Proactive cyber security: The role of pen testing and vulnerability scanning

Tactics for building proactive cyber security

Does your organisation have a strategy to identify and address cyber security vulnerabilities proactively?

Relying on reactive measures is no longer effective and often indicates a lack of proper cyber security management. Proactive cyber security prepares your business for potential cyber-attacks. It is not simply about putting in defences to protect your business from the latest attacks; it also focuses on identifying and resolving vulnerabilities before threat actors can exploit them.

Penetration testing and vulnerability scanning are two tactics I recommend adding to your company’s cyber security practices.

Why take a proactive stance on cyber security?

A proactive approach reduces the likelihood of successful attacks and enhances your company’s overall security posture. Proactive cyber security anticipates and mitigates threats before they cause damage to the organisation. It requires a fundamental shift in mindset, moving from merely reacting to incidents after they occur to actively preventing them from happening in the first place. 

A reactive approach to cyber security can leave your company scrambling to respond to incidents after they occur, leading to significant downtime, data loss, and financial damage. Without proactive strategies, vulnerabilities and weaknesses in systems, networks, and applications remain hidden and unaddressed, leaving the doors open for cybercriminals. 

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Understanding penetration testing and vulnerability scanning

It can be easy to conflate pen testing and vulnerability scanning as they essentially offer the same outcome: finding vulnerabilities in your organisation. However, it is important to understand that pen testing and vulnerability scanning are two distinct methods of proactive cyber security.

Penetration testing involves a manual, detailed examination of systems to exploit weaknesses.

Vulnerability scanning offers a broad overview of potential weaknesses by automatically checking systems for known vulnerabilities.

While these methods are separate, they complement each other. Vulnerability scanning can quickly identify and flag issues, creating a foundation for further investigation. Penetration tests can then delve into these flagged areas, exploiting vulnerabilities to better understand their potential impact and test the effectiveness of existing security measures. By combining these approaches, your organisation can improve comprehensive security coverage.

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How penetration testing identifies vulnerabilities

Penetration testing, or pen testing, is a simulated cyber attack that finds and exploits vulnerabilities in a system. It mimics the tactics used by threat actors to provide a real-world perspective on your company’s security posture.

Your security services provider can conduct various kinds of pen tests. For example, an open-box pen test means that the tester receives some information about the system beforehand. There is also an option to conduct a ‘double-blind,’ which means no one in the company knows that the pen test is occurring except the few people involved.

Pen testing involves several stages:

  1. Planning and reconnaissance: Defining the scope and gathering intelligence about the system.
  2. Scanning: Understand how the target responds to various intrusion attempts.
  3. Gaining access: Exploiting vulnerabilities through methods like SQL injection and cross-site scripting.
  4. Maintaining access: Checking if someone can use the vulnerability to establish a persistent presence.
  5. Analysis: Compiling and assessing the findings to improve security measures.

While pen testers may use various automated tools to help them find and exploit vulnerabilities, a professional must also use their experience to identify deeper, more complex vulnerabilities that automated tools might miss.

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How vulnerability scanning identifies issues

Vulnerability scanning examines systems to identify security weaknesses. It scans and compares your company’s assets with a database of common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs). In FY 2023, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) found that the number of publicly reported CVEs increased by 20% from the previous financial year.

The benefits of vulnerability scanning include:

  1. Comprehensive coverage: Scanners can evaluate various assets, including servers, applications, and network devices.
  2. Continuous monitoring: Unlike periodic manual checks, automated scanners provide ongoing assessments to detect new vulnerabilities.
  3. Prioritisation: Vulnerability scans identify weaknesses and prioritise them based on severity, allowing organisations to address the most critical issues first.

Vulnerability scanning targets a variety of vulnerabilities that could be exploited by cybercriminals. These include:

  • Coding flaws: Vulnerabilities in software code, such as those susceptible to cross-site scripting (XSS) and SQL injection attacks, are common targets.
  • Misconfigurations: Improper configurations, such as public exposure of cloud storage buckets due to incorrect access permissions, can leave sensitive data vulnerable.
  • Missing patches: Systems that are not up-to-date with the latest security patches are prime targets for attackers.

By addressing these types of vulnerabilities through regular and comprehensive scanning, your organisation can build a more resilient security posture and proactively address vulnerabilities in your infrastructure.

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Source: ASD.

Building a proactive cyber security strategy

Implementing pen testing and vulnerability scanning is only the beginning of a proactive cyber security strategy. These practices are also not one-off exercises. Maintaining proactive cyber security requires your organisation to:

  1. Schedule scans and tests regularly: Implement a routine for conducting vulnerability scans and penetration tests to ensure continuous protection.
  2. Update and patch systems: Use the insights from scans and tests to patch vulnerabilities quickly.
  3. Employee training: Educating employees about cyber security best practices reduces human error, which is often a critical factor in security breaches.
  4. Collaborate with experts: Engage with cyber security experts to conduct thorough pen tests and stay updated on the latest threats.

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Conclusion

Proactive cyber security protects sensitive data and critical systems from evolving threats like ransomware, malware and insider threats. As cyber threats become more sophisticated, your organisation must take a proactive stance, including penetration testing and vulnerability scanning in security protocols. Doing so can significantly enhance your cyber security posture.

Why choose Wyntec’s cyber security services?

Securing your company’s data, systems, and personnel against rapidly evolving digital threats is crucial. Wyntec’s Cyber Security Assessment identifies and addresses vulnerabilities, providing tailored recommendations to enhance your security infrastructure.

Our proactive approach enables your organisation to anticipate and prepare for emerging cyber threats. Strengthen your defences and protect your business with Wyntec’s comprehensive cyber security solutions. Visit our Security Assessment page for more details and to contact us.

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