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How Penetration Tests Protect Organizations Against Malware Variants

As security tools get more innovative, so do the threat actors aiming to compromise your systems.  

Many of these bad actors have taken to recycling existing malware variants, even if it’s only making minor tweaks to make the attacks slightly different. Cybercriminals aren’t always reinventing the wheel — but it only takes the smallest of changes for a once-preventable variant to suddenly slide past your systems undetected.  

It’s important for organizations to take a proactive approach to their cybersecurity. Preventative measures like penetration tests can determine how IT systems would hold up in a real-world attack scenario, which is quite valuable given the current global threat environment. 

What Is a Penetration Test?  

Penetration tests (pen tests) are simulated cyberattacks designed to assess the cybersecurity of your organizational technologies and systems. Composed of multiple steps, this process:  

  • Tests your organization’s information security of both technologies and systems   
  • Identifies vulnerabilities in your cybersecurity posture before threat actors do  
  • Helps your organization remediate security and compliance gaps  

Pen tests are performed by ethical hackers, meaning the tests involve carrying out attacks on real systems and data using the same tools and techniques an actual attacker would. However, the information collected is not sold to malicious third-party groups, and the organization is not placed in actual danger.  

Why a Pen Test Is Needed 

As data breaches continue to dramatically increase in both depth and complexity, organizations have bolstered their lines of technological defense. But with the numerous variants of malware comes the possibility of a security incident.   

A penetration test is the best way to see if a threat actor can take advantage of any exploitable vulnerabilities. These new malware variants attempt to evade detection from common vulnerability scans. While the variants fail the majority of the time, this might not always be the case.  

With 560,000 new pieces of malware  being detected every day and four companies falling victim to ransomware attacks every minute, it is easy to see how a variant can slip through the cracks. Pen testing is a good way to ensure your incident response team can minimize the amount of damage done.  

A penetration test is a good way to test an organization’s incident response team, as they can determine where lapses in protection hide without putting any sensitive information in harm’s way.  

When It Comes to Pen Testing, Focus on the Big Picture  

It is critical to know where all of the weaknesses lie in an organization’s tech stack.  

However, some may only associate these fragile points with already-discovered vulnerabilities. Organizations need to look at the bigger picture when examining their defense systems and determining risk.  

System vulnerabilities can show a lack of process, a lack of knowledge, and a lack of planning within an organization.  

For example, a penetration test can reveal deficiencies related to how a company keeps its servers updated or how they apply patches. It can also show everything from a lack of logging and monitoring to the lapses of protection if an event were to happen.  

This is why it’s so important to start with a solid security framework — such as one from NIST — when deploying a network. This makes it easier to establish strong cybersecurity controls while also helping to manage and reduce cybersecurity risk. 

As for the networks that have already deployed, you can compare its current state to already-existing frameworks to determine where gaps may hide. 

Pen Testing Can Play a Role in Preventing Cyberwarfare  

Even before the Russian/Ukrainian war, Ukrainian organizations have frequently found themselves victims of cyberattacks, from phishing campaigns to malware variants.  

Earlier this year, the country narrowly avoided a serious cyberattack on their nation’s power grid. Hackers used malicious software to target one of Ukraine’s largest energy companies, trying to shut down substations. If successful, this would have caused blackouts for two million people. 

Fortunately, cybersecurity companies were able to identify and neutralize the software before the attack could do any damage, but this isn’t always the case. 

Government-targeted cyberattacks are on the rise in the United States as well. In 2020, 68% of states saw at least one of their municipalities fall victim to attack, many of them instigated by nation state actors. 

Routine pen tests (at minimum once a year) can reassure both governments and private organizations that their current safety protocols are up to date. But, for real-world protection, conducting pen tests more often will help to better protect your organization.  

Become More Proactive About You Cybersecurity Today 

When it comes to keeping your networks secure, it’s not a matter of if a cyberattack will occur, but when.  

There’s no way of predicting when these attacks will take place, but if a security incident should happen, it’s important to have already solidified how your organization will respond. Tools like pen testing can help teams create strategies to avoid a potential disaster.  

For an extra layer of protection, organizations should consider adding a vulnerability scan to their penetration tests as well. Vulnerability scans check an organization’s network and systems for any known vulnerabilities against a database of vulnerability information. Paired alongside pen tests, organizations can more effectively enhance their security posture by taking a truly proactive approach to cybersecurity. 

A-LIGN’s OSEE, OSCE, and OSCP Certified Penetration Testers will use the latest cybersecurity tactics to ensure your organization’s critical data is protected. 

Is your organization prepared to face a cyberattack? Our Ransomware Preparedness Assessment can help you find out.