Protecting your organization from cyber-attacks is more critical than ever, and one of the most effective ways to identify vulnerabilities in your external network defenses is through external network penetration testing. Whether you’re a small business or a large corporation, no organization is immune to cyber threats. External network pen tests provide a crucial layer of security, enabling you to identify and address vulnerabilities in your network before they can be exploited by malicious actors. In this post, we’ll explore the importance of external network penetration testing and how it can help safeguard your organization from cyber-attacks.
What is External Network Penetration Testing?
External network penetration testing is a type of security assessment that aims to identify and exploit vulnerabilities in an organization’s external network defenses. This involves simulating real-world attacks against the network from outside the perimeter, with the goal of uncovering weaknesses that could be exploited by malicious actors.
During an external network penetration test, ethical hackers attempt to gain unauthorized access to an organization’s network by identifying and exploiting vulnerabilities in internet-facing systems, applications, and services. This can include conducting reconnaissance to gather information about the network, exploiting known vulnerabilities in software or hardware, looking for access control issues, and potentially finding attack paths that can be used for lateral movement.
The results of an external network penetration test provide organizations with a clear picture of their network’s security posture and identify areas where improvements are needed to better protect against cyber-attacks. This can include implementing stronger access controls, patching vulnerable systems and applications, and enforcing stronger password policies for employees on internet-facing login portals.
Why is External Network Penetration Testing Important?
External network penetration testing is important for organizations in order to ensure the security of their network infrastructure. There are several specific reasons why external network pen testing is important:
- Identify vulnerabilities: External network penetration testing helps organizations identify vulnerabilities in their external network defenses, which may be exploited by cybercriminals to gain unauthorized access to their systems or steal sensitive data. By identifying these vulnerabilities, organizations can take proactive steps to remediate them before they can be exploited.
- Mitigate risk: External network penetration testing is a proactive approach to mitigating the risk of cyber-attacks. By identifying vulnerabilities and addressing them, organizations can reduce the likelihood of a successful attack and minimize the potential impact of a breach.
- Comply with regulations: External network penetration testing is often required by industry regulations and compliance standards such as PCI DSS, HIPAA, and SOC 2. By conducting regular external network pen tests, organizations can ensure they are in compliance with these standards and avoid potential fines and penalties.
- Improve security posture: External network penetration testing provides valuable insights into an organization’s security posture. By addressing vulnerabilities and strengthening defenses, organizations can improve their overall security posture and better protect against future cyber threats.
- Give peace of mind to customers: No customer would be using a company’s services or applications if they knew that they were vulnerable to exploitation. Having a secure external network environment that receives regular penetration tests would give customers a sense of security and trust when using the services/applications of said company.
How External Network Penetration Tests are Conducted
The external network penetration testing process involves several steps. The first step is reconnaissance, where the tester performs passive information gathering to identify potential entry points into the network. This can include identifying internet-facing systems, applications, and services, as well as identifying potential vulnerabilities in these areas. There is also active information gathering, where the attacker would actively engage the assets to obtain additional information, such as grabbing the banner of a web server and identifying the version number.
The next step is vulnerability scanning, where the tester uses automated tools to scan the identified systems, applications, and services for known vulnerabilities. This step helps to identify potential attack vectors that can be exploited. This is primarily done to look for the low-hanging fruit vulnerabilities.
The next penetration testing phase involves attempting to exploit the identified vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access to the network or to reveal sensitive data. This can include attempting to exploit software or hardware vulnerabilities, attempting to bypass or circumvent access controls, and attempting to escalate privileges in some cases.
The penetration tester will also spend the majority of their time doing the manual penetration testing of the external network, which involves manually going through web servers and other exposed services or applications to identify potential gaps that an adversary can utilize. One example is attempting to access some known endpoints from a web server, such as an Apache web server, and seeing if it can be accessed by an unauthorized end user.
Once vulnerabilities have been identified and exploited, the tester will attempt to pivot through the network, moving from system to system to determine the extent of the potential damage that could be caused by an adversary.
Finally, the tester will provide a detailed report of the vulnerabilities identified during the testing process, including recommendations for remediation. This report helps organizations to prioritize their efforts to remediate vulnerabilities and improve their external network defenses.
Primary Objectives of an External Network Penetration Test
- Identify vulnerabilities: The primary objective of an external network penetration test is to identify vulnerabilities in an organization’s external network defenses. Not only will this help mitigate attack paths against the organization, but it will also help the organization know where they stand in terms of its security and will give them insight into how to improve its security posture.
- Exploit vulnerabilities: Once vulnerabilities have been identified, the next objective of an external network penetration test is to attempt to exploit them to determine the potential impact of a successful attack. Typically, a penetration tester will avoid exploiting vulnerabilities that are known to cause crashes/downtime of the remote endpoint. Some of the safer exploitation methods involve attempting to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data or taking control of network resources to assess the level of risk to the organization.
- Evaluate security controls: An external network penetration test also seeks to evaluate the effectiveness of an organization’s existing security controls and tools. This includes testing the strength of firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and other security technologies to determine if they are capable of detecting and mitigating attacks.
- Test incident response: An external network penetration test can also help organizations test their incident response capabilities. By simulating an attack, organizations can evaluate how well their security team is able to detect, respond to, and contain a breach.
- Provide recommendations: Finally, the objective of an external network penetration test is to provide recommendations for addressing vulnerabilities and improving the overall security posture of the organization. This may involve implementing additional security controls, upgrading software or hardware, or conducting employee training to improve security awareness.
External network penetration testing is a security assessment that aims to identify and exploit vulnerabilities in an organization’s external network defenses. Its primary objectives are to identify weaknesses in internet-facing applications, systems, and services, evaluate the effectiveness of existing security controls, test incident response capabilities, and provide recommendations for improvement. By achieving these objectives, organizations can strengthen their external network defenses, reduce the risk of cyber-attacks, improve their overall security posture, and give their customers a sense of security.
If this article was helpful and insightful for you, check out our Web application penetration tests research post for more information on penetration testing!
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