Tuesday, November 28, 2023

What is External Penetration Testing?

Table Of Contents

    External penetration testing isn't just about protecting your applications and APIs - it should be a key part of a multifaceted security strategy that has far-reaching benefits. It aids in risk mitigation by identifying and remedying vulnerabilities promptly.

    External pen testing reduces the likelihood of cyber-attacks and potential data breaches from an external point of contact for the software. Moreover, it ensures compliance with industry-specific regulatory standards.

    Essentially, there are two types of penetration tests: Internal penetration testing and external pen testing. Both types of tests are performed by an accreditedpen testing company.

    External penetration testing focuses on assessing the vulnerabilities of externally accessible assets like web apps, mobile apps and may also coverAPI security. Whereas, internal penetration testing assesses the security firewalls from within an organization's internal network.

    Your cyber security strategy should include both internal penetration testing and external penetration testing techniques and automated testing tools. Both are vital for the optimal security of your applications. Let me tell you what is an external pen test.

    What is an external penetration test?

    External penetration testing essentially focuses on assessing the defence mechanisms of externally accessible assets, such as web apps, servers, and network devices. The primary goal while conducting external penetration testing should be to mimic the tactics employed by hackers or attackers attempting to exploit vulnerabilities and gain unauthorized access to sensitive information.

    During an external penetration test, ethical hackers, often referred to as "white hat" hackers, use a combination of automated tools and manual testing techniques to identify weaknesses in the target's defences. They simulate various attack scenarios, including phishing attacks, network intrusion attempts, and attempts to exploit vulnerabilities in software applications.

    External Penetration Testing v/s External Vulnerability Scan

    Understanding the differences between external penetration testing and external vulnerability scans is necessary for you to tailor your cybersecurity initiatives based on specific needs and objectives. Here are some of the major differences that you need to know about external penetration testing and external vulnerability assessment.

    External Penetration Testing

    • Proactive Attack Simulation: External penetration testing mimics the tactics of malicious actors, providing a proactive assessment of an organization's security posture.

    • Comprehensive Testing Methodology: External penetration testing evaluates the effectiveness of security controls, response mechanisms, and the overall resilience of external systems.

    • Focuses on Risk Mitigation: The primary goal of external penetration testing is to identify and address security vulnerabilities before they can be exploited, thereby reducing the risk of cyber-attacks and data breaches.

    External Vulnerability Scan

    • Systematic Scanning: External vulnerability assessments use automated tools to scan external networks, applications, and infrastructure for known vulnerabilities.

    • Inventory Creation: The focus is on creating a comprehensive inventory of vulnerabilities, providing a snapshot of potential weaknesses for your applications.

    • Focuses on Remediation: Issues identified during vulnerability scanning are typically ranked based on their severity, aiding organizations in prioritizing remediation efforts.

    For vulnerability scanning and remediation, you can add Cyber Chief to your software development and security management pipeline. This automated vulnerability scanning tool can schedule and scan your applications and provide you with a details analysis report once the scans are done.

    It also provides possible remediations that you can use for fixing the security issues in your software code. The code snippets are provided in .net, JAVA, and other coding languages, making it easy for your developers to use the remediations just as they are.

    Pentest-as-a-Service is the modern approach to penetration testing that will save your devs weeks of time and give you an outsized ROI. Find out if it works for you.

    What is an external network penetration test?

    External penetration test includes the simulation of cyber-attacks on external-facing systems, such as web applications, servers, and network infrastructure. External web app and mobile app penetration testing assist security professionals in identifying vulnerabilities and fixing them before they can be exploited for sensitive data.

    1. Identification

    The first step in an external penetration test involves defining the scope of the test. In this security professionals determine the target system, and outline the rules of engagement. This is necessary for a comprehensive assessment while respecting legal and ethical boundaries in an external pen test.

    2. Information Gathering

    Next, the penetration tester and security team will utilise various tools and manual techniques to gather information about the target. They will perform external web application penetration testing by mimicking the reconnaissance phase of a real-world cyber-attack. This helps them to identify potential entry points for attackers.

    3. Vulnerability Assessment

    A combination of automated tools and manual testing is employed for vulnerability assessment in the external network pen test. Vulnerability scanning includes an assessment of the security weaknesses of web applications, firewalls, routers, and other components that face the internet.

    Cyber Chief is a vulnerability assessment tool that can help your devs patch vulnerabilities & give them on-demand coaching from AppSec experts when they need it. Want to try it out?

