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Hiring Penetration Testing Services: 7 Things To Consider


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Penetration testing has become a crucial part of any organization's cybersecurity strategy. With data breaches costing companies millions of dollars in losses each year, regularly testing your security defences is no longer optional. Penetration testing, also known as pen testing, is the practice of authorized simulated cyber attacks against computer systems to evaluate their security. The goal is to identify any vulnerabilities that could be exploited by real cybercriminals before they have a chance to breach your systems.


The benefits of pen testing services are immense. They allow organizations to:

  • Discover security weaknesses in your networks, applications, and systems that may be undetected otherwise.

  • Understand the extent of damage that could result from cyber attacks exploiting these vulnerabilities.

  • Make your security posture proactive rather than reactive.

  • Demonstrate compliance with industry regulations around security.

  • Gain visibility into whether your existing cybersecurity practices are effective.


By hiring competent penetration testers to safely simulate real-world attacks, businesses can identify and address security gaps before attackers abuse them. With cyber threats increasing in frequency and severity each year, opting for pen testing services from qualified providers should be a strategic priority for every organization today.


1. Understanding Your Needs

Clearly identifying the specific security vulnerabilities and risks facing your business is crucial when choosing a penetration testing provider. The provider you select should take the time to thoroughly understand your industry, business goals, and technical environment. This allows them to tailor the penetration testing plan and scope of work directly to your organization's needs.


The scope of the penetration test must align with your core business objectives. For example, an e-commerce company will want testing focused on simulating attacks against customer data and financial transactions through its web application. A healthcare provider may prioritize testing its patient records database and legacy systems that store sensitive medical data. Outlining the critical assets, vulnerabilities, and types of attacks you want tested ensures the provider focuses on areas that are most relevant.


A detailed scope of work prevents aimless testing that wastes time and money. It should specify the systems to be tested (web apps, networks, databases etc.), methods and tools to be used (black box, white box, social engineering), types of attacks to simulate (phishing, DDoS etc.), and metrics for success. Having a well-defined scope sets clear expectations for what will be delivered so there are no surprises in the final report. Leading with a discussion of your needs ensures the penetration testing services align tightly with your security and business objectives.


2. Experience and Expertise

When selecting a penetration testing provider, it is crucial to evaluate their experience and expertise. Look for a service provider with a strong track record in your industry along with relevant certifications. This helps demonstrate their capabilities to properly evaluate your unique environment.


Specifically, examine the experience of the actual consultants who will conduct the testing. Many large firms or IT providers trying to branch into security will assign junior team members. Opting for a firm dedicated to penetration testing is advised to get experienced testers.


Relevant certifications like OSCP and OSCE indicate deep technical expertise in penetration testing methodologies. GIAC certifications like GXPN, GWAPT, and GREM validate skills in specific testing techniques. CISSP and CISA certifications demonstrate broad security knowledge. Preference should be given to a firm with multiple certified testers, deep technical expertise for penetration testing and broad knowledge for GRC projects.


General IT providers commonly offer security services despite lacking qualified internal talent. Their staff may have little penetration testing experience. MSPs in particular gain most of their revenue from managed services, not professional services like penetration tests. Verify experience levels if going with your existing IT provider.


The most capable penetration testers have experience across diverse industries, technologies, and testing methodologies. Opt for a provider with proven expertise versus using inexperienced internal personnel or general IT service providers masquerading as security experts.


3. Methodologies and Tools

A key consideration when selecting a penetration testing provider is their technical capabilities. This includes the testing methodologies and tools they utilize during engagements. There are a few main methods for conducting penetration tests:

  • Black box testing: The pentester has no prior knowledge of the system or network being tested. This simulates an external attacker and provides the most comprehensive assessment of an organization's security posture.

  • White box testing: The pentester has full knowledge of and access to the target system. This allows for more efficient testing and validation of known vulnerabilities.

  • Gray box testing: A hybrid approach where the pentester has some information about the target environment but still must discover key details. Often provides a good balance of efficiency and comprehensiveness.


The provider should demonstrate experience with all major testing methodologies to adapt the approach based on client needs and environment complexity. They should also utilize the latest tools and techniques for vulnerability scanning, exploitation, and post-exploitation activities. The best providers actively contribute to the community by developing cutting-edge internal tools and releasing open-source projects. This shows they are at the forefront of the latest attack and defence innovations.


Outdated tools lead to missed vulnerabilities, while advanced tactics help model realistic adversary behaviour. The provider's technical capabilities directly impact the depth and quality of findings they can deliver. Carefully assessing their methodologies and toolsets helps ensure the engagement provides maximum value.


4. Communication and Reporting

Clear communication between the client and penetration testing provider is crucial throughout the entire process. The client should be regularly updated on the progress of the tests, especially if any critical vulnerabilities are discovered that require immediate attention.

The service provider should also be responsive to any requests for information or clarification from the client during the testing period. Establishing clear communication channels helps avoid misalignment between the client's expectations and the tester's activities.


