In January 2020, one of America's largest chains of hotels faced the worst security breach it could ever imagine. The hackers gained access to 5.2 million records of personal visitor information. As a result , more than 339 million hotel guests were affected, and the hospitality behemoth suffered a loss of £18.4M. If that wasn't enough, their consistent failure to comply with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) attracted a lawsuit of £99 million!
So, what do we learn from this?
Conducting regular penetration and vulnerability scanning offers a "point in time" overview of the organization's security systems. Imagine if this hotel giant followed this security approach diligently, it could have easily identified the vulnerability in its visitor registration system and not become a victim of such a scathing security attack.
In today's age of digital transformation and continuously evolving technologies, penetration testing and vulnerability scanning are indispensable parts of security management. Though these terms are used interchangeably, it is very important to know the difference between vulnerability scanning and penetration testing, what role each of them plays and how to go about these tests.
This blog covers them all. Read along.
Penetration Testing: Diving Deep into Your Cybersecurity Posture
Also known as a pen test, penetration testing involves mirroring a cyber-attack to identify exploitable vulnerabilities in your security network. This involves attacking or penetrating application systems like APIs, frontend/backend servers to discover hidden vulnerabilities. The data you gain through pentests can help you enhance your Web Application Firewall (WAF) policies and fix vulnerabilities.
Penetration Testing Methodology
Step 1: Planning
This step determines the scope and objective of the penetration test along with determining what kind of pentests to be utilized. From defining the tests to enabling various penetration techniques, a roadmap for the testing process is decided.
Step 2: Scanning and Assessing Vulnerabilities
Two kinds of assessments are conducted to understand the system's response to security intrusion attempts. They are:
- Static Assessment
This test involves a thorough scanning of the application code.
- Dynamic Assessment
Here application code is studied during the execution stage to gain insights into its real-time performance.
Step 3: Exploiting
The tester employs various kinds of attacks to identify systemic errors. For instance, web application attacks like backdoors, cross-site scripting and SQL injections are staged to exploit security weaknesses and gain insights into potential damage they can cause. This is done by breaking access controls, blocking traffic and stealing data. Different penetration tools are used to exploit the vulnerabilities, depending on the scale and requirements of the project.
Step 4: Reporting
Based on steps 2 and 3, a report is generated compiling the results that include vulnerabilities discovered during the penetration process, accessed sensitive data, and the time taken by the tester to remain unidentified within the system.
Step 5: Refactoring
Depending on the vulnerabilities identified, the developers make changes in the code. After refactoring, the code gets assessed by the tester to ensure it does not show deviations from its expected behavior.
Benefits of Pen testing
Through penetration testing, you get both an insider as well as an outsider's perspective into your security infrastructure with a detailed report of systemic flaws and their impact. Here are the key potential benefits that come with penetration testing:
- Secures crucial customer data.
- Saves the cost of a data breach.
- Maintains the organization's reputation and goodwill.
- Suggests remediations by pen tester to bolster your cybersecurity initiatives.
- Offers a holistic view into how cyber attackers can harm your security poster.
- Creates incident response plans catered to specific threats.
- Identifies data leakage points to prevent your data from getting hacked.
- Safeguards your organization against DDoS attacks, insider threats, threat actors and cyber risks.
- Detects hidden vulnerabilities in networks and infrastructure that may not be captured by security tools.
- Unravels vulnerabilities in policies and procedures.
- Enables compliance with security standards like PCI DSS or HIPAA.
Types of Penetration Tests
- External Penetration Tests
External testing involves scanning security networks for weaknesses that can be easily exploited by malicious actors. For example, an ethical hacker gets unauthorized access to databases and infrastructure through brute-forcing passwords, stealing credentials and manipulating known vulnerabilities. At the same time, they even deploy ransomware to gain further control over the system. In this way, the organization can fix its security vulnerabilities before an outsider attempts to enter the system.
- Internal Penetration Tests
Internal penetration testing applies tests to check how someone with an internal network can damage the system. Poor cybersecurity policies, bad employees and human errors can pose a great threat to the security posture of your organization. How so? Security attacks like credential stealing, privilege escalation, information leakage, malware and man-in-the- middle attacks (MITM) can be carried out either by a contractor, an employee or a member of your organization with internal access. Internal penetration checks the entry points and security weaknesses and assesses the impact of the attack.
- Blind and Double- Blind Tests
In blind tests, the tester has knowledge about the enterprise only. However, in double-blind tests, the tester has no prior information about simulated attacks.
Vulnerability Scanning: Be Aware of Hidden Security Flaws
Vulnerability scanning involves the process of identification, analysis and reportage of security loopholes and vulnerabilities. Testers use automated scanning tools and techniques to detect risk exposures and attack vectors across an organization's entire security network. Once vulnerability scanning and assessment are completed, enterprises can choose a remediation approach. This may include closing harmful ports, resolving misconfigurations, patching security gaps and changing passwords on devices and internet of things (IoT)
Vulnerability Scanning Methodology
- Define Crucial Assets
As a first step, you need to thoroughly scan your IT infrastructure to select which networks and systems are more important to your business operations. Examine each asset from an attacker's perspective and prioritize them based on severity. attractiveness.
