In the increasing reliance on computer systems, cyber security testing has become more important in helping to determine if security controls are operating as intended and how well the organization’s information is protected.
Penetration testing, also called pen testing or ethical hacking, is the practice of testing a computer system, network or web application to find security vulnerabilities that an attacker could exploit. Penetration testing can be automated with software applications or performed manually. Either way, the process involves gathering information about the target before the test, identifying possible entry points, attempting to break in — either virtually or for real — and reporting back the findings.
The main objective of penetration testing is to identify security weaknesses. Penetration testing can also be used to test an organization’s security policy, its adherence to compliance requirements, its employees’ security awareness and the organization’s ability to identify and respond to security incidents.
Typically, the information about security weaknesses that are identified or exploited through pen testing is aggregated and provided to the organization’s IT and network system managers, enabling them to make strategic decisions and prioritize remediation efforts.
Penetration tests are also sometimes called white hat attacks because in a pen test, the good guys are attempting to break in.