By: Jaroy Johnson
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Penetration Testing Software – An Overview
As with any complex system or piece of technology, cybersecurity requires ongoing maintenance and upkeep. Yet a shocking number of organizations look for one-and-done solutions. A recent study found that “one-third of companies with 50 or fewer employees report[ed] using free, consumer-grade cybersecurity, and one in five companies use no endpoint security whatsoever.”
Small businesses might be able to fly under the radar with subpar security precautions, but it’s a huge risk to take for companies of any size. According to IBM’s annual security report, the average cost of data breaches rose to $4.24 million in 2021. This is the highest annual average in the seventeen years since IBM began tracking the data.
Want to avoid becoming a part of that statistic? Make sure you’re performing regular penetration tests and vulnerability analyses. Ideally, you can hire an outside team to perform annual pen tests for your organization. However, there are a number of penetration testing software options available to help you with the pen test process.
Cybersecurity Software Basics
There are several types of cybersecurity software that most organizations should consider using in their environment. While this is just the tip of the iceberg, essential security software can be broadly categorized into a few basic types:
- Antivirus Software – programs are designed to prevent malicious software from making it onto your system.
- Encryption Tools – secure data by either creating an impenetrable safe in which to store information or by creating a secret code that only your team can decipher.
- Vulnerability Scanners – search for and identify possible vulnerabilities across an organization’s technology assets, including servers, desktops, virtual machines, firewalls, etc.
- Network Analyzers – also known as packet sniffers, are used to monitor network traffic. These tools can allow users to capture data packets traveling between machines on a network.
- Managed Detection Services – are services that monitor your system on an ongoing basis to identify and respond to threats.
For penetration testing and vulnerability analysis, specifically, you’ll be dealing with scanners and analyzers to ensure that your networks and data are safe. To get a sense of what this software does and why it matters, it’s helpful to step back and understand the ways in which professionals will approach the network.
A thorough pen test should cover the potential of both external and internal threats. In other words, they should take both a black box and white box approach.
Black Box Approach to Penetration Testing
In this scenario, you can think of your network as a sealed black box. Hackers do not have any information about the environment or your company. They don’t know anything about the system components. They don’t have any illicitly obtained login information. They’re essentially oblivious to what they’re trying to break into.
While it’s not the most efficient approach, external threats do sometimes luck their way into a system. It’s like a thief wandering down a street, checking doors and windows to see what they might find. Hackers also troll the internet looking for unlocked doors into any system they can access.
Basically, random intruders are looking to exploit default logins and passwords. That’s why it’s so important to make sure that “admin” isn’t one of your user accounts. Too many systems get hacked through this basic oversight.
From a technical perspective, black box pen testing involves scanning for any and all public facing IP addresses. Virtually every organization needs some public IP addresses, but you can use Network Address Translation (NAT) to mask internal ports and minimize risk. This works to mask your public facing IP addresses and make it more difficult for intruders to find a way in.
White Box Approach to Pen Tests
On the flip side, the white box approach involves insider information of some sort. The potential intruder in this scenario has knowledge of the environment, systems, applications, software, architecture, etc. Infiltrating a system gets a lot easier when hackers have more information to work with.
The reality is that these kinds of breaches are more common. According to research by the Ponemon Institute, 70% of small and medium-sized businesses reported that employees’ passwords were lost or stolen in 2019. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, 69% of those businesses experienced cyber attacks that made it past their intrusion detection system.
While the hope is that external intruders won’t ever have knowledge of your environment, it’s incredibly important to test that worst case scenario. Just because it shouldn’t happen, doesn’t mean it can’t.
If Timmy from the mailroom wrote his login information on a sticky note and lost it… well, that was dumb. But it also means whoever finds said sticky note might be able to pose as a legitimate user and wreak havoc on your system.
White box penetration testing approaches your network from this angle, checking for internal security and access controls. Hopefully there are user access controls in place to ensure that a Timmy imposter can’t do much beyond mess with Timmy’s time sheet. Fake-Timmy shouldn’t have carte blanche to act maliciously across the board.
Penetration Testing Software
If you aren’t able to hire professional security consultants to perform pen tests and vulnerability analyses, there are some excellent penetration testing software options available to help you perform pen tests on your own. Too many options, really. But understanding the basics of what these applications do will help you narrow down the field.
For ongoing protection, every company should invest in basic antivirus software and encryption tools. For penetration testing software, the tool(s) you select should be able to scan for vulnerabilities and analyze your network.
Vulnerability scanners are tools to help you identify risks to your environment. Some popular examples are programs like Nessus or Intruder. These tools can take either black box or white box approaches to your system – scanning for access points and working their way in.
These programs will look for security holes to exploit and, in some cases, can patch the vulnerabilities they detect. The scanners will produce reports identifying any vulnerabilities and providing recommendations for next steps.
Keep in mind that vulnerability scanners are programs that you deploy on a set schedule rather than running continuously. It would strain your system to be running them all the time. If you want constant monitoring, look into managed detection services.
Network analyzers are also known as packet sniffers, packet analyzers or protocol analyzers. Wireshark is a popular example. These programs monitor the traffic on your network and see what’s going on between machines.
These are used internally to track user behavior and to test what kinds of information can be retrieved by authorized and unauthorized users on the network. They can also scan incoming traffic for malware or pieces of malicious code.
Find the Right Solution for Your Organization
The sheer volume of cybersecurity software options out there can be daunting to pretty much anyone. That’s why we want to help.
At Point Solutions Group we believe that customers shouldn’t throw their money at expensive, proprietary software when they don’t have to. Our team of go-to fixers can identify opportunities within your current systems and quickly deploy resources with the utmost of efficiency and discretion.