Penetration Testing for Compliance: Why It’s Essential for Your Organization’s Security, Not Just for Compliance

Pen testing regulation not just compliance (1)

Roy Golombick

July 24, 2023

Penetration testing is a process of testing your organization’s security by simulating an attack. Many organizations conduct pen testing as part of their compliance requirements. However, you should not view pen testing as just a compliance checkbox item. It is an essential tool for keeping your organization secure.

Pen Testing – Why is it Important?

Pen testing is primarily important because it helps identify vulnerabilities in your organization’s systems and networks. Ethical hackers employ a myriad of testing techniques to pinpoint weaknesses and potential targets for attackers. Pen testing can also help your organization identify vulnerabilities that may not be apparent through traditional security measures like EDRs and firewalls. Identifying these vulnerabilities empowers organizations to take preemptive action, addressing weaknesses before malicious actors exploit them.

For these reasons, many regulations actually require organizations to perform periodic penetration tests. While this in itself is a very positive step, many organizations that do not fully comprehend the importance and benefits of pen testing may strive to just achieving the “bare minimum” required to achieve compliance.

The Difference Between Compliance and Security

Compliance and security are two different concepts that are often used interchangeably. While compliance refers to adhering to regulatory standards and industry frameworks, security focuses on implementing effective technical controls to protect company assets. While many may think that compliance is designed to ensure maximum security, it’s often just a bare minimum requirement and doesn’t really reflect achievement even of a minimal acceptable security posture.

Compliance as a Minimum Requirement

All organizations usually have minimum compliance requirements in order to operate successfully and avoid incurring monetary penalties. Compliance audits are conducted to ensure that a business’s security practices and processes meet regulatory and industry standards.

However, ensuring compliance does not automatically guarantee an organization’s security. Compliance standards are often minimum requirements, and may not cover all organization’s potential risks and vulnerabilities. Audits usually verify an organization’s policies and procedures without necessarily evaluating their effective implementation or risk mitigation.

Going Beyond Compliance

To truly protect their assets and data, organizations must go beyond compliance and implement effective security controls. Penetration testing is a critical tool that can help organizations identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in their security posture.

Good pen testers usually have a strong offensive cybersecurity background, enabling them to understand how a potential attacker would think and what they would typically look for. Pen testing involves simulating an attack on an organization’s systems and infrastructure to identify potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Knowing the mindset of your attacker helps to go beyond testing minimal policies and security controls.

For example, let’s say a new vulnerability may surfaces in a software that your organization uses. The gap between its discovery and the completion of its patching, plus its inclusion in regulatory checklists, could stretch from months to even a year. This duration offers attackers a window to design exploits for these vulnerabilities, which poses a threat to your organization, leaving it open and vulnerable to breaches. All this while your organization has completed its penetration testing for compliance with flying colors.

When Do We Need Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing requirements naturally differ between organizations and depend on your companies information systems architecture. However, there are some universal guidelines that most organizations can agree upon, where it more than makes sense to include penetration testing as an integral part of your work flow.

After System Changes

Whenever your organization makes significant changes to its systems or applications, it should conduct a pen test to ensure that the changes have not introduced any vulnerabilities. For example, if an organization adds a new feature to its web application, testing requirements should be designed to ensure that the new feature does not introduce any security vulnerabilities.

Before Major Deployments

Your organization should proactively perform  conduct a penetration test to uncover any vulnerabilities before deploying a new system or application. This proactive measure helps fortify the new system or application against potential attacker exploits before its deployment.

Regularly Scheduled Testing

Your organization should conduct penetration testing and vulnerability management on a regular basis to ensure that your systems and applications remain secure. The frequency of the penetration testing should depend on the size and complexity of your organization’s systems and applications, as well as the level of risk that your organization faces. For example, a financial institution may require penetration testing on a monthly basis, while a small business may choose to only conduct tests on a quarterly on annual basis.

In Conclusion

Penetration testing is an essential part of your organization’s security strategy. Conducting penetration tests after system changes, before major deployments, and routinely, actively minimizes your organization’s susceptibility to vulnerabilities, thwarting potential exploits by attackers. Organizations should conduct penetration testing not just to tick a box on their compliance check sheet, but to guarantee that their information security stack is always up-to-date and no vulnerabilities have been recently introduced.

OP Innovate provides custom tailored penetration testing services, conducted by world-class offensive security professionals. In addition, OP Innovate has developed WASP, and automated penetration testing and vulnerability scanning platform, designed to constantly monitor and ensure that the organization is always fully secured.

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