Penetration Testing: Who Needs It And What Are The Steps Involved?

Penetration testing, or pen testing for short, is an essential component of any thorough security program because it can assist organizations in identifying and correcting vulnerabilities before malicious actors exploit them. However, regulatory compliance requirements frequently drive the choice to conduct penetration testing for many organizations. 

Implementing a compliance framework is often not enough—cybersecurity teams are additionally tasked with maintaining compliance, often with no extra staff to assist with the additional work. This is where penetration testing can help cybersecurity professionals make a difference by capitalizing on an organization’s infrastructure. Pen testing is targeted ethical hacking that can show how an attacker could gain access to the organization’s sensitive data. As attack strategies change, periodic mandated testing ensures that organizations stay one step ahead by detecting and correcting security flaws before exploiting them. Furthermore, for auditors, these tests can confirm that other mandated security measures are in place and functioning correctly.

This blog will delve deeper into who needs pen testing based on their specific compliance requirements and the steps involved in engineering one for your company.

Who Needs Penetration Testing?

Certain industries, particularly those working with sensitive customer data, require vulnerability assessment and penetration testing as a matter of course. We will discuss a few security laws, including penetration testing for compliance. These are:

  • HIPAA for healthcare organizations;
  • PCI-DSS for businesses that handle payment;
  • SOC 2 certification for business organizations; and,
  • ISO 27001 certification for any organization that wants to formalize its businesses around information security.

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act)

HIPAA, a federal compliance law enacted in 1996, aims to establish national standards for preventing patients’ data from being shared without their permission. 

Are HIPAA vulnerability assessment and penetration testing required? Not on paper. However, it necessitates that the complying organizations conduct risk analysis, which effectively translates to testing the security controls. VAPT is one of the most reliable methods of security control testing. As a result, penetration testing is required to collect sufficient evidence to comply with HIPAA.

Healthcare facilities are popular targets for hackers due to staff unpreparedness for a cyber attack, a lack of awareness, legacy systems, a low-security budget, and the high worth of patient data on the black market. Ransomware attacks on healthcare institutions are common, with hackers making critical patient data inaccessible until the ransom is paid.

While healthcare facilities are not primarily technology companies, they manage far more data than expected. Penetration testing, whether required by HIPAA or not, is highly suggested for these organizations.

PCI DSS (Payments Card Industry Data Security Standard)

In 2004, the PCI DSS compliance framework was established to protect credit and debit card transactions from data theft and fraud. The Payment Card Industry Security Standard Council (PCI-SSC) governs it. 

The PCI SSC lacks the legal authority to force compliance, but it is written in stone that every business that processes credit card and debit card transactions must comply with the PCI DSS. It not only assists a company in protecting its data, but it also assists in establishing a trusting relationship with its customers.

The PCI DSS compliance scheme is divided into four levels based on the actual credit and debit card transactions handled by a given organization. Level 1 companies manage more than six million transactions annually, while level 4 companies take fewer than twenty thousand transactions annually. 

A PCI scan is needed at all levels, except for level 1, which must endure internal audits and a scan by an Approved Scan Vendor.

The PCI certification now mandates that you use a firewall, encrypt transcription, and run antivirus software. However, it would help if you also qualified for the checks and scans. You must use pen testing to guarantee no security flaws, even though the rule one paper does not require it directly.

SOC 2 (Service Organization Control 2)

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) established SOC 2 to govern five organizational control issues: security, availability, processing integrity, secrecy, and privacy.

SOC 2 compliance is intended for technology firms that keep customer data in the cloud, and it applies to almost all SaaS businesses.

SOC 2 compliance requires network asset tracking, regular audits, anomaly warnings, and actionable forensics. Because it concentrates on vulnerability assessment and actionable forensics, penetration testing compliance is essential to the SOC 2 compliance scheme.

ISO 27001 (International Organization For Standards 27001)

The ISO 27001 compliance plan is intended to standardize adequate and controlled information security measures.

