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    How to Test Cyber Security

    A woman wearing earbuds sits in front of a computer with the words "How to Test Cyber Security"

    Managing a technology infrastructure can be challenging, especially without an in-house internet technology (IT) team. Even with an IT department, you can easily miss threats and vulnerabilities. IT cybersecurity testing methods offer the extra level of protection companies need to keep data secure.

    Cybercrime attacks are multifaceted, with different hacks, tools and programs being used. Ninety-three percent of cybercriminals can penetrate company networks. They gain network perimeter and access local resources amongst a mix of industries. On average, it can take a hacker 2 days to get in. Research shows that 43% of cyberattacks are aimed at small businesses, but only 14% can defend themselves. An alarming 84% of attacks are distributed by email as more and more people access it through their mobile.

    Working with a third-party cybersecurity agency is an accessible way to employ cybersecurity testing. Below, you can learn more about cybersecurity testing and how an IT company can perform security testing to safeguard your company’s information.

    What Is Cybersecurity Testing?

    The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) researches cybercrime every year. In 2020, compromises to business email alone accounted for more than $1.8 billion lost. That’s not to mention the numerous other business aspects that cyber threats can impact. 2022 had the second-highest number of data compromises in a single yea with at least 42 million impacted, according to the Identity Theft Research Center (ITRC). The potential total loss increased to $10.2 billion in 2022 overall. Of that, $2.7 billion was business email compromise. With the many risks of security vulnerabilities, cybersecurity tests are valuable to businesses of all sizes.

    This testing assesses and measures security vulnerabilities in a computer system to determine how effective a strategy is at preventing an attack. IT professionals specializing in network security manage cybersecurity tests to gauge their results. The cybersecurity testing approach incorporates various methodologies to find weaknesses in a security strategy.

    These cybersecurity assessment-type strategies have developed over time as technology became more advanced and threats became more common. For example, antivirus software became one of the first methods of defense against malicious attacks, and we still count on it and similar strategies today to protect our computers from malware and other unwanted security threats.

    While it’s wise to use basic antivirus software to detect suspicious behaviors on your computer, it’s not an airtight method. Even though basic subscription services can put a stop to a range of threats, they won’t stop every single one. There’s far more to cybersecurity than putting a stop to viruses.

    As an example, phishing is a common cause of network security breaches. This type of threat comes in the form of an email or other digital message that tricks users into clicking an included link. These attacks usually involve a hacker posing as a reputable site to get link interaction. Another common threat is ransomware, where hackers gain access to sensitive data or complete databases and hold it at a ransom.

    These cybersecurity threats are present at all times, and a few simple software programs won’t stop them — which is why security testing is done. With cybersecurity testing, professionals can detect the gaps before they turn into costly vulnerabilities.

    What Are the Different Types of Cybersecurity Testing?

    The need for cybersecurity testing is clear, and IT professionals use a range of methods to address potential threats and strengthen a company’s infrastructure. Consider that four out of 10 businesses have experienced fraud between 2020 and 2022. Hackers and organized cybercrime groups were the biggest threat, with 31% being hackers and 28% organized crime. Understanding the different testing methods can help you create an organized strategy for your cybersecurity approach.

    The best way to use cybersecurity testing methods is to create a schedule for various tests to keep your security systems robust and up to date. Explore the different cybersecurity methods and testing processes to find out what processes your company may benefit from most.

    1. Cybersecurity Audit

    A cybersecurity audit is designed to be a comprehensive overview of your network, looking for vulnerabilities as it assesses whether your system is compliant with relevant regulations. These audits usually give companies a proactive approach to the security design process. Once they know what gaps they need to fill, they can design a security setup with more intention.

    Independent IT professionals usually conduct audits to eliminate any conflict of interest. Sometimes, they’re handled internally, but it’s a rare occurrence. There’s a range of regulated procedures used in an audit to ensure IT professionals assess every area of a security system.

    A complete audit process covers substantial ground, and it usually starts with a review of a company’s data security policies. During the review, professionals will consider how policies support the confidentiality, availability and integrity of a company’s data. Creating a wide few of security environments gives IT professionals a sense of what needs the most attention.

