8 Steps to Take to Evaluate Penetration Testing Services

penetration testing

Implementing penetration testing into your cybersecurity strategy provides your organization with a definitive way to find vulnerabilities and minimize risk. It offers you an outsider’s view of the security of your applications and networks. It covers your blind spots because an outside party does these tests. That means you must find an experienced firm to engage in these exercises. So, how should you evaluate penetration testing services?

It’s an important question, and you’ll appreciate these tips for identifying your ideal partner.

Why Does Penetration Testing Add Value to Your Cybersecurity Strategy?

If you’re new to penetration testing or reviving in your business, you might not be aware of the value of it. You can yield a variety of benefits from regular pen tests because of how detailed they are in simulating a cyberattack.

Testers seek to identify and exploit weaknesses before a real hacker does. They use the same techniques and tools as actual cybercriminals do. They deliver a way for you to gauge your security posture and if your network can withstand a variety of attack tactics. There are different types of pen tests, and each brings with it characteristics you want to find in penetration testing services.

There are various configurations for testing:

  • Access levels
  • Testing methods
  • What you’re testing

These make up the first three steps of evaluating providers. After going through these steps, you’ll also want to consider:

  • Training, experience, and credentials
  • How they test (automation vs. manual techniques)
  • If they include remediation validation tests (RVTs)
  • What their reporting details include
  • Their overall reputation

Let’s go now to all the steps to take to find reliable penetration testing services.

Step 1: Determine the Access Level

There are three access levels in pen testing, which align with how much information the team has when carrying them out.

Black Box Pen Testing

In Black Box Penetration Testing (or Opaque Box), testers have no knowledge of the target’s systems structure. In this scenario, they must mirror what a real hacker would do in searching for weaknesses they can exploit. If you choose this level, your pen testing provider should have experience in this specific realm and be up to date on all “popular” methods that hackers use in the real world.

Gray Box Pen Testing

Gray Box Penetration Testing (or Semi-Opaque Box) involves testers having some information about the target system. They may have access to data structure, code, or algorithms. You may also give them credentials. In this scenario, testers establish test cases related to the system’s architectural diagram. An organization might choose Gray Box to evaluate insider threats or an application with many users. It’s a vital way to test authenticated user access.

When tasking a team with Gray Box Penetration Testing, you want to find experts in authenticated user access testing. They would need expertise in:

  • Horizontal privilege escalation, which would demonstrate if an authenticated user can access the data of other users
  • Vertical privilege escalation, which would validate if an authenticated user can escalate privileges to that of an administrator

White Box Penetration Testing

White Box Penetration Testing (or Transparent Box) is the third option. In this exercise, testers have access to systems and artifacts. Those may include source code and containers. Additionally, you may allow them to enter servers running your system.

You will choose this option if you develop your own products or software applications or are in the process of integrating several. Testers are looking for flaws and bugs in this manual source code review. As a result, those performing these need coding skills.

Step 2: Define the Testing Method

The next step is to determine the testing method. There are five options, and each requires specific expertise.

  • External testing: Testers target your visible assets, including web applications, websites, email, and domain name servers. The goal is to be able to access them and extract data. Those conducting them should have ethical hacking experience, as this approach is the path most cybercriminals would take.
  • Internal testing: This test occurs behind the firewall to simulate what could happen due to human error (e.g., stolen credentials via phishing). Firms doing this pen testing would need a background in credential testing.
  • Blind testing: A blind test is one where your provider only has the name of a company. It facilitates a real-time view of how an application attack may take place. Thus, you’d need a team with application attack experience.
  • Double-blind testing: A double-blind test is one where your internal security team is unaware the test is occurring. It would prompt them to respond to this threat. Look for the same qualifications as indicated in blind testing.
  • Targeted testing: With this exercise, your staff and the testers work together. It can be a great way to train your team, and they get feedback from the perspective of a hacker. A firm would need a good reputation as collaborative and communicative for you to consider them.

Next, you’ll determine the type of pen test that will be most valuable to your cybersecurity goals.

Step 3: Choose the Type of Pen Test

Pen tests can focus on five different areas of cybersecurity. You may do one or more of these, depending on your priorities. With each, you’ll want to find experts with specific knowledge.

  • Web applications pen tests: These exercises look at the security and possible risks with applications. Testers should have experience with coding, authentication, and injecting.
  • Network security pen tests: This test finds exploitable issues on your networks relating to routers, switches, or network hosts. Thus, those testing needs knowledge of these things.
  • Cloud security pen testing: This option relates to testing around cloud security and how robust it is. You can request them for public, private, or hybrid clouds. Your partner should be well-versed in cloud computing.
  • IoT security pen testing: If you have lots of IoT devices on your network, this is an option for you. They are becoming a preferred way to infiltrate networks, and your provider should have expertise in IoT cybersecurity.
  • Social engineering pen test: In this testing type, testers use phishing communications to evaluate a network’s ability to detect, react, and defend against them. It’s a good way to learn if your employers are applying what they’ve learned in training. Look for a partner with experience in phishing.

Step 4: Assess the Firm’s Overall Experience

In the three prior steps, you’ve learned how to evaluate services based on the types of pen tests. As a follow-up to that, you also want to learn about their overall experience in pen testing, including what training staff have and their credentials. Ideally, you want expertise to include CISSP, CSSLP, OSCP, ECSA, LPT (Master), and CEH.

If you are in a specific industry with more regulations and guidelines around cybersecurity, you’ll also need to inquire about this. For example, healthcare entities use pen testing to ensure compliance with HIPAA. The law doesn’t require them, but they are good practices for organizations that need to adhere to rules. You will want to know if they have specific things they do for HIPAA pen tests and what their experience level is.

Step 5: Find Out How They Test

A lot of firms that say they conduct pen tests use only automated tools. Automation is a good foundation but isn’t a substitute for human-led testing. Automation returns too many false positives and negatives, so accuracy will always be in doubt. Opt to work with a firm that focuses on human-led pen testing.

Step 6: Ask About RVTs

RVTs occur after you deploy the fixes to address the vulnerabilities identified in the pen tests. Testers would launch an RVT to ensure you’ve resolved all outstanding issues. It’s important to ask about this test so you can get validation from remediation efforts.

Step 7: Request a Sample Report

The report you receive post-pen test should be valuable and actionable. Unfortunately, many pen testing services deliver ones that are long, overcomplex, and hard to understand. If it’s only in technical language, it can be hard to follow for anyone on the IT or business side. In assessing your options, ask for a sample report so you know what to expect.

Step 8: Make Sure the Firm Has a Solid Reputation

Finally, reputation is everything in cybersecurity. You’re looking for collaborators who are honest, reliable, and credible. Otherwise, you could end up spending a lot of money on something that doesn’t provide you with a return. Good ways to evaluate this are to look at reviews and ask for references.

Penetration Testing Services from the Right Provider Support Your Security Goals

This isn’t an exhaustive list of all the ways to weigh pen testing services, but it covers the most important things. Pen tests are an excellent way to meet your security goals and requirements when you have a provider that has experience, expertise, and qualifications. You’ll find that the team at Blue Goat Cyber is a group of pen testing experts. Evaluate our services by requesting a discovery meeting.

8 Steps To Take To Evaluate Penetration Testing Services

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