Penetration testing, also referred to as ethical hacking, is an essential security assessment technique employed by cybersecurity organisations to evaluate the robustness of computer systems, networks, and applications. Its primary purpose is to simulate real-world attacks on an organisation’s infrastructure, allowing the identification of vulnerabilities and the assessment of existing security controls.
There is a cost associated with this type of assessment, and there are other things you will need to take into account as an organisation to ensure that you choose the right provider and understand how to use the results you are given. At Core to Cloud, one of our main goals is to demystify all things cyber security, so let’s delve deeper into what happens during this process and how it can support your organisation to protect its key assets.
What happens during penetration testing?
The process begins with meticulous planning and reconnaissance, wherein information about the target system or network is gathered. This includes crucial details like IP addresses, domain names, and system architecture, acquired through network scanning and open-source intelligence (OSINT) gathering techniques.
Following the reconnaissance phase, the cybersecurity team proceeds with scanning to detect open ports, services, and potential entry points into the target system or network. Vulnerability scanners may be employed to identify known security weaknesses and manual techniques may also be employed to ensure thorough coverage.
Once potential vulnerabilities are identified, the penetration tester endeavours to exploit them to gain unauthorised access. This can involve password cracking, exploiting software vulnerabilities, or employing social engineering techniques like phishing. By attempting to gain access, the tester assesses the effectiveness of existing security measures and identifies areas requiring improvement.
After access is obtained, the tester aims to maintain a persistent presence within the system to explore further and gather additional information. This phase helps uncover the potential extent of damage that an attacker could cause if they were to exploit the same vulnerabilities.
Once the penetration testing phase is complete, the cybersecurity team analyses the findings to determine the impact and severity of the identified vulnerabilities. A comprehensive report is then generated, providing a detailed description of the vulnerabilities discovered, their potential impact, and recommendations for remediation. This enables the organisation to prioritise and address the identified weaknesses, enhancing its security posture and reducing the risk of successful cyberattacks.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Think of it like a test run for all of your systems to ensure you are cyber secure.
However, as with all business needs, it does come down to the budget….
Understanding the cost associated with penetration testing is crucial for organisations as it helps in budget planning, resource allocation, and risk management. It enables informed decision-making regarding the frequency and depth of testing, ensuring a balance between security investments and the potential impact of vulnerabilities if left unaddressed.
Types of Penetration Testing
As our technology landscapes become more complex, you must include more than one version of penetration testing to ensure you understand the weaknesses and areas that could be exploited within your organisation.
There are several different types of penetration testing, each with its specific focus and objectives. Here are some common types:
Network Penetration Testing
This type involves assessing network infrastructure security, such as firewalls, routers, and switches, to identify vulnerabilities and potential entry points for unauthorised access.
Web Application Penetration Testing
It focuses on evaluating the security of web applications, including their interfaces, databases, and back-end systems. The goal is to identify vulnerabilities like input validation flaws, SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and other web-specific issues.
Wireless Penetration Testing
This type focuses on evaluating the security of wireless networks, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or RFID. It aims to uncover vulnerabilities in wireless protocols, encryption methods, and access controls.
Social Engineering Testing
This involves assessing an organisation’s susceptibility to social engineering attacks, such as phishing, pretexting, or physical intrusion. The objective is to evaluate the effectiveness of security awareness training and policies.
Physical Penetration Testing
It focuses on evaluating the physical security controls of an organisation, including access controls, surveillance systems, and physical barriers. The goal is to identify weaknesses that could potentially allow unauthorised access to facilities or sensitive information.
Application Programming Interface (API) Penetration Testing
This type involves assessing the security of APIs used for data exchange between software systems. The goal is to identify vulnerabilities that could be exploited to gain unauthorised access or manipulate data.
Red Team Testing
This comprehensive assessment simulates a real-world attack by combining various techniques to evaluate an organisation’s overall security posture. It involves a holistic approach, including social engineering, network and application testing, physical security assessments, and more.
As you can see, it is already becoming a minefield of choice, and at Core to Cloud, we want to make you aware of your choice and the cost associated with these assessments so you get the most out of your options; you can read more about our support for this process here.
Factors Affecting Penetration Testing Cost
The cost of penetration testing can be influenced by various factors that organisations need to consider. These factors include the extent and complexity of the assessment, the size and complexity of the target system or network, the level of expertise required from the testing team, the number of testing iterations desired, and any additional services or reporting requirements. Understanding these factors helps organisations plan their budgets effectively and allocate resources appropriately for conducting comprehensive and tailored penetration testing.
Scope of the Penetration Test
The penetration test’s overall scope directly impacts the cost of these types of assessments. The number of systems, the complexity of the applications, and the mixture of testing that needs to be utilised all directly impact the cost. The depth of the testing for example, Black, Grey or White box testing, also have a cost associated with them due to the differences in technology and team members required to fulfil these types of tests.
Company Size and Industry
As always, the more things we need to test or the larger the organisation, the higher the price tag, so it is important to ensure that you understand the whole overview of your IT landscape before requesting and moving forward with your penetration testing. The industry you are situated within can also impact the overall cost, with sectors such as financial or healthcare needing to approach their penetration testing differently than other sectors.
Due to several factors, geographical location can impact penetration testing costs and testing within the UK. Firstly, the cost of living and business expenses can vary across different regions, resulting in differences in pricing for services offered. For example, conducting penetration testing in metropolitan areas like London may incur higher costs than in smaller cities or rural areas.
Additionally, the availability and concentration of skilled cybersecurity professionals can differ geographically. In areas with a high demand for cybersecurity services and a limited supply of experienced professionals, the cost of penetration testing is likely to be higher due to increased competition and expertise.
Tester Skill and Experience
The bigger the expertise, the higher the cost. We see this within many sectors, where we, as consumers, pay less for those who are less experienced, and the same applies to finding the right individuals to support you with your penetration testing.
There are also other things to consider within this area, and you may need individuals with specialised certifications such as OSCP or CEH. When choosing your tester, check out their past record and reputation, as this also ensures that you choose the correct support, but don’t waste your precious budget.
We have covered what happens during penetration testing, what different types of testing are available and some key factors that you need to take into consideration when budgeting for this type of assessment. It is a minefield, isn’t it? But integral to you as an organisation understanding your weaknesses and where you could be exploited.
One of our team members is waiting to support you to understand the need and cost associated with this process at Core to Cloud; you can get in touch with them here.