    Other processes in an audit may include compiling a list of relevant security regulations for a company and building a network map to see how every system connects. IT auditing professionals will work closely with cybersecurity personnel in the company to ensure all responsibilities are clear within the enterprise.

    Many factors can affect how often a business opts for a cybersecurity audit, but doing so annually is generally recommended. As a rule, companies should also employ audits when they’ve altered their network setups, introduced new software, expanded or made any other significant changes to their technology ecosystem.

    Note that industries with higher compliance requirements such as HIPAA compliance may choose to do more audits throughout the year to align with relevant standards and regulations. Additionally, budget restraints may determine how often a business chooses to conduct a security audit.

    2. Penetration Test

    Often called pen testing, penetration testing is a form of ethical hacking. During a pen test, IT professionals intentionally launch a cyberattack on a system to access or exploit applications, websites and networks. The main objective of a pen test is to identify areas of weakness in a security system.

    The specific goals of a pen test depend on the area professionals hack. In the case of networks, the aim is to calibrate firewall rules, close unused ports and eliminate any loopholes. For websites, professionals want to identify and report notable vulnerabilities like cross-site scripting and buffer overflow.

    There are several methods of to test a network security with penetration testing, and the type that IT workers use will depend on an organization’s goals and security concerns:

    • Internal tests: These pen tests are performed within a company’s environment and simulate events where a hacker penetrates the network perimeter or an authorized user abuses access to private data.
    • External tests: IT professionals perform external tests by hacking a network perimeter through an outside source, like the Internet.
    • Blind tests: In a blind test, testers will simulate the actions of a real hacker. IT professionals go into the process with little to no information about a company’s security infrastructure, and they attempt to access the network perimeter. During the test, they rely on third-party online information to access the network, which can reveal how much private information is readily available to the public.
    • Double-blind tests: This test is similar to a blind test, but members in the company, like IT personnel, are unaware of the penetration test. This method tests threat identification processes and associated procedures to determine how well they can hold up against a hacker.
    • Targeted tests: Unlike blind tests, targeted tests require complete transparency. IT teams are involved in the process to address specific concerns about a network. These tests take less time to execute, but they may not provide a full picture of a company’s cybersecurity.

    Typically, businesses should perform penetration tests annually or after any major changes to network infrastructure.

    3. Vulnerability Scan

    A vulnerability scan is the process of identifying security weaknesses in systems and software with the goal of protecting an organization from breaches. This scan is often confused with penetration testing because they have similar functions. However, they’re different.

    While pen testing involves simulated hacking that can locate the root cause of gaps, vulnerability scanning is an automated test that simply identifies gaps. IT professionals use designated software to identify vulnerabilities. These scanners create an inventory for all systems and run them against a database of known vulnerabilities to see potential matches. At the end of the scan, known vulnerabilities will be highlighted for a company to handle.

    There are several vulnerabilities a scan might identify within a network. In 2020, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) identified the most encountered vulnerabilities. The most common vulnerability they found was remote code execution (RCE). This vulnerability involves a hacker running code of any kind with system-level privileges on networks with the required weaknesses.

    In 2022, research showed that 83% of organizations have experienced more than one data breach. The biggest culprit was ransomware, which served by 15%. While the global average cost of a data breach reached $4.35 million, the number is more than double in the US.

    Other vulnerabilities include:

    • Arbitrary code execution: An attacker can run commands or code on a vulnerable device.
    • Arbitrary file reading: An attacker can read or write any content in a file system.
    • Path traversal: A vulnerability that gives attackers access to unauthorized files.

    4. Security Scan

    A security or configuration scan searches for misconfiguration in a system. A misconfiguration is an incorrect or suboptimal design of a system or system component that can lead to vulnerabilities. A misconfiguration occurs when security systems aren’t defined or the default values aren’t maintained.

    Unfortunately, hackers know misconfigurations are easy to detect. Typically, exploited misconfigurations can lead to high-volume data leakage that can cause harm to businesses.