    4. Exploitation of Vulnerabilities

    Once vulnerabilities are identified, the penetration tester attempts to exploit them, simulating real-world cyber-attacks. This phase helps to understand the impact of potential security breaches and identifies the efficacy of existing security controls.

    5. Reporting

    The last and final step in external penetration testing is generating a detailed report. This includes the identified vulnerabilities and recommended remediation measures. This information will act as a blueprint for your developers and security teams to address weaknesses and strengthen their security posture.

    What are the benefits of external penetration testing?

    1. Risk Mitigation

    One of the major aspects of software security testing is the timely identification and remediation of vulnerabilities. External network penetration testing helps you to stay one step ahead of any hackers trying to exploit these vulnerabilities. This helps in reducing the risk of cyber-attacks and potential data breaches.

    2. Compliance Assurance

    External penetration testing helps you and your development team in meeting stringent regulatory and compliance requirements. This practice helps you adhere to industry standards and cybersecurity practices.

    Shifting left by working with a pen testing company for external penetration testing can help you develop a culture of compliance regulatory compliance during the development stages of building your applications. 

    3. Trust Building:

    Regular testing and enhancement of security measures build confidence among your customers and stakeholders. This is vital for maintaining a secure and resilient security for your web applications, mobile apps and APIs. So that your users can transact and interact with confidence.

    4. Save Money

    Too many people focus on avoiding fines and regulatory penalties when it comes to application security. And yes, while we all want to avoid such stigma-inducing incidents, that's not the best measure of ROI for your penetration testing investment.

    From working with security-concious customers all over the world we've seen that the the real ROI from AppSec investments comes from being able to find and patch vulnerabilities quickly, without disrupting your team's natural workflow and cadence.

    What does this mean? Counter-intuitively it means that the more smaller pieces of security work that you do, the less overall time your team will spend on security. This time saving is a bigger ROI than not having to pay fines ever will be - because your people are your most important, but also most expensive, assets.

    To validate this, Gartner predicts that by 2026 those companies that have invested in autoamted penetration testing as a service (PTaaS) capability will complete 10x the amount of security activity, but will spend on only half the time overall, as those companies that are using outdated approaches.

    Want to see how you can implement an AppSec structure where your team patches more vulnerabilities without spending more time on security? Book a discovery call to learn more.

    5. Reputation Management

    A strong cybersecurity posture adds up to positive reputation management. Organizations that are known to prioritize external penetration testing understand the importance and value of committing to protecting the sensitive information of their customers.

    Conducting manual penetration testing once or twice a year might not be the best solution for your apps if they handle sensitive data. It is recommended that you shift left and add automated penetrating testing or vulnerability scanning tools to your software development framework.

    One of the best vulnerability scanning tools that you can use is Cyber Chief. It will help protect your web and mobile apps, and APIs and maintain cloud posture security using one tool. So, instead of waiting for your yearly penetration testing procedure, you can continuously monitor the security of your applications.

    Cyber Chief is a 3-in-1 developer-friendly tool that has a user-friendly interface making it easy for your developers to navigate through the tools and conduct security tests.

    Why is external penetration testing important?

    External penetration testing provides insights into the effectiveness of the overall security architecture. The security vulnerabilities evaluation helps organizations craft their security strategies, to protect their apps and software against a large number of cyber threats.

    Want to get a VAPT report + automated security testing capability + on-demand security coaching for your devs? Book a discovery call to find out how.

    Collaborating with a security assessment company that provides pentest as a service can be helpful in creating a comprehensive inventory of assets connected to your external network. They can perform external penetration testing reducing the attack surface and providing you with a thorough security management framework.

    As data protection laws are getting more stringent with each passing day, external penetration testing methodology will help you adhere to the latest standards for cyber security. This will ensure security assessment for your applications and cloud security.

    Additionally, external penetration tests serve as a real-world simulation of cyber attacks. This allows you and your development team to thoroughly assess and refine your incident response plans.

    The findings from the external penetration test also provide a blueprint for prioritizing and addressing web app vulnerability issues based on their severity. This preparedness will be beneficial for you to respond promptly in the event of a security breach.

    What's the Next Step?

    Web application security is not a one-time fix. With the increasing cyber threats and attacks becoming more complex with each passing day, combining manual penetration testing techniques and automated security assessment tools is the best way to move forward.

    Automated vulnerability assessment tools such as Cyber Chief will help with security testing so that your penetration testers can focus on critical vulnerabilities. Why not try it with a free account?

    SaaS Brief