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Why Are Penetration Tests Important?

Auditors discussing why penetration tests are important

How do you measure the effectiveness of your cybersecurity program? Ask this question of a dozen CISOs and you’ll likely get twelve different answers. That’s because there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to measuring security but a penetration test plays into the most effective cybersecurity strategies.

While there may not be a single “right” way of measuring your cybersecurity program, one thing is for certain: Creating and maintaining a strong cybersecurity posture requires a tactical and proactive mindset. And one of the best ways to stay a step ahead of clever threat actors is to simulate realistic network attacks with a penetration test (frequently referred to as a “pen test”).

This method of ethical hacking is designed to test the information security safeguards in place at your organization. By doing so, you gain insight into existing vulnerabilities or gaps in your cybersecurity program that could lead to a data breach or security incident.

In this post, we’ll dig into why all organizations should invest in regular pen tests, the type of critical information these tests reveal, and the value your security team will gain from the exercise.

The Role of Remote Work

Pen tests have long offered a valuable method of identifying critical gaps in an organization’s security posture. Yet today’s work-from-anywhere environment makes activities like pen tests more essential than ever before to enhance your security controls.

The primary reason why? The safety of the corporate network security perimeter is gone. Companies lack visibility into home networks, and security teams everywhere just like yours are constantly working to strike the right balance between supporting employee productivity and minimizing organizational risk.

In fact, a report published by the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) flagged that threat actors’ “favorite targets” often include vulnerabilities related to remote work, VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), and cloud-based technologies.


VPNs were once viewed as a secure way for employees to access a company’s network remotely, but today, they’re a double-edged sword. That’s because VPNs represent a prime opportunity for crafty attackers to capitalize on an outdated tool that often goes unpatched. In fact, threat actors frequently scan the web for unpatched VPN servers looking for vulnerabilities to exploit.

Growth of Supply Chain and Third-Party Risks

Supply chain attacks certainly aren’t new, either. But these targeted hacks often result in big money for threat actors, which means they are motivated to continue evolving their methods in an attempt to infiltrate even the most well-protected networks. These sophisticated attacks are a prime example of why a proactive approach to cybersecurity is critical in order to manage your organization’s risk.

Consider just a few of the high-profile data breaches that occurred in 2021:

  • Colonial Pipeline paid attackers $4.4M to regain control of its operations after a ransomware attack, and the company was forced to shut down its gasoline pipeline system for five days. Attackers accessed Colonial Pipeline’s network through an exposed password for a VPN account.
  • Threat actors hacked employee email accounts with a crafty social engineering attack at University of California San Diego Health. As a result, the attackers gained access to sensitive data pertaining to nearly half a million patients.
  • T-Mobile’s networks were hacked by way of an unprotected router. The incident impacted 48 million people, and the attacker made off with names, addresses, social security numbers, and other forms of personally identifiable information.

Why Should Organizations Invest in a Pen Test?

A well-executed pen test offers your team insights into weak and exploitable points within the organization, and how to remediate them to increase your security posture.

Benefits of conducting regular pen tests include:

  • Assessing your organization’s information security of technologies, systems and people (social engineering)
  • Identifying vulnerabilities in your security posture before attackers do
  • Helping you achieve compliance
  • Giving your team insight into your true threat surface from an external hacker’s or rogue insider’s perspective

While certain compliance frameworks require an organization to conduct a pen test once a year, the reality is that new attack vectors pop up constantly. That’s why an annual pen test likely isn’t enough to ensure your organization is well protected against the latest threats. Additional assessments, like a ransomware preparedness assessment or vulnerability assessments, are often important ways to continue to stress test your organization’s cyber resilience.

Ransomware Preparedness Assessment

Ransomware attacks are more prevalent than ever, with bad actors demanding large sums of money to release their hold on organizations and their data (refer back to the Colonial Pipeline incident mentioned above). At A-LIGN, we offer a Ransomware Preparedness Assessment, which includes a comprehensive review of your infrastructure and processes, real-world ransomware simulations, and a full pen test, all with the goal of reducing the likelihood that your organization will fall victim to this type of attack.

Vulnerability Assessment

Every organization today, regardless of size or industry, is adding new endpoints and constantly provisioning new software. This emphasizes why making scheduled vulnerability scans an important part of every security program. Our Vulnerability Assessment scans map out threat surfaces and known weaknesses for your team before malicious actors can take advantage of them.

Worth noting is that a vulnerability assessment is a means of detection; it tests an organization’s network and systems for known vulnerabilities. When paired with a pen test — which takes a preventative approach — you increase your visibility into weak spots and gaps across your network. This enables organizations to take a more proactive approach to enhancing their security posture.

What Type of Pen Test is Right for My Organization?

A comprehensive pen test should examine all facets of your cybersecurity controls. At A-LIGN, there are six different components of our pen tests:

  • Network Layer Testing: We perform network layer testing using a comprehensive (host-by-host or port-by-port) or targeted (goal-driven) approach.
  • Web Application Testing: Our team profiles and targets weaknesses that are inherent in the development of proprietary and custom web applications. Our web application testing includes an in-depth manual review of vulnerabilities designed in the OWASP Top 10 and the SANS Top 20.
  • Mobile Application Testing: We use tooling and years of professional experience to capture traffic, analyze your application, and exploit weaknesses and misconfigurations often found in iOS and Android. For this we utilize the OWASP Top 10 for Mobile.
  • Wireless Network Testing: We perform a detailed analysis of your organization’s wireless infrastructure using innovative tooling and proprietary tactics.
  • Email Phishing, Phone Vishing, and Facility Penetration Testing: Whether you want to assess how susceptible your organization is to advanced entry tactics or want to evaluate employee security awareness, we’ll create a customized assessment to meet your testing goals.
  • API Testing: We test your APIs utilizing the OWASP Top 10 for API.

Many pen tests uncover vulnerabilities like misconfigured server settings that don’t require expensive hardware or complex new strategies to fix. But as so many of the high-profile cyber attacks in recent years have shown, it only takes an unpatched vulnerability or an unprotected router for a clever threat actor to gain access to your organization’s most sensitive data.

Ready to Schedule Your Pen Test?

Pen tests are an important part of any risk management strategy. Now that work-from-anywhere culture is here to stay, there’s no better time to schedule a pen test to ensure your organization is protected against the latest threats.

At A-LIGN, our OSEE, OSCE, and OSCP-certified pen testers emulate the techniques of actual attackers by creating scenarios and strategies unique to your organization in an attempt to breach your networks and applications, with the ultimate goal of helping you improve your security posture.