    Common misconfigurations include:

    • Default account settings
    • Unencrypted files
    • Unpatched systems
    • Outdated web apps
    • Insufficient firewall

    These incorrect designs can classify as a vulnerability that may be identified during a vulnerability scan. However, security scans operate under the intention of only looking for misconfigurations, making them a more pointed cybersecurity test.

    As more applications shift to the cloud, misconfigurations are easy to overlook. Many misconfigurations come from the cloud and hybrid environments brought about by an increase in remote workforces. Research conducted by Gartner claims that 99% of cloud misconfigurations through 2025 will be the customer’s fault.

    That said, companies have complete oversight into network configurations — it’s a matter of paying attention to them. Among all other IT demands, it can be easy to miss them, even though they’re easy to address. This fact is the reason security scans are essential to companies’ cybersecurity frameworks.

    Considering the ease of overlooking misconfigurations, performing regular security scans can give your team the foresight it needs to secure its network. While annual security scans are a smart move, you may choose to conduct them more frequently. Performing them a few times a year can help your company keep up with possible vulnerabilities.

    5. Risk Assessment

    A cybersecurity risk assessment analyzes the various security controls in an organization

    cybersecurity risk assessment is a process that analyzes the various security controls in an organization and what possible threats can occur within them. These assessments are comprehensive processes that assess existing risks and create strategies for mitigating them.

    The information assets that are vulnerable to risks include hardware, software, intellectual property, customer data and more. There are four essential steps to a risk assessment:

    1. Identify: The first step is about identifying all essential assets in your company’s technology infrastructure. IT professionals will determine all sensitive data associated with said assets and create a profile of risks for each one.
    2. Assess: IT team members will evaluate risk levels and determine how many resources a company will need to dedicate to risk mitigation. This step aims to find the relationship between vulnerabilities, assets and mitigation.
    3. Mitigate: The risk assessment team will create a plan for risk mitigation and enforce security controls for all identified risks.
    4. Prevent: A company’s personnel will enforce ongoing mitigation by implementing designated tools and processes to minimize threats as they arise.

    According to priorities, risk assessment teams will roll out mitigation and prevention. Some risks will pose more potential harm than others, making mitigation critical. As a general rule, companies should conduct risk assessments at least once yearly. These assessments should also occur when your business changes its technology infrastructure, which may include cloud migration, new applications or large expansions.

    6. Posture Assessment

    A posture assessment is the best initial test among the security testing methods because it can guide your approach to security. This assessment refers to your cybersecurity posture — the strength of your protocols and controls at preventing cyber threats.

    IT professionals perform posture assessments through a range of processes that look at internal and external factors. Unlike audits or pen tests, posture assessments can provide definite guidance for improving cybersecurity maturity. This guidance often seeks to maximize return-on-investment (ROI) for security protocols.

    These assessments can use a combination of methods like ethical hacking, security scanning and risk assessments to define security posture to:

    • Identify and address the value of company data
    • Define threat exposure and risks
    • Evaluate if appropriate security methods are in place
    • Recommend a concrete plan for strengthening defenses

    Conducting posture assessments can be a wise move in a variety of circumstances — you can conduct them to optimize ROI, get started with a new strategy, prepare for organizational changes or address security gaps. While you may not need to perform them regularly, they’re an excellent option for companies of all sizes.

    Contact Ascendant for Cybersecurity Solutions TodayIT professionals with a tablet and the words "Contact Ascendant for Cybersecurity Solutions Today"

    Partnering with a reliable third-party IT agency is the key to effective security testing tools and methods. At Ascendant, we work with you to bring cybersecurity tests to your technology infrastructure. Our services include the whole circle, from managed IT, to security and cloud computing. We can support you in your IT goals and focus on customizing your IT management strategy.

    With our cybersecurity consultations, we can employ the appropriate solutions for your business. Let us act as an extension to your existing IT team or support you completely. To learn more about our capabilities, get in touch with one of our professionals today — we look forward to partnering with you!