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Pen Testing – let me explain

1st May 2024 | Modified: 22nd April 2024

Categories: Security

Reading Time: 5 minutes

“Pen” or penetration testing is essentially about stress testing the perimeter walls of your business’s IT defences”

In the IT industry, we have a penchant for acronyms. If we can condense the name of a service, product, or piece of equipment into just three letters, we’re as happy as a lark. So, when an IT engineer says they’re “Pen testing,” ordinary mortals would be right to wonder at first if they’re evaluating an oversized Mont Blanc Meisterstuck, against a Parker 51 perhaps?

pen testing

Security vulnerability assessment

“Pen” or penetration testing is essentially about stress testing the perimeter walls of your business’s IT defences. It’s a real-world simulation of your network security posture. It aims to gain insight as to how well your IT defences would hold up if your business were to come under a cyber-attack.


In today’s business landscape, with the rise of cyber criminals looking to steal or hold your company to ransom, doing business has become as much about protecting your digital assets from theft as it has about doing business. So how do you use pen testing to protect business, especially as cyber security is becoming more of a challenge as threat actors get more sophisticated in their attacks?

It’s about where and what your weak points are"


How does pen testing work

With IT expertise getting increasingly sophisticated, it’s often the case that a business may not have the necessary expertise and resources to check its own network – and anyhow there is a wisdom in letting someone else mark your homework for you. So that you don’t miss any areas because of familiarity, because hackers won’t miss it.  


When commissioned, a skilled engineer or pen tester will try to break into your network, applications, servers and any other components you may have, with the express aim of finding any gaps in your infrastructure’s armour that a bad actor might exploit.


  1. It’s a comprehensive test of everything within your IT environment: wireless databases, firewalls, all of it. The engineer is looking objectively to determine just how easily your internal and external networks indeed all your mission-critical applications can compromised
  2. Whilst human experts will test and look for any kind of vulnerabilities that you might have, the test is both a manual and automated pen test. What that means is that in the background, they will use automated tools to scan for any inherent weaknesses using machine learning and AI

Pen tests reveal hidden vulnerabilities that might not be immediately apparent"


Check the scope

Before setting off on a pen test, it’s best to define the scope of the test. Which networks, applications or systems you will want to target during the test? Every company is different, each will have unique security priorities and specific concerns about what business-critical digital assets the test must check for.

IT Server

What does a pen test tell me about my business?

At the conclusion of a penetration test, the report will provide you with invaluable insight into your systems’ security. A typical outline would include:


  1. Specific Vulnerabilities: It will reveal key components like weak passwords, unpatched software, lack of network segmentation, any form of social engineering in place, weak authentication systems, misconfigured systems, any vulnerabilities that allow attackers to inject any malicious script, lack of encryption, or weak mobile device security.


  1. Sensitive Data Access: It will almost certainly reveal any kind of sensitive data that the test has been able to access. For example, customer data, staff information, suppliers, or financial information files. Knowing where the tester has been able to enter, will help to shut down any points of entry on your network.


  1. Covert Breach Period: This expression refers to the length of time the pen tester was able to remain as an unauthorised intrusion breach, undetected on your network. It highlights the stealth nature of the attack, perpetrated by a potential cyber-criminal. It’s important to understand this element, as it reveals the effectiveness of your monitoring and detection mechanisms.


  1. Response Evaluation: How did you do during the attack by the tester? How quickly did your incident response protocols kick into place and were they effective? What damage was done or not? How could you do better next time?

Cyber attacks gone mad

Currently, it’s thought that only 54% of businesses have acted to identify or put into place a range of security measures in the last 12 months. UK government figures for 2023, reveal that 32% of businesses and 24% of charities had identified a cyber-attack in the last year alone.


Regularity compliance gets tough

Certain industries fall under statutory and specific regulatory frameworks of compliance with very clear rules as to how and what must be done, along with the conditions of the testing and how often those tests are performed.


However, while your business may not be subject to such intense scrutiny, it’s essential to recognise that network security requirements are increasingly becoming a strategic consideration for companies when choosing business partners.


Imagine a scenario where a company diligently adheres to a robust security mandate, but its supplier partner operates without any regulations. Such a situation could jeopardise the relationship, as companies now scrutinise their entire business ecosystem up and downstream to ensure they remain impervious to cyber threats from any business association.


As a business, you must protect sensitive data, whether that’s employee information, financial records, customer details or supplier records, compliance is becoming hyper-important. Penetration testing will help you to identify those areas where your data might be at risk, thus ensuring that you reach any regulatory standard that is set within your business sector.

computer programmer

It’s better to find your network weaknesses before attackers do so"


Cyber security is an ongoing process. Making it a part of your business journey means keeping vigilant, being proactive and adapting your security defences around emerging threats.


Cybercriminals are not ones to rest, so pen testing is an effective method in helping you prioritise what security defences you need to put in place to protect your digital assets alongside your business goals. On this occasion, you could absolutely say that the pen is mightier than the sword.


To find out more about how CNC can improve your business cyber security, contact the team at: or call us on 01273 384100.

Pen Testing – let me explain

By Gary Jowett

Gary has always focused on making sure the most appropriate solution is provided to help customers, not just what's new and shiny. With over 30 years in the IT industry Gary has the experience to tell the difference between something that's game-changing or is just a passing fad!


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