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How often should you pen test?

pen test
Pen testing is a must, but how frequent should it be done?

Pen tests are a must

The internet offers a lot of benefits to businesses everywhere as it opens opportunities that were not present before the digital age, but it has its fair share of downsides. These opportunities were also accompanied by vulnerabilities and threats wherein cybercriminals can easily exploit. To avoid this from happening, some organizations try to find exploitable vulnerabilities in their systems and networks and address them as soon as possible before any cybercriminal can exploit them. This is where penetration testing kicks in and why it is very crucial to conduct them regularly. 

With penetration testing, organizations will be able to simulate cyberattacks in their system and patch them before it causes damage in the future. But the question remains, how often should you do this?

Also Read: National Cybersecurity Awareness Campaign of Singapore: Better Cyber Safe than Sorry

How often should you pen test?

It has been a standard exercise for organizations to conduct penetration testing to ensure security against cyber-attacks. This is accomplished by their their in-house teams or by pen testing services, which uncovers their networks’ weaknesses and assesses its posture. 

Based on the 2021 Pen Testing Report, 39% of cyber professionals pen test once or twice a year, followed by 16% for those who pen test quarterly, 11% monthly, 9%  weekly, 10% for those who pen test daily, and 15% for those who do not conduct pen test at all.

But is annual testing enough? Or should you be pen testing daily?

Rapid changes to production systems are the reality undertaken by today’s businesses. As a rule of thumb, it is best to split the penetration testing throughout the year on a quarterly basis, or when there are any changes done, such as a change in an application or its underlying technologies.

However, there are many factors to consider as to its frequency:

  • Company size
  • Potential exposure to attack vectors
  • Industry
  • Infrastructure type/size
  • Industry-specific regulatory environment

With this, depending on the company’s size, potential exposure to attack vectors, type of industry the company is under, size of its infrastructure, and the specific regulatory environment of such industry, quarterly pen testing could not be enough to ensure that threats are at bay. There is no rigid number to follow; it depends on these factors in considering the frequency of conducting a pen test. 

pen test

Should you be pen testing daily?

A daily pen test is too much of a drain on all resources such as time, talent, and budget. Why some aspects and types of penetration testing can be done automatically, a human element is needed in the process. 

While 10% of those organizations did say in the 2021 survey that they run pen test daily, it is more likely that they are only running vulnerability scans that frequently. These vulnerability scans are often mistaken as similar to penetration testing when in fact, they are actually quite distinct. 

Running daily penetration tests may be too much of a drain on all resources—time, budget, and talent. While some aspects and types of penetration testing can be automated, the process is not automatic, and a human element is still heavily required. While 10% of those surveyed for the 2021 Pen Testing Report did say they were running tests daily, it is more likely that they were running vulnerability scans that frequently.

Vulnerability scans are often mistaken as synonymous with penetration tests, but while they are both essential security practices, they are actually quite distinct. Vulnerable scans are used only to identify vulnerabilities and potential risks within your systems. On the other hand, penetration testing is conducted to provide additional insights and in-depth assessments of such vulnerability used to investigate if it is a potential weak spot for cybercriminals to exploit. 

Vulnerability scans have the advantage of alerting you of emerging vulnerabilities and provide a broad picture of your security posture. In addition, it is entirely automated, so it’s easier to run on a daily basis. However, these should not serve as a substitute for regular penetration tests.

When to perform a pen test

Organizations should put in mind that pen testing is not a one-time-only activity. There is constant evolution when it comes to cyber threats, as cybercriminals also evolve when it comes to their tactics in penetrating your system. New vulnerabilities surface every now and then, and when not patched up, cybercriminals are on the look out. 

When a particular system is put into production, that is the best time to perform a pen test. This is because when the pen test was done prior to its production, there could be instances where significant vulnerabilities that need patching up have not yet been discovered and only showed up after. 

Pen test should also be conducted whenever the following situations occur because the system has vulnerabilities that only surfaced after it was updated:

  • New components or applications added to the IT infrastructure,
  • Significant changes or upgrades made to the infrastructure, even if no further components are added,
  • Security patches applied to antivirus or firewall software,
  • Company acquisitions and mergers (should be conducted before acquiring or merging)

Organizations are prone to cyber-attacks, and no one is safe from it when not taken seriously. Thus, it is an impediment on the part of these organizations to subscribe to pen testing practices as it is the only way to secure one’s cybersecurity posture. Precaution comes a long way, especially that these organizations could pay a fine more than they should pay for pen testing services whenever there has been a breach of data. 

Also Read: What is a data protection officer? Through the lens of a Master DPO



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