- Carry Out Vulnerability Assessment
Here critical and attractive assets are labeled as targets. These targets are tested in real-time situations to examine perceived security vulnerabilities. The vulnerability assessment expert scans the environment through automated tools and techniques for a deep-dive analysis into asset management systems and databases.
If each asset meets the intended security requirements, your vulnerability assessment is successful. If not, then move on to the next stage.
Analyze Vulnerabilities and Risks
In this step, you detect the source and root cause of the vulnerability and rank them based on the level of severity and ease of compromise. This helps you get a holistic view into the remediation methods.
Here, you mend the security gaps. For each security weakness discovered, you choose a method of mitigation. These mitigation methods may include implementing vulnerability patches, updating configuration changes and enabling new security controls.
After remediation, you generate vulnerability reports that offer information about the effectiveness of your security systems and suggest solutions to strengthen your existing security systems.
Benefits of Vulnerability Scanning
Vulnerability scanning should be a critical component of your risk management process mainly for the following reasons, it:
- Allows you to adopt a proactive approach to patch security gaps, eradicate attack vectors and strengthen security for your systems, data, customers and employees.
- Facilitates cybersecurity compliance with NIST, PCI DSS and HIPPA to secure crucial data.
- Conducts regular scans and lets you adopt restorative actions so that the hackers cannot take advantage of any security vulnerabilities.
Types of Vulnerability Scans
Based on use cases, here are five kinds of vulnerability scans:
- External Vulnerability Scans
They scan the targeted areas of your IT infrastructure that can be accessed by external users and customers.
- Internal Vulnerability Scans
They scan your internal security networks and help you harden applications and systems that are not usually covered by external scans.
- Environmental Scans
Involves specialized scans based on your technological environment that may include cloud-based environments, IoT, mobile devices and websites.
- Non-Intrusive Scans
Non-intrusive scans identify a specific vulnerability and offer information about it.
- Intrusive Scans
These scans exploit discovered vulnerabilities to offer insights into the risk and impact the vulnerability can cause to your operational systems and business processes.
Which One to Adopt and Why: Penetration Testing Vs Vulnerability Scanning
Though these two tests share common objectives, the key difference between vulnerability scanning and penetration testing lies in their approach. Vulnerability scanning relies on automated tests and techniques to detect and report potential security weaknesses. On the other hand, a penetration test is a manual and thorough examination of your security posture carried out by a tester who simulates a real-life attack to identify vulnerabilities.
Other than this, here are some subtle differences between these two security testing approaches.
Penetration Testing Vs Vulnerability Scanning: Know these 3 Key Differences
Goes beyond just identifying security vulnerabilities. It establishes exploitation attacks to determine the strength of the security networks.
Focuses only on detecting security flaws and reporting them.
Pen tests aim to prevent hackers from exploiting the systems.
Aims to make you aware of potential lapses and vulnerabilities in your security posture.
Expensive as the process is mostly outsourced to third-party cybersecurity professionals.
Less expensive as your internal team of DevOps engineers can carry out vulnerability scans.
When it comes to penetration testing vs vulnerability assessment, there should not be an “either-or” approach. Instead, both are extremely important for cementing a strong security foundation for your enterprise. You need to detect weak points in your internal security systems that comprise passwords, policies and devices. At the same time, you need automated tools to identify, categorize and rank vulnerabilities in your security systems. Conducting regular penetration testing and vulnerability scanning along with other risk assessments can keep malicious cybercrimes at bay and enhance your network security.
Don't Let Security Breaches Get the Best of Your Business with Cloud4C
According to the report titled “The State of Pentesting 2022”, 66% of respondents failed to maintain high-quality security standards, especially around compliance. Out of this, a staggering 90% of them stated that their team lacks crucial cybersecurity skills and expertise to manage big workloads. Cloud4C, a leading cloud-managed services provider, offers a comprehensive suite of powerful cybersecurity managed services that integrate next-gen cloud-native technologies and security automation tools to cloud platforms. This includes our advanced, one-stop, Vulnerability and Penetration Testing (VAPT) solutions that come with vulnerability tools to detect, assess, and resolve crucial vulnerabilities rapidly and effectively.
We offer penetration testing services for both internal and external systems to replicate real-world security attacks and identify gaps in the networks and infrastructure. In addition, our VAPT tools stop unknown intrusions into the security systems through a comprehensive vulnerability assessment that detects known security exposures and affected assets of your organization.
Take Cloud4C's exclusive cybersecurity assessment for comprehensive scanning and assessment of your network security, passwords, login credentials and complex configuration issues that can be easily exploited by cyber attackers. If you want to know more about our VAPT solutions to achieve better enterprise security, get in touch with our vulnerability assessment experts today!