge corporations to small local businesses. Recent research suggests that cyber security is the top fear amongst US CEOs. So, no matter whether you have never spent a penny on cyber security or you already have an experienced in-house IT team, it is important that you should be constantly evaluating and investing in your organisation’s defences.
One of the most important ways for you to assess the effectiveness of any cyber security investment is through penetration testing. However, some business don’t understand the benefits of having a pen test carried out and simply see it as an unnecessary expense – others haven’t heard of it at all. So, what exactly is penetration testing and what does it entail?
Uncover weaknesses in your systems
The most important reason to conduct a pen test is in order to uncover weaknesses in your cyber defences and infrastructure. Testers simulate a genuine attack, utilising the same tools and techniques used by cyber criminals. This case study is a great example, where a team of hackers spent three months on a covert, exhaustive exercise to reveal vulnerabilities on a Global Trading organisation – to provide insight to the potential weaknesses, and assess them before a malicious attack could have exposed them.
In doing this, they may discover vulnerabilities that had not previously been discovered. Testers will then feedback the details of how they were able to gain access to your systems so that you can make appropriate changes. This effectively gives you the opportunity to learn from your mistakes before those mistakes are exploited maliciously.
Any vulnerabilities exposed can then be put right either by your in-house team or with the help of the cyber security firm that carried out the penetration test for you.
Gain experience detecting and responding to real attacks
Many businesses assume that penetration tests are only valuable as an exercise in pointing out the flaws in your cyber defences, but it is also the case that they can be a valuable learning experience for your team. Penetration tests are often most effective when they are known about by as few people as possible.
When the test begins the majority of staff should not be aware that testers are attempting to gain access to your system – the attack will then be treated as if it was genuine. This can be extremely valuable. Firstly, it shows you how well your staff are equipped to defend against a hacking attack. And secondly, it gives the members of your team the chance to ‘practice’ what they would do in a real-life situation.
Pen tests can uncover a lot more than just problems in your software and infrastructure – they can reveal the strengths and weaknesses of your team as they come to deal with the attack. This can help you direct training within your team and implement new policies and controls to ensure that you are equipped to deal with attacks in the future.
Achieve regulatory compliance
Suffering a data breach can be catastrophic for a business. Not only can breaches lead to the loss of valuable money and data, they can also mean negative publicity and reputational damage. However, when these breaches occur it is not only the businesses that suffer – it is much worse for the individuals who have had their data stolen. This means that we are seeing a real change in regulations surrounding the correct handling and storage of the private data of individuals, and companies will need to comply in order to keep their data safe.
One of the most well-known measures is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which took effect in late May 2018. The GDPR consists of a number of rules governing how the data of EU citizens should be gathered, processed and secured. And failing to comply with these regulations can lead to heavy fines.
Pen tests are a key way to demonstrate compliance with the GDPR. Regularly testing and assessing the weaknesses within your systems helps you to ensure that the valuable data you store is as safe as possible.