What is Penetration Testing for IT Security?

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Penetration testing is one of the primary goals of IT security specialists and their role in the ever-changing online landscape is incredibly important. Some reports say that upwards of 90% of all websites dealing in commerce and other types of sensitive, personal data have been attacked by hackers at one time or another. While these attacks are not always detrimental to the people and systems they affect, the dangers that are presented by unwelcome visitors is obvious.

System Vulnerabilities

Penetration testing works as a security measure for a very simple reason. Every network, however big or small, has similar ways that hackers can gain access. These routes that are often used by the intruders are vulnerabilities which are brought on by the OS, the router, the settings which come from the ISP, and also various security software solutions and firewall settings. Software purchased to protect users often causes the biggest problems, because most people who use IT security tools are unaware of just how they actually work to protect them. They do not consider the possibility that one tool might negate one part of another, making a hole in the defense system. Hackers are often sensationalized as having some kind of genius which none of the rest of us possess, but the truth of the matter is that they just know how to find the weak spots. For these reasons, running a penetration test regularly is extremely important for making sure that your system does not have any open doors.

Penetration Testing

A professional Penetration Test expert does the same thing to your system that a hacker would. The difference here, is the intention. Since the “hack” is done to help the owner of the system, the act of doing the test is sometimes called “white hat” hacking and the whole experience can be a real eye-opener for companies that have never had it done before. Another term popularly used in association with Penetration testing is “Offensive Security”. Not having the word “hack” in the name makes it better for business, but the intent is the same. Companies hire people to break into their system in every way that they can, and then take the advice that comes as the result to make informed decisions about their network security situation.  

Tools And Methods

The most popular OS in use today to deal with penetration testing is Linux. There are many distributions of Linux and some of them have been developed specifically for both hacking and penetration testing. The KALI distro, for example, has a lot of features built right in that allow users who know what they are doing to inspect every bit of traffic on a network as well as finding out where all the information is going. It doesn’t take a full-fledged vulnerability test/ hacking platform to do the job, though. Just about any version of Linux is capable of running the necessary tools to get the job done. Some popular software solutions for performing penetrations tests are Nmap, W3af, and Metasploit. There are a lot of them out there but these few have been around for a long time and fully matured into very stable tools that work very well. Once deployed, these tools run various scans over the network that they are active on looking for communication over every possible route. They look at the software installed and how it communicates over the net, they look at unused ports, and many more things. The result is a report that comes back explaining what was found, and it is from that report that vulnerable areas within the network are seen.

Hire An Expert

Anyone can run these tools on their own, and the scans will work with no problem. The problem for most of us, however, does not come from the use of the software. Reading and interpreting the results should always be left to those “in the know”. Without the background knowledge IT security specialists bring to the table, it is almost impossible to know what part of the report shows healthy activity and what does not.