Cybersecurity 101 - Should You Perform a Penetration Test on Your Small Business

October 11, 2022

Data shows that cyberattacks have been increasing through 2022. Meanwhile, this might be the start of a frightening trend &#151 these types of criminal acts are expected to rise even further in the years to come. Is your small business ready for this reality?

Whether you run a brick-and-mortar small business or a sleek online startup, cybersecurity has become a critical consideration. Your company needs to be able to handle any cyberattack that may come your way.

Penetration testing represents a basic technique for probing your security and providing the information necessary to tighten your protocols. This article will explain the basics of penetration testing. It will also explore the benefits for your business and point out some ways to minimize the potential downsides that come with this useful strategy.

What is penetration testing?

A penetration test, or pen test, represents a way of probing a system's security. Fundamentally, it involves a simulated attack on a computer network. The results will show your vulnerabilities and (hopefully) suggest ways you can shore up your defenses.

Fundamentally, [penetration testing] involves a simulated attack on a computer network. The results will show your vulnerabilities and (hopefully) suggest ways you can shore up your defenses.

The strategy follows a similar logic as "it takes a thief to catch a thief." In this case, a pen test derives its power from the idea that only a hacker can truly appreciate a system's vulnerability.

There are several major categories of pen testing that organizations can pursue:

  • External Network: Think of this as simulating a virtual break-in. Testers will approach your network from the outside, seeing if external hackers can penetrate your security.

  • Internal Network: Here, testers are looking at the possibility of an "inside job." The threat being probed relates to internal vulnerabilities, seeking out whether a disgruntled employee or some other insider could cause a breach.

  • Wireless: This approach specifically looks at the possibility that a malicious actor could gain access through wireless means.

  • Application: Web and mobile applications have become a key connection between businesses and their customers, complete with the gathering of sensitive data. As such, these offerings have also become dangerous sources of vulnerabilities. Rather than reviewing your overall network, this form of testing specifically investigates the security of any apps you provide.

  • Social Engineering: We think of hacking as an attack on machines. However, your network might not be your most vulnerable point. Rather, human error &#151 susceptibility to things like phishing attacks &#151 can play a role as well. Social engineering pen testing investigates this potential.

  • Physical: In this scenario, the security of your physical property is reviewed. Do you have adequate measures to prevent a break-in to your office, where sensitive data could be obtained? How easy would it be to steal objects like laptops and hard drives? These are the types of questions considered in this category.

Why are cyberattacks becoming more prevalent?

More and more business is conducted using online techniques. The pandemic fueled a massive surge in e-commerce, forcing almost every enterprise (no matter how small) to build out its internet capabilities.

This will likely prove a long-term benefit to your business. However, the structure of the new economy has also created vulnerabilities. The reliance on online operations has opened the door for hackers to take advantage.

In this environment, the last few years have seen a rash of high-profile cyberattacks. These have hit companies in diverse industries, such as oil pipeline Colonial Pipeline and food processing company JBS.

Beyond these specific examples, stats show a dramatic rise in cyberattacks. One study from Check Point Research showed a 32% increase in 2022 incidents compared to 2021. This took the figure to an all-time high, with one out of every 40 organizations feeling the impact of a ransomware attack.

Stats show a dramatic rise in cyberattacks. One study from Check Point Research showed a 32% increase in 2022 incidents compared to 2021.

What are the benefits of penetration testing for your small business?

As you consider pen testing, it's important to understand the potential upsides that this technique can provide. Here are some of the crucial benefits you can gain:

Lower Risk

As we have seen from the statistics on cyberattacks, the issue has become a massive danger for even the smallest organizations. This includes the potential monetary expense of ransomware, as well as the cost of disruptions to your business. A pen test can help reduce this risk.

Take Initiative

Don't wait for a breach to take place. A pen test lets you take the initiative. You can find your vulnerabilities before a malicious actor discovers it for you &#151 at a massive cost.

Maintain Compliance Standards

Depending on your industry, you might face regulatory or certification requirements. A pen test lets you create the highest security protocols possible. This will keep you in compliance. Even without this outside pressure, you'll benefit from getting your network defenses to a gold standard.

Assure Stakeholders

Having the best security possible encourages peace of mind among stakeholders in your business. Pen testing can provide solid foundations for these feelings of confidence. This leads to better relations with groups like investors, employees, customers, and strategic partners.

What are the potential drawbacks to penetration testing?

So far, we've looked at the potential upside that comes from conducting a pen test. However, you should remember the costs involved. Here are a few downsides to consider:

Monetary Costs

The cash outlay for an in-depth pen test can be substantial, especially for a tight-budgeted small business. Price tags of tens of thousands of dollars (or even amounts running into six figures) shouldn't be a surprise.

Risk of Network Damage

The pen test simulates a hack on your system. As such, there exists the potential for collateral damage. Imagine if you paid someone to test your martial arts skills by jumping you in a dark alley. Things could get out of hand.

As such, there is the risk that your system could get damaged in the process. This could take the form of crashed servers or corrupted data.

Disruption to Normal Operations

While simulating an attack on your technical infrastructure, you could face outages to critical systems. Even if these are only temporary, they could cause disruptions for customers or the stoppage of production for your employees. As such, careful planning and well-considered anticipation should precede any pen test.

How to pen test your small business

The exact process for pen testing your small business will depend on your corporate structure and the resources you have available. You might have the internal expertise to conduct the operation yourself. More likely, you'll approach an outside contractor to oversee the effort.

Whatever the exact details, here are a few tips to get the most out of the process:

Implement the Best Security Possible

Before your pen testing, exert your best effort to create the most stringent security possible. Make the challenge as daunting as possible. This way, the results of your probe will let you take your protections to the highest possible level.

Find a Strong Pen Test Partner

As a small business, you'll likely turn to a third party to conduct your pen test. In this case, finding the right partner will be a critical part of the process. Conduct the necessary research and carefully vet potential allies in your fight against cybercrime.

Plan Around Your Pen Test

As we've noted, the penetration testing process comes with potential downsides. It's important to identify these risks and minimize them as much as possible. Develop appropriate backups and insulate customer operations from any potential disruptions.

Be Ready to Follow Up

A pen test can find vulnerabilities in your system. However, that information is useless if you aren't ready to fix the problems. As such, you should have follow-up procedures in place to take advantage of the lessons learned through the pen test. Create a budget and schedule the appropriate time to implement any upgrades necessary.

Using penetration testing to protect your small business

A single cyberattack could put your startup out of business. With that in mind, security should rank as a top priority. In a world increasingly centered on e-commerce, your vulnerability to these types of attacks increases every day.

That's why investing in a penetration test could be worth the cost. You can maximize your security and provide the assurances necessary to contribute to your ongoing growth. Starting with the information provided here, consider how best to use pen testing to stack your defenses against cybercrime.