When it comes to maintaining a strong organizational security posture, proactive testing should be top of mind. But, terms are often used interchangeably, and it can be difficult to know what to look for in a provider. What kind of testing is right for you? If your organization is new to testing, where should you start? Let’s begin by reviewing the basics: defining key capabilities, you’ll need to know to evaluate what makes the most sense for your business.
Vulnerability scanning, a largely automated service that spots potential vulnerabilities or weak configurations across a finite subset of security issues, is a great foundation from which to begin testing. Helping you discover the broadest array of vulnerabilities across systems, it will help your organization see things that were once invisible – and prompt you to start navigating how to respond. Spotting new weaknesses may feel overwhelming: but at this stage, exploring the right partners and programs that’ll strengthen your security posture will bring the best next actions into view.
- Broadest vulnerability testing
- Fully automated
Penetration Testing (Pen Testing) is a cybersecurity staple where a human-led team has a fixed window of time to go up against systems trying to expose weaknesses — particularly those found in technical controls and other security settings. Team members exploit a flaw when they see it, trying to see how far they can go to access domain credentials. This narrow focus allows organizations to identify what security gaps to address first, making it a great place to start for those seeking to ground their security approach in testing or invest more frequently. Keep in mind that pen tests can vary in-depth and quality: the right combination of manual and automated processes — across applications, network permissions and more — can make a huge difference in pen testing effectiveness, showing how an attack could progress within your system. In addition, pen testing can be externally or internally focused, depending on where you’re trying to expose vulnerabilities.
- Builds upon automated processes like vulnerability scans
- Exploits a narrower set of known vulnerabilities using a variety of techniques
- Simulated attack
Red Team engagements are more comprehensive in scope than pen testing, bringing in industry-leading experts trained to think like a hacker: with the big picture in mind, considering all of the ways a system can be compromised. In a planned, simulated attack, the Red Team will do everything it can to get past an organization’s security systems undetected. The entire attack is based on goals laid out in advance — the things that make you lose the most sleep — so that you have a strong rationale for the next steps and priorities based on engagement outcomes. As an offensive strategy that tests your team’s preparedness, Red Team engagements are a tool typically used by the most mature security organizations looking to have even greater visibility into gaps or areas of improvement. When included within ongoing services, your internal IT teams benefit from third-party experts building upon existing knowledge of your environment — and making adaptations to tailor attack plans accordingly.
- The most focused, deep test of your security vulnerabilities
- Simulated attack
- Best executed within a mature security organization with established goals
A Red Team Simulation Synopsis – How Trustwave SpiderLabs Conduct a Simulated Attack
There is nothing like having first-hand access to what our experts have learned in the field. Learn the tactics used in a Trustwave SpiderLabs red team in this short video as John Cartrett, head of our SpiderLabs in North America team, describes the methods used team to infiltrate and exploit an environment, simulating malware propagation throughout an organisation.
Even though pen testing and Red Team engagements are both human-led and require advance planning, they have important distinctions. Know what you are trying to achieve from testing — and how mature your security posture is overall — before deciding to do anything one-off. Investing in ongoing testing programs provides both granular and high-level visibility into your vulnerabilities so that – when you’re ready – you can make the most of advanced, extended simulated attacks like Red Team engagements.
Testing the Depths of Your Security
Proactive security testing can help you understand where your risks and vulnerabilities reside, enabling you to better prevent, detect and respond to security incidents and continuously improve your overall security posture. Read our latest Trustwave SpiderLabs infographic for insights on how to follow the best practices in security testing.
Both pen testing (including specialty testing) and red team engagements are tactics that support Vulnerability Management overall. Knowing that a strong understanding of your goals (including any hypotheses on existing weaknesses) makes both of these programs more effective and targeted. Having a breadth of techniques — from a routine database, big data and IT discovery scans to network and application testing — will ensure you make smart, informed decisions that help to manage risk with an understanding of all of the moving parts.
Note: vulnerability management should not be confused with vulnerability scanning (defined above). Tools and managed services that provide 24x7 visibility and resources alongside human-led testing should accompany automated vulnerability tactics to help identify and mitigate threats in real-time. This ensures that teams can assess implications as they take place, making internal patching and remediation more seamless while keeping their eyes on the big picture.
For three of the services outlined here — pen testing, red team engagements and vulnerability management — human ingenuity complements technology- and solution-specific features. As bad actors become more skilled and motivated, in turn making breaches more sophisticated and varied in approach, this component of testing is increasingly important.