Once the penetration test is complete, the service provider should deliver a comprehensive written report of their findings. This report should avoid technical jargon and clearly highlight the vulnerabilities discovered, along with actionable recommendations for remediation.


An effective report will identify the severity level of each vulnerability, provide specific guidance on how to patch them, and offer advice on improving overall security measures. It may also compare the client's security posture to industry best practices.


The report should focus on delivering strategic insights beyond merely listing technical issues. It serves as a roadmap to help the client improve their cyber defences and resilience. A quality report demonstrates the value derived from the pentest and helps justify the investment in the service.


5. Ethical Considerations

This is an important element of penetration testing that should not be overlooked when choosing a provider. Ethical hacking practices ensure that the security testing is conducted responsibly, without actually compromising the integrity of the systems and data.

The provider should be transparent about their ethical policies and ensure that the scope of the testing activities falls within legal boundaries. Penetration testers often have significant access once they gain entry, so it's crucial that they do not abuse this access or steal data during testing. Never assume a pentester can't get access if it is in scope, all to often there are unknown vulnerabilities.


Responsible providers will obtain written permission for the testing activities and work closely with the organization to define approved methods and targets. Testers should not expand the scope of their assessment without authorization.


It's also important to choose a provider that will report all identified vulnerabilities directly and privately to the client organization. Ethical testers will not publicly disclose any vulnerabilities without permission or exploit them for personal gain.


In summary, organizations should look for providers who demonstrate transparency, gain proper authorizations, comply with the defined rules of engagement, and report findings responsibly. This ensures penetration testing activities comply with laws and do not impose undue risk on the client's systems and data. Trust and safety should be top priorities.


6. Cost and Budgeting

The cost of penetration testing services can vary greatly depending on several factors:

  • Size and complexity of scope: The number of assets, systems, and applications being tested has a major impact on cost. Testing a large enterprise system is far more extensive than a small business website. Defining a clear scope focuses the testing for better value.

  • Testing methodology: Black box testing with no knowledge of the system takes more time than white box testing with full system knowledge, assuming the same depth. Ensure the methodology aligns to your goals.

  • Credentials and experience: Highly certified experts and teams understand efficiencies to provide more value from testing activities. Budget accordingly.

  • Type of testing: Network, web app, mobile, social engineering and other types of testing have different costs. Identify priority areas for the budget.

  • Location: Travel and logistics for on-site testing can add costs versus remote testing. Factor this into planning. Additionally, you can always get cheaper testing but you generally get what you pay for.


To get quality penetration testing services that align with your security needs and provide actionable insights, it's important to budget appropriately. Trying to cut costs with an inexperienced team often leads to wasted time and money. Consider the factors above, understand the full value good testing brings, and invest wisely to protect your most critical assets.


7. Post-Testing Support

Ensuring your security does not end once the penetration test results have been delivered. It's essential to work with a provider that offers continued support during the remediation process.


After vulnerabilities are identified, the provider should be available to advise and assist your technical teams with effectively patching detected flaws. They should clearly explain the risks associated with findings and provide specific, actionable recommendations on how to address them.


Look for providers that also offer retesting of fixed vulnerabilities, bonus points if you can convince them to do it for free. This allows you to validate that the issues have been properly remediated before closing them out. Having the original testers re-validate their findings provides consistency and ensures proper verification.


The provider should also be available on an ongoing basis to answer questions and provide guidance to your team as needed after the test is complete. Post-engagement support demonstrates their commitment to your continued security beyond just the initial testing.


Working with a provider that offers ongoing assistance and retesting ensures you fully leverage the value of your penetration testing investment over time. Rather than just receiving a report, you gain a knowledgeable partner that helps transform findings into impactful security improvements.


Conclusion

In conclusion, choosing the right penetration testing services provider requires careful evaluation of several key factors. The provider should have an in-depth understanding of your business needs and offer services tailored specifically to them. They should have proven expertise and experience in the field, demonstrated through industry certifications, background in relevant tools and methodologies, and a strong track record.


The provider should employ ethical hacking practices, provide clear deliverables and reporting, and have strong communication throughout the process. They should offer guidance on budgeting appropriately for high-quality testing that provides maximum value. Post-engagement support for remediation and further testing is also key.


By keeping these criteria in mind when evaluating providers, you can ensure you select the right partner to perform penetration testing that secures your digital assets and identifies vulnerabilities before they can be exploited. The process requires careful due diligence to maximize the benefits while working within budget and legal/ethical boundaries.


At Stratus Security, our expert penetration testers have the experience and expertise to assess your unique business needs and provide tailored testing services. Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach, we work closely with you to scope an engagement that identifies the most critical risks and vulnerabilities for your organization.


Contact our team today to schedule your free consultation. We'll discuss your objectives, answer any questions, and provide a personalized proposal for services that deliver maximum value within your budget.

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