What’s the difference between a security risk assessment and a penetration test?

What’s the difference between a security risk assessment and a penetration test?

Today’s businesses face a constant barrage of digital threats coming from both inside and outside sources, such as ransomware, phishing scams, denial of service attacks, and various other forms of malware.

Many attacks succeed by exploiting vulnerabilities found in old hardware and software that are no longer supported or updated by their original manufacturers. Others work by exploiting human ignorance through phishing scams that trick people into giving up passwords or sensitive information. Both of these problems become even harder to manage as organizations adopt more and more IT systems to handle everything from customer service to business intelligence.

Most business solutions have become easier to use from an end-user perspective, but how everything connects and works together is more complicated than ever. This means businesses in Huntsville and Madison need cybersecurity strategies comprised of multiple layers of protection.

Two of the most important of these are security risk assessments and penetration testing, both of which share some of the same characteristics but should not be confused with one another. In this post, we’ll be exploring the vital role that each method plays in today’s corporate IT environments.

Security risk assessments

Every cybersecurity strategy should start with a risk analysis, otherwise you’ll be stuck reacting to threats rather than preventing them. No two companies have exactly the same IT infrastructure and there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to security. You need solutions that are built and customized around factors that are unique to your company, such as:

  • The types of data that your organization handles and stores
  • Where confidential data resides
  • Which preexisting measures are in place to protect it
  • Which security measures and contingency plans are currently in place

A security risk assessment involves identifying potential vulnerabilities, such as old and unsupported hardware, applications, and operating systems against a set of standard best practices. It will also consider any existing authentication systems, password policies, and other security protocols. Lastly, a security risk assessment should quantify the consequences of a successful data breach:

  • Reputational damage
  • Legal consequences related to regulatory frameworks, such as DFARS and HIPAA
  • Extended and unscheduled periods of downtime
  • The emergence of Shadow IT (employee work arounds to set policies and processes)
  • Loss of contracts and clients, or even the ability to bid with certain clients.

Risk assessments are themselves conducted over multiple stages, typically starting with a full audit of your existing infrastructure, including all data-bearing systems and communications protocols. Afterwards, the team will identify threats, carry out an impact analysis, determine the likelihood of an attack occurring and, finally, calculate your risk rating.

Penetration testing

While risk assessments review and assume where your greatest weaknesses are, penetration tests or pen tests take things to a whole new level.

Pen tests look at ways to physically or digitally break into your network and show how the penetration occurred. This allows an organization to see firsthand how easy it is to bypass standard security protocols or penetrate the network through a route never thought of before. These methods employ “white Hat” hackers to break into your network from the outside to show how it is accomplished.

The other lesser known part of pen testing is the physical nature of the exercise. A proper pen test will show evidence of how a physical break in could result in a breach (this is done with no damage to the property--through lockpicking and RFID cloning). These simulations go beyond theories to produce real-word reports and impact analyses that help you select security measures tailored to the results of your security assessment.

Security is never a static

New and more harmful security threats are created every day. This means that security risk assessments and penetration tests must be undertaken on a regular basis so that your cybersecurity strategy is always up to date and effective in protecting your business.

For more information on risk assessments or penetration testing, please contact F1 Solutions, the area’s leading experts on cyber security evaluations.