What Is Network Penetration Testing?

Red teams and blue teams. White hats and black hats. Hacking and pen testing. 

You may have heard a range of terms and ideas around what network penetration testing is and what it involves, but do you really know how it works and the benefits it can bring to your organization’s security posture? In a time of shocking headlines and brazen cyberattacks, it is more important than ever to learn the ins and outs of this in-depth security evaluation.

This article will walk you through the key aspects of network penetration testing so you have the information you need to prepare your organization for the cyberthreats that lurk around the corner.

Can cybercriminals access your organization’s sensitive information? Find out  when you download and complete Axians’ Cybersecurity Risk Assessment Scorecard.  →

What is network penetration testing?

Network penetration testing is a legal, ethical, and preplanned simulation, or security exercise, during which a cybersecurity expert or team of experts attempts to find and exploit vulnerabilities in an organization's network.

The purpose of this simulated network-focused attack is to safely and proactively identify any vulnerabilities in a network, including its hardware, software, configurations, policies, and security controls, which attackers could take advantage of in order to compromise a system. 

In most cases, the end result is a detailed network penetration testing report that lays out the steps the penetration testing team performed, the items they were able to exploit, and their recommendations on how to mitigate the identified vulnerabilities.

What can a network penetration test entail?

Although there are a wide range of methodologies, approaches, tools, and techniques involved in this kind of testing, there are generally four main phases of a network penetration test:

Documenting Objectives, Boundaries, and Expectations

Before any penetration testing exercise can begin, there needs to be not only clear approval for the assessment to occur but also a discussion about the boundaries, the scope, the timing, and the objectives of the testing.

Reconnaissance and Discovery

Once the goals, timing, and scope of the test have been approved, the penetration testing team uses active and passive tools and techniques to learn more about the target network, its structure, the devices that comprise it, and existing and potential vulnerabilities.

Active Network Penetration Testing

Using the information gained during the reconnaissance stage, the penetration testers will attempt to exploit the vulnerabilities identified in order to bypass security controls and gain unintended access or permissions. The testers may perform multiple attempts and use custom or publicly available exploits during the test, mimicking the steps an attacker might take.

Reporting and Remediation

At the conclusion of the test, the penetration testing team will fully document the tests performed including the vulnerabilities identified; and any recommendations for remediation, often in order of severity.

Can cybercriminals access your organization’s sensitive information? Find out  when you download and complete Axians’ Cybersecurity Risk Assessment Scorecard.  →

Why is network penetration testing important?

Network penetration tests offer multiple benefits, including:

  • Providing a point-in-time evaluation of existing network security to help justify additional investments and to monitor improvements over time

  • Demonstrating to a security team exactly where and how a malicious attacker might exploit a network, putting security controls and response plans to the test

  • Offering an opportunity to mitigate any network security weaknesses before a real attack attempt occurs

Although there are no fool-proof ways to protect your network against malicious activity, performing regular penetration testing will give your security team members the tools they need to deter and frustrate attackers and more robustly defend your assets.

Take the next step.

When choosing to conduct a network penetration test, it is important to partner with a team of experts to ensure that the assessment is conducted safely, comprehensively, and professionally. This will help to not only protect your network assets but also give your team a plan to remediate any network vulnerabilities and help increase your overall security posture.

So whether your organization is already well-prepared for the cyberthreats ahead or is a bit behind on the cybersecurity maturity curve, a call to the experts at Axians can bring real, tangible results to your business.

You can learn more about Axians’s IT cybersecurity consulting services by contacting one of our experienced professionals or by downloading our free Ultimate Guide to Performing a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment.

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