How to strengthen your defences using CREST certified ethical hacking services



What are ethical hackers?

Essentially, ‘ethical hackers’ or ‘penetration testers’ are the good guys of the cyber-world. Rather than using their hacking skills to break into networks with malicious intent, they use their expertise to help businesses identify security weaknesses and build more robust, cyber-resilient IT infrastructures. A white hat's motivations are always in the interest of improving security, this is often reinforced by various penetration testing and ethical hacking certifications such as OSCP, CREST, CHECK and CEH.

It is important to note that ethical hacking covers a wide spectrum of methods, and does not stop at finding digital means of illicitly entering a network. Similarly to their less ethical counterparts, ‘white hats’ use a range of other tactics to test the security of a business. This could involve socially engineered phishing attempts, tailgating to gain access to the corporate building, or posing as an IT Manager to coerce an employee into sharing a password to a privileged account. As an ethical hacker, you should be able to understand the mindset of a cyber-criminal. After all, if there are easy ways to infiltrate a business, a hacker will seek them out – it is an ethical hackers job to uncover these security flaws and present them to the business in question so that they can be mitigated.

Is Penetration Testing a good idea?

There are some businesses who have reservations around giving a third party access to their IT infrastructure. The concern is, can an outsider really be trusted to have access to your private network, without causing damage or abusing their skills and knowledge? Although it is only natural to feel cautious about granting access to your corporate systems, certified penetration testers are trusted security professionals, think of them as advanced computer locksmiths, who are helping you test the strength of your ‘locks’. Cyber Security penetration testing is also usually bound by NDA’s, if there were to be a breach of the terms of the contract, this could lead to legal proceedings and fines. Nevertheless, if you would like to determine their suitability, it is always worth checking accreditations or penetration testing certifications of a company or individual.

Others, may be hesitant to carry out penetration testing services as they are apprehensive about what security weaknesses or system failures it may uncover (and the cost of fixing these). However, knowing cold hard facts is always preferable to the threat of a data breach, business downtime, paying a ransom demand or threat of public disclosure. Unfortunately the reality is, if a penetration tester can uncover a security vulnerability in your systems, then so can the countless online criminals who use the same tools to target their next victims.

Although many businesses imagine that hackers manually choose businesses to attack, this is most often not the case, large-scale cyber-attacks can easily be automated by focussing on discovering known or zero-day security flaws. Once a gateway is established, bad actors do not settle with exploiting one vulnerability, by creating a chain of further exploits they can gain further leverage to your IT ecosystem.


            Why is ethical hacking needed?

            Businesses who do not carry out regular security testing services, are not able to determine the resilience of their defences against security intrusions. Whether you are a large enterprise or an SME, security weaknesses can develop from any number of reasons across your network. This could be down to out-of-date-software, security misconfigurations, new endpoints/applications or an unprotected BYOD. However, if you can discover and remediate these issues before the bad guys do, you will be in a much stronger position to protect the integrity of your business critical data.

            When it comes to cyber-attacks, defenders are always on the back-foot to the attackers. Whilst the hackers have a clear view of their prey and can silently plan their points of entry, defenders are left in the dark to second guess where attacks might be directed from.

            In order to prevent the likelihood of a breach, it is important to follow security best practice such as having layers of defences, endpoint protection, threat intelligence, 2FA, network segmentation, strong password policies and cyber awareness training (the list could go on).

            However, this model alone is not enough to prevent the risk of a security breach. Why? Because businesses aren’t static and unmoving, every day they face internal changes to their systems and network. Whether this is opening a new office, deploying a new security solution, installing new hardware or moving to the cloud. Each of these individual network changes has the potential to introduce a new risk to your infrastructure. So how can you mitigate this? This is where penetration testing steps in!


            The benefits of ethical hacking, and what can penetration testing help you uncover?


              • Testing the security of new applications and services

                If you are launching a new application or online service, penetration tests are an invaluable tool to test the security of the code before being introducing into the live network. Testing can be conducted either during the development stage or prior to ‘go-live’. After all, every new endpoint, application or software which is introduced to the network needs to be tested, or it could prove to be a weakness which could be exploited by a hacker.

              • Finding hidden security holes

                You may think you have all the security ‘bells and whistles’ to keep your business fortified from cyber-threats, but there could be hidden security holes which are invisible to the untrained eye. Luckily, ethical hackers are like computer detectives, they are experts at analysing your systems, uncovering hard-to-detect vulnerabilities, finding back doors and other possible entry points into your private infrastructure.

              • Discovering exploitable vulnerabilities

                The vulnerabilities discovered can range from simple fixes, to security flaws which are much more complex. One of the most common issues we discover at Equilibrium, is decade-old critical vulnerabilities that would allow external attackers full remote code execution/device access. These are mainly due to old editions of Windows such as 7 and xp which are required due to old software with driver incompatibility on Windows 10. Unfortunately, these vulnerabilities are easy to exploit as packages and detailed guides are publicly available. According to a recent report 80 per cent of enterprise IT systems have unpatched vulnerabilities. These are often easy fixes, but if there is a poor vulnerability management strategy in place, these security holes can remain unnoticed for years. Although these are easy to remediate, they are also one of the biggest causes of cyber-breaches, as hackers are able to automate targeted attacks on a mass scale.

              • Contextualising risks

                Even if you work within the IT team, it can be a real challenge to understand the mindset of a ‘black-hat’ hacker and contextualise the real risks your business faces. However, failing to understand how hackers ‘tick’, could be hugely detrimental to the ongoing security of your systems. Ethical hackers are able to provide you with this much needed context. They understand how bad actors operate, and can use this expertise to help you stay one step ahead of these online bad guys.

              • Helping you prioritise security spending

                Another major advantages of conducting penetration tests, is that it helps you to identify how you should allocate your future security budget. After an assessment is complete, the penetration tester will produce a detailed report which highlights the vulnerabilities discovered, gaps in your security defences, how critical these discoveries are and how they can be remediated. This valuable information not only helps to fortify your business from cyber-harm, it can also be used to prioritise future security spending (where it is needed most). Cyber Security testing may discover a number of things including that your employees need further cyber awareness training, your corporate endpoints are running out-of-date software or that there are application misconfigurations which require further development work.

                      Are you interested in finding out more about ethical hacking?

                      Hopefully you have seen from this blog, that penetration testing can offer you far more than simply a one off insight into your security posture. Ethical hacking services can not only be used as a valuable tool to aid the ongoing resilience of your security defences, it can also help you to make wiser financial decisions based on real-time and contextualised risks. Research has shown that ongoing testing of your environment can lead to stronger operational efficiency, fewer IT support requests, as well as much greater confidence in the security of your business.

                      Here at Equilibrium, we are CREST certified penetration testers and OSCP pen testing experts. The OSCP and CREST pen testing certifications demonstrate that our company follows a stringent and industry approved penetration testing methodologies. As security, OSCP and CREST penetration testing experts, we are able to support our customers with all penetration testing services. Our licenced penetration testers have the expertise to conduct web application pentesting, web pentesting, internal penetration testing, network pentesting, mobile penetration testing, online penetration testing, WiFi penetration testing and social engineering pen tests.  If you would like to find out more about the services we offer please call our office on 0121 663 0055.



                      Get in touch today

                      If you would like to chat to a member of our team you can call us on 0121 663 0055 or email zoe@equilibrium-security.co.uk