Updated: Dec 2
Many Small and Medium Business (SMB) owners associate "penetration testing" with high-tech espionage or intricate cyber operations. Although known as "pen testing" or "ethical hacking," this approach is crucial to protecting your business's digital assets and the first line of defence to protect your apps against increasing cyber-attacks. This guide explains penetration testing and how SMBs can apply it to their businesses using their resources optimally.
Penetration Testing for SMBs - What can you expect
Truth Behind Two Popular Cyber Attacks
In 2023, two well-known entities, Discord.io and Duolingo, faced cyber-attacks that sent shockwaves through the online community.
Discord.io, a platform cherished by many for creating personalized Discord invites, suffered a major breach with a database containing the personal information of over 760,000 Discord.io users put up for sale on the dark web. The breach was genuine, and the hacker used a simple web vulnerability to breach the platform. The breach of course impacted the users who needed to secure their data but caused the platform to shut down and is unavailable now..
Duolingo’s, the beloved language-learning app, scraped data of 2.6 million Duolingo users was leaked on a hacking forum. This breach was caused by an unprotected API and a potential goldmine for threat actors to conduct targeted phishing attacks. Millions of eager learners, who had trusted the platform with their data, were now at risk.
These incidents serve as stark reminders of the vulnerabilities lurking in our application while we continue to build at an unprecedented pace. The question remains: are we building with security in mind? For most platforms, the bar to breach seems perilously low and it is no longer just a technical glitch; it's a breach of trust, reputation, and, often, a company's very future.
The key takeaway? You could be a popular app but a small security lapse is all it takes!
What is Penetration Testing? A Simple Explanation
Penetration testing, often termed "pen testing" or "ethical hacking," is where experts mimic cyberattacks on systems, networks, or applications to pinpoint vulnerabilities. Through this process, they might uncover ways to bypass user authentication, detect unauthorized access to APIs, and open ports, or even find instances where entire databases can be dumped due to unprotected or unvalidated inputs.
Addressing these vulnerabilities is crucial, ensuring that businesses can fend off real-world cyber threats and safeguard their digital assets.
Simplified Explanation for SMB Owners
Penetration testing is like a health check-up for your business's digital presence. Just as you'd visit a doctor to catch potential health issues before they become severe, you conduct penetration tests to catch and fix digital vulnerabilities before hackers can exploit them.
Five Reasons For SMB Owners To Prioritize Penetration Testing
An SMB owner has too many conflicting priorities, there’s a business to run, too many daily decisions - so, why should penetration testing be on your priority list?
Here are five compelling reasons:
Protection Against Financial Loss
Cyberattacks can be costly. From ransom payments to system repairs and potential lawsuits, the financial implications can be devastating for SMBs.
Trust is hard to build but easy to lose. A single security breach can erode the trust you've cultivated with your customers over years.
Many industries have regulations requiring businesses to maintain certain security standards. Non-compliance can result in hefty fines.
In the world of cybersecurity, a reactive approach can be disastrous. Waiting for a breach to happen before taking action can be too late.
Peace of Mind
As an SMB owner, you have countless responsibilities. Worrying about potential cyber threats shouldn't be one of them.
Penetration testing helps SMBs find and fix their weaknesses before they are exploited. This prevents expensive data breaches and shows that they care about data security. This not only gives people peace of mind that their data is safe, but also makes sure that security standards in the industry are met. In the end, when digital assets are safe, SMBs can run their businesses without worry and focus on growing their businesses.
Let’s Dive Deeper Into Types of Penetration Testing
For SMB owners, understanding the nuances of these tests can be overwhelming - let's explore the various types of penetration tests. A business could decide to use one, or more approaches to penetration testing and is not necessary to perform all of them or in any order.
A multi-layered attack simulation conducted by highly specialized security professionals. They emulate real-world attackers, targeting all aspects of your business to identify vulnerabilities.
Why It's Important for SMBs: Red teaming provides a holistic view of your organization's security posture, revealing how well your business can defend against and respond to sophisticated attacks.
Black Box Testing
Testers have no prior knowledge of your infrastructure. They approach your systems as a genuine outsider, much like a real attacker would.
Why It's Important for SMBs: This offers an unbiased assessment of your external defenses, highlighting vulnerabilities that might be evident to potential attackers.
White Box Testing
Testers are given complete knowledge of your systems, including architecture and source code. This allows for a thorough and detailed examination of your entire digital landscape.
