When we’re talking about cybersecurity, the main focus is keeping intruders out of our precious systems and files. So why would a company willingly subject themselves to a cyberattack? This kind of cyberattack is called a penetration test or pen test. During these pen tests, an ethical hacker will target and seek to exploit vulnerabilities in a system to access sensitive information.  

As it sounds, a pen test is a simulated cyberattack. Companies can use the information gained from a pen test to better secure their systems from attack. Companies should conduct pen tests at least once a year or when new programs or software are released. No pen test is created equal, though. Different companies require different pen tests. Some may choose to undergo multiple types of pen testing to defend their servers better. What are the different types of pen testing, though?  

Internal Pen Testing 

As the name suggests, an internal pen test is supposed to simulate an attack that begins inside the system. While these kinds of attacks are not especially common in the IT world, it is always a good idea to check all of your boxes. You never know how much an internal attack can damage your company. A requirement to perform this test is that the ethical hacker must have some knowledge of your system. 

External Pen Testing 

This kind of pen test is more common, as only 34% of attacks involve internal actorsThis kind of test is used to see how dependable an organization’s firewall and website areEthical hackers will try to exploit any vulnerability they can to access sensitive information, just like during a real cyberattack. Sometimes, companies will not even allow the hacker inside the building while they conduct their test.  

Covert Pen Test 

This kind of test is both for your security and to see how well your IT team performs during a cyberattack. A covert pen test means that very few people know that the test is happening. This exclusion of knowledge also includes your IT team. When you conduct a covert pen test, your IT team needs to believe it is an actual attack, so they react naturally. One thing to note is that it is especially important to lay out the scope of the attack. As an ethical hacker, if you don’t make the scope and other details clear, you could face legal trouble.  

White Box Pen Test 

A white box pen test is like a cyberattack on easy mode. The ethical hacker is given full knowledge about the security system, such as an IP address or a specific place to attack. After they get in, their job is to try to get admin privileges.  

Grey Box Pen Test 

If the white box pen test was a cyberattack on easy mode, consider this at medium difficulty. The ethical hacker is given some knowledge about the system, such as an email address. This test is supposed to be non-intrusive, used only to point out vulnerabilities. Because the ethical hacker has to learn more about the system as they go, our engineer, Mark Wharton, describes grey box pen testing as “completely tedious and exhausting" for the ethical hacker but well worth it in the long run for your organization because you'll learn more about your weaknesses.

Black Box Pen Testing 

This is a cyberattack on hard mode. The ethical hacker is given no information about the company other than what is publicly available. During this kind of pen test, the ethical hacker must use any avenue available to get into the targeted organization. These avenues can be anything from switches to networks.  

A pen test is a useful way to see how your security is lacking. No firewall is entirely foolproof, but a pen test can point out the most vulnerable places. Depending on the kind of pen test you conduct, you may find vulnerabilities in any area in your system. Sometimes you lack security internally, or your IT team may not be appropriately prepared for a large scale cyberattack. Whatever the security concern, a pen test is a great way to boost your security. 

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