Penetration tests: get "hacked" for real

Penetration tests: get
Articles and interesting facts

Did you know that up to 80% of companies have experienced a cyber attack? Facing such an onslaught is a real baptism of fire for untested defences. Can it hold up? Will it let up? You can use a team of "ethical hackers" to test your data security before a sharp clash occurs. This will give you time to catch the bugs that these cybersecurity tests can expose.

A penetration test (also known as a pentest or "ethical hacking") is a directed and controlled simulated attack on a specific computer system or part of it. It can target, for example, a specific web application, a company's network infrastructure or the defences of the company as a whole. The goal of a penetration test is not to immediately solve all problems - it is to detect them, evaluate them and, based on the test result, determine steps to correct the deficiencies. So it's not purely a means of finding weaknesses, but a tool to help you improve your company's cyber security. 

Types of penetration tests 

Depending on the information available to testers, pentests can be divided into three basic categories: 

  • White-box test - you provide the tester with all the necessary information about your IT security, infrastructure and architecture of your IT systems. Although the test does not directly correspond to a real hacker attack, it usually goes more in depth. 
  • Black-box test - the tester simulates a hacker attack from the position of an attacker who does not know your IT security and has no detailed information about your systems. This type of penetration test best matches reality (a real hacker attack). However, its weaknesses include the possible omission of some test targets.
  • Grey-box test - this is a combination of the above approaches, where you provide only partial information to the tester, and the tester asks you for more information if it finds a suspected system security vulnerability during testing. 

Based on the focus and scope (test-scope), penetration tests are divided into the following basic categories: 

Application and internal systems testing 

Penetration testing of web applications (or mobile applications or API systems, for example) will mainly focus on the risks of data theft and unauthorized intrusions into the system. The tester will try to get malicious code into the application, steal the user's identity or password. It will also try to cause the application to crash. 

Network infrastructure testing

An ethical hacker will first map the "battlefield" and find all active elements. Then he or she will focus on finding weaknesses in the network and individual devices, trying to break through defences and steal data

Social engineering - phishing tests 

It's not just technology that is vulnerable, people can be vulnerable too. A company's employees may have the best of intentions, but all it takes is a small mistake - and the problem is gone. This type of penetration test (phishing test) focuses specifically on the human factor and tests the resilience of employees. The tester, under a fake or anonymous identity, contacts your employees, usually by email, and tries to get them to click on a link leading to a phishing site. This makes it easy to see if your employee security training is working properly. 


Redteaming is the most comprehensive type of penetration test (or test campaign). A special team of ethical hackers (called a red team) will try to penetrate your security, look for any weaknesses and try to exploit them for further (and deeper) penetrations. On the other side is the blue team responsible for cyber defence. The question is usually not whether the red team will succeed in breaching the defenses, but rather how long it will take to do so.  

How do penetration tests work?

  1. Analysis - without data, even ethical hackers are blind. They must first map the situation and consider which course of action is best. 
  2. Creating a customized plan - after evaluating the data gathered in the previous step, they need to determine how the test will be conducted step by step to be as effective as possible. 
  3. Testing - then comes the actual testing. A specialist (or an entire team of ethical hackers) will try to find loopholes in the defenses of the system under test. 
  4. Evaluation - the work doesn't end with writing up the findings. Threats need to be assessed and steps need to be proposed to eliminate the risks. 
  5. Application to practice - to make the test useless, the findings need to be applied.  

How often should penetration tests be repeated? 

Because threats are constantly evolving and hackers never sleep, it's a good idea to repeat the tests regularly to maintain maximum security. There is no universally correct frequency, it always depends on the size of the company and its specific activities, which is related to the number and severity of threats. In general, penetration tests should be conducted at least once a year and also with any major change in IT infrastructure or technology processes. Comprehensive testing in the form of redteaming is then sufficient even less frequently. 

One step ahead of threats

Penetration testing is a great tool for anyone who doesn't want to leave anything to chance. If you've faced a cyberattack, then you know from experience how complex and expensive it is to repair the damage. I'm sure in hindsight you would have done a lot of things differently. You can't change the past, but penetration testing can help you avoid similar risks in the future.

You haven't had to deal with anything like this yet? Then prevention in the form of penetration testing can pay off even more. You never know when your business will be in the crosshairs of a hacker or data thief. Let's summarize the main benefits and reasons to opt for penetration testing: 

  • Penetration testing is useful if you want to increase your company's cyber security. Data is the greatest asset of any company, and therefore its security should be the foundation. 
  • You'll gain insight into your vulnerabilities - and therefore potential risks.   
  • Pentests allow you to discover vulnerabilities and weaknesses before a new system or application goes live. By exposing vulnerabilities, you minimize the risk of system crashes or service outages. 
  • Penetration testing is not an expense, but an investment. The result not only gives you information about what you need to address immediately, but also gives you a clue about where you should focus your attention in the future. 

At Algotech, we've been involved in cybersecurity for more than a decade. We have completed thousands of projects and are trusted by hundreds of satisfied clients. We're ready to provide cyber security for your business too - contact us for a no-obligation consultation. 

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