Why It's Important for SMBs: With full access, testers can identify both external and internal vulnerabilities, ensuring a comprehensive security review.
This focuses on the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that are the backbone of most businesses. APIs allow different software applications to communicate, and they can be vulnerable to attacks.
Why It's Important for SMBs: As businesses increasingly rely on integrated systems and third-party applications, ensuring the security of APIs is crucial to prevent data breaches and maintain system integrity.
Gray Box Testing
A hybrid approach where testers have partial knowledge of your systems. It combines elements of both black and white box testing.
Why It's Important for SMBs: Gray box testing ensures that vulnerabilities are identified from both an insider and outsider perspective, offering a balanced security assessment.
Tools, Skills, and Processes: The Essentials for SMBs to Run Penetration Tests
So, now that you have the basics, how do you get started. Do you need specialists, or is this something you can do on your own. The below section gives you an idea of how you can get started either on your own, or engage with specialists and then make it part of your process.
Tools for Penetration Testing
Metasploit, Wireshark, Nmap: Widely used for functionalities ranging from vulnerability scanning to packet analysis.
SQLMap: An open-source tool that detects and exploits SQL injection flaws.
ZAP Proxy: An open-source web application security scanner.
GitHub Repos: Numerous repositories offer payload testing tools and scripts, aiding in vulnerability discovery.
Postman: Useful for API testing and development.
SAST Tools: Static Application Security Testing tools analyze source code for vulnerabilities.
Burp Suite Pro, Acunetix: Comprehensive features with detailed reports.
Cloud Security Tooling: Platforms like AWS, Google Cloud, and Azure offer built-in security tools to safeguard cloud assets.
Ethical Hacking Knowledge: Familiarity with techniques and tactics, bolstered by certifications like Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) and Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP).
Continuous Learning: Stay updated with credible cyber security sites for the latest threats and techniques.
Processes to Follow
Planning: Define the test's scope and boundaries.
Execution: Ensure controlled environments for testing to prevent disruptions.
Continuous Tests: Regularly scheduled tests to stay ahead of evolving threats.
Pen Testing as a Service: Consider subscription-based services for ongoing security assessments.
Security in the Dev Pipeline: Integrate security checks into the software development lifecycle.
Vendor Collaboration: When working with external penetration testing vendors, ensure transparency, clear reporting levels, and defined next steps post-assessment.
Reporting & Remediation: Document findings and address vulnerabilities. Retest post-remediation to confirm security.
How To Prioritize Effectively With Limited Resources?
Next, you need to understand how to prioritize key security aspects, ensuring your application's foundation is robust. Below are some of the top areas to check for security vulnerabilities before moving on, and once you understand the same can be applied to other aspects. This is by no means comprehensive but a starting point.
Authentication and Authorization
Ensure users are verified (authentication) and given appropriate access (authorization). Implement multi-factor authentication and regularly review user permissions.
Guard against attacks like SQL injections by validating user inputs and using parameterized queries.
APIs connect parts of your application. Secure them with authentication tokens and ensure data transmission is encrypted.
Headers can reveal server details. Use security headers like CSP and HSTS to prevent potential exploits.
Regularly scan for open ports. Close unnecessary ones and fortify those that remain open.
Public Data Management
Monitor what data is publicly accessible. Encrypt sensitive information and monitor for unauthorized access.
Regularly Update and Patch
Outdated software and systems are prime targets for cyber attackers. They exploit known vulnerabilities in older versions to gain unauthorized access.
Integrate Security into Development
Embed security checks throughout your development process. Encourage collaboration between developers and security teams.
For those looking to delve deeper into application security, the OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project) provides comprehensive resources and guidelines and is a great place to start.
Guidance: Prioritizing these security flows is essential. But beyond the technical measures, fostering a culture where security is integral to every stage of development ensures long-term protection. These foundational steps set the tone for making security accessible.
Every business, regardless of its size, holds the responsibility of safeguarding its data and, by extension, the trust of its customers. With proactive measures, the right tools, and a commitment to continuous learning, SMBs can secure their digital assets and instill confidence among their stakeholders.
At Buzz, we're dedicated to guiding SMBs on this crucial journey. Connect with us, and let's collaboratively ensure that your digital presence remains secure, trustworthy, and poised for growth.
Ready to take the next step towards a secure digital future?
Talk to us at BUZZ for personalized guidance and support.
Our team of experts is here to assist you, ensuring that your business remains resilient in the face of evolving cyber threats.
Your security is our priority. Let's build a safer digital future together.