Why, When, and How Often Should You Conduct a Penetration Test

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Penetration testing (pen testing) is a simulation of possible cyberattacks performed by penetration testers (pen testers) with no malicious intention. The main objective of pen testing is to examine the security defenses of the IT infrastructure. Pen testing is performed to find exploitable vulnerable activity or content in a network and address the same with the cybersecurity team. The cybersecurity team mitigates vulnerabilities before an intruder exploits them, causing severe damage to the company. The penetration test (pen test) ends when the pen tester submits a detailed report on all the findings. This report shall broadly include two sections—executive summary of the pen testing process and listing the vulnerabilities by explaining the severity of their impact, if not mitigated on time. A poor pen test or unprofessional reporting can cause severe damage to the business. Hence, authenticity and efficacy along with a holistic approach are the key to a successful pen test.

Why Pen Test: Benefits of Pen Testing

1. Detect Security Threats

A pen test determines the potential of an organization to defend its IT infrastructure such as applications, network, server, endpoints, etc. The test detects the security threats by performing internal and external intrusion and achieves privileged and unapproved access to protected assets. The test reveals the faults in the existing security process so that they can be fixed by technicians and experts before any outsider intrudes the system.

2. Protects Financial and Reputational Loss

A breach may result in database compromise, financial loss, or loss of reputation. Even a single incident of compromised customer data negatively impacts the company’s image in the industry. An effective pen testing supports an organization by proactively detecting the threats before the breach take place. The tests can help in avoiding data breaches that can place the company’s reputation and reliability at stake.

3. Saves Recuperation Downtime

Recuperation from a security flaw includes retention programs, legal advice, IT remediation efforts, reduced revenues, and regaining customer confidence. This process involves a lot of effort, time, resources, and finance. In a research conducted by an IT company, Alvarez Technology Group, 39% of the companies report operational capacity downtime as the main effect of a cyberattack. For 37% of companies, downtime in business reporting was the biggest problem. [1]

4. Comply with Regulation or Security Certification

IT departments have to comply with the auditing or compliance procedures of legal authorities like Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, The Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act, and Sarbanes–Oxley. Besides, the company shall also comply with the report testing requirements as recognized in the Federal National Institute of Standards and Technology, Federal Information Security Management Act, and Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard commands. The reports submitted by pen testers assist organization in evading penalties for noncompliance and provide required secured control to auditors.

5. Increases Business Continuity

Business continuity is the main objective for any business to measure its success. A break in business continuity can be for many reasons, one of the major reasons being a security breach. According to National Cybersecurity Alliance, 60% of medium- and small-sized organizations that have experienced a cyberattack have gone out of business within 6 months. [2] Pen testers are hired to perform different types of attacks like denial of service, which can ultimately result in the closure of the business. This is done to find the loopholes and patch them to avoid any real damage from a malicious attack.

When to Pen Test?

Many businesses are not sure of the right time to perform the pen testing. Three best times to perform a pen test are:

  • Before the deployment of the system or network or application.
  • When the system is no longer in a state of constant change.
  • Before the system is involved in the production process or is made live.

Most companies do not understand the significance of pre-deployment pen testing, simply concentrating on their return of investment. The IT team is often burdened with impractical project deadlines forcing them to deliver without proper security assessments. When the system or application is new, there are often loopholes in the security layer that can be discovered by performing pen testing. In the absence of pen testing at this level, you will not be able to catch and address these issues and, when released, they may be a potential source of intrusion for the intruders.

How Often Should You Pen Test?

Organizations don’t prioritize a pen test until they experience a breach or realize that a hacker has already intruded and planted a virus in their application or system. At this time, organizations make all the attempts to trace the intrusion, impact of the breach, and learn how it was implanted. But the entire process would have been avoided if the business would have conducted a pen test on time.

A pen testing is not a one-time activity. As networks or computer systems are exposed to large amount of vulnerabilities, there is a constant change in their performance. How often a company should pen test depends on several factors:

Size of the company—No doubt, companies that deal with an online business might be prone to frequent cyberattacks. The higher the online presence, the juicier targets they are for threat vectors.

Compliance with regulatory laws—The regulations, laws, and compliance mostly define the frequency of a pen test. Depending on the type of industry, one must comply with the rules.

Infrastructure—Pen testing on the data depends on its placement in the company. If the data and applications are kept in the cloud server, then the cloud service provider would not allow a test through an external source but would opt to hire a pen tester internally.

The process of pen testing should not be ignored as it has higher potential to offer critical security service to the businesses. For few organizations, pen test may be mandatory also, but one size doesn’t fit all. It is the company’s life of business that determines why, when, and how to pen test.

To be a pen tester and make a remark in your career, one must have the credential in pen testing. EC-Council Certified Security Analyst program masters you with all the required skills for a successful pen testing. It is a step closer to challenging the world’s first live-proctored Licensed Penetration Testing (Master) credential which gets you the recognition of a great pen tester.


  1. https://drooms.com/en/blog/how-to-recover-from-a-cyber-attack
  2. https://www.inc.com/joe-galvin/60-percent-of-small-businesses-fold-within-6-months-of-a-cyber-attack-heres-how-to-protect-yourself.html
Editor's Note:
Reviewed by Dr. Ranjeet Kumar Singh, CEO at Sherlock Institute of Forensic Science India and Kris Seeburn, CHIEF INSTRUCTOR – Cybersecurity at DOJ-FBI
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