It includes all legal, technical, and physical elements of a company’s information security management process. It is responsible for monitoring, maintaining, and improving computer security management systems.

ISO 27001 is a broad standard that includes everything from human resource security to business continuity management. 

Annual penetration testing is required for ISO 27001 compliance because it enables organizations to test their security posture against an ever-changing threat environment.

Here are the steps involved in engineering a penetration test.

What are the Steps Involved in the Penetration Testing Process?

Here are the seven steps involved in engineering a penetration test to assess the posture of your IT infrastructure:

  1. Scoping
  2. Gathering Information
  3. Identifying Vulnerabilities
  4. Launching Attacks
  5. Maintaining Duration
  6. Remediation
  7. Analysis and Reporting

Let’s understand each of these steps in detail.

  1. Scoping

This first step involves the company deciding which operating systems and methods will be used in the penetration test. Given that the pen tester might be given access to confidential information as part of their duties, both parties should sign a non-disclosure agreement before beginning the pen test. 

  1. Gathering Information

Once the scope of your pen test has been agreed upon, the pen tester will collect publicly available information to understand how your business and its systems operate in detail. This could include using web crawlers to find the most appealing targets in your company’s infrastructure, network names, domain names, and mail servers. 

  1. Identifying Vulnerabilities

In this third step, the pen tester will identify potential weaknesses and devise an attack strategy. They’ll look for vulnerabilities, open ports, and other access locations that could reveal information about your system’s architecture.

  1. Launching Attacks

This step is self-explanatory—the pen tester will try to simulate the fallout from an actual attack by exploiting identified vulnerabilities through common web app attacks such as SQL injection or cross-site scripting. This implies that the pen tester will focus on accessing restricted, confidential, and/or private data. 

  1. Maintaining Duration

Once the attack has been launched and the pen tester gains access to your system, they will gather more information and try to prolong the duration of the attack. The goal is to simulate a persistent presence and obtain extensive access. Advanced threats frequently lurk in a company’s system for months or longer to gain access to the most private data. 

  1. Remediation

The pen tester will generally provide you with an initial report of their findings now and a chance to correct any discovered issues. Following the completion of the remediation, the firm will retry those known exploits to determine whether the fixes are adequate to prevent future attacks.

  1. Analysis and Reporting

In this final step, the pen tester furnishes your organization with a final report that brings to light the following:

  • Exploitable flaws and the possible consequences of a breach. Vulnerabilities should be prioritized based on their risk degree and type. 
  • Access to restricted, confidential, and/or private material.
  • The amount of time the pen tester went undetected in the company’s networks. 
  • Whether or not the identified vulnerabilities were effectively remedied.

Finally, this report should outline the most significant strategic threats from a business standpoint (for management) and explain technical threats that should be addressed. (e.g., through security upgrades).

Continuous Compliance With Akitra!

Establishing trust is a crucial competitive differentiator when prospecting new SaaS businesses in today’s era of data breaches and compromised privacy. Customers and partners want assurances that their organizations are doing everything possible to prevent disclosing sensitive data and putting them at risk, and compliance certification fills that need.

Akitra offers an industry-leading, AI-powered Compliance Automation platform for SaaS companies. Using automated evidence collection and continuous monitoring, together with a full suite of customizable policies and controls as a compliance foundation, our service helps customers become certified for HIPAA along with other frameworks like SOC 1, SOC 2, ISO 27001, ISO 27701, ISO 27017, ISO 27018, ISO 13485, GDPR, PCI DSS, FedRAMP, NIST 800-53, NIST 800-171, NIST CSF, CMMC, and other specific frameworks such as CIS AWS Foundations Benchmark, etc. Our compliance and security experts will provide customized guidance to navigate the end-to-end compliance process confidently. 

The benefits of our solution include enormous savings in time, human resources, and cost savings—including discounted audit fees with our audit firm partners. Customers achieve compliance certification fast and cost-effectively, stay continuously compliant as they grow, and can become certified under additional frameworks using a single compliance automation platform.

Build customer trust. Choose Akitra TODAY!‍

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