Common Mistakes in Pen Testing and How to Avoid Them

by | May 4, 2023 | Pen Test Technical Tips, RidgeBot

Penetration testing is beneficial for improving security before it becomes an issue. However, many people make errors that limit its usefulness. You can avoid security risks and optimize the effectiveness of pen testing as long as you avoid these common mistakes. 

1. Testing Only in Response to Breaches 

Keeping information secure should be your priority, considering around 55% of people are less willing to do business with a company after a breach. You might want to run penetration testing after such incidents to ensure they don’t happen again, but it would be a mistake to wait until you’re breached. 

While you still must patch those vulnerabilities, it won’t help to learn about exploits hackers already took advantage of. It’s vital to remember cybercriminals don’t announce their presence. Since you essentially let them have free reign if you only test in response to breaches, you risk your systems and information until someone eventually notices the issue. 

Regular pen testing might seem expensive, but it costs more to let a hacker have unsupervised access — the average security breach cost is $9.44 million in the United States. It takes time to recognize a breach, fix the exploit and deal with the fallout, which adds up quickly. 

2. Having No Priority 

Hiring a pen tester only to improve your sense of security should not be the goal. Many organizations do so and end up missing critical vulnerabilities. In fact, around 57% of organizations experienced a cyberattack in 2022 alone. 

Cybercriminals don’t stop attempting to gain access once they’ve checked every box on a list, so neither should you. To avoid such a common mistake, identify which systems are most valuable and use varied approaches to find relevant issues. 

3. Conducting Infrequent Tests 

Regular testing helps ensure system security because it keeps everything up to date. Frequent tests also keep businesses compliant with regulations and can protect against fines. For example, a hacker accessed 235 million Twitter accounts in 2021 in a vulnerability not fixed until 2022. 

Although cybercriminals exploited it multiple times, the company took no action for months. Due to the breach, regulatory bodies are investigating and it may have to pay fines. Frequent testing doesn’t protect against everything, but it can help prevent cybercriminals from repeatedly using the same method to access sensitive systems. 

4. Making Insufficient Reports 

While testing is critical, proper reporting is almost more important. At a minimum, a comprehensive report should contain details on methods utilized, successes, number of attempts and timestamps. 

Despite adequate testing, there’s still a cybersecurity threat because determined cybercriminals can breach nearly any system eventually. Knowing this, you must catalog every action and reaction throughout your process to ensure substantial improvements and anticipate what a hacker might exploit. 

5. Using Irrelevant Techniques 

Hackers won’t rely on outdated or standard methods when targeting you. For example, despite targeting high-level employees in 2022, a common scam now relies on social engineering tactics and email spoofing to trick mid-range employees. The tools and the target changed in a relatively short time. 

Many make the mistake of not altering their approach to align with modern cybercriminals. You must know modern tools and techniques to protect your systems best. 

6. Taking a Report at Face Value 

While a business could receive a report, patch the vulnerabilities and move on, they’d be making a critical — yet all too common — mistake. All weak spots have sources, so you must address them. 

For example, if the cause were a remote employee on an unsecured network, you must fix that rather than simply enhancing general network security. Consider the context behind each report to determine the source behind each vulnerability. 

7. Communicating Poorly 

A business might assume pen testers know the scope of their job because they’re professionals, but it’s better to communicate. Before testing begins, you must establish the parameters and objectives. 

In addition, testers must operate with little impact, whether they’re working during a development phase or in a live environment — much like a regular hacker would. You should discuss a timeframe, the scope, what actions are allowed and if anything needs prioritizing. Establishing expectations ensures the result is relevant to business needs. 

How to Prevent Common Pen Testing Mistakes 

Pen testing can utilize machine learning applications since they are becoming more prevalent in the cybersecurity industry. Instead of simply meeting specific functions, a machine learning model’s goal is continually optimizing accuracy through experimentation. Pen testers sometimes use artificial intelligence to enhance their approach and streamline their process, but integrated machine learning significantly lessens human dependency and can increase testing effectiveness. 

In addition, automated testing can check for vulnerabilities and generate relevant reports without much human oversight. RidgeBot is an automated penetration testing tool capable of running monthly, weekly or daily security validation if an organization needs more protection. Such processes solve many of the most common mistakes in pen testing. 

Evade Common Mistakes With Automated Testing 

People make plenty of common mistakes during pen testing, but they can avoid them with the proper knowledge and resources. Automated testing coupled with machine learning can secure systems and information while avoiding human error, which is just what a business needs to reduce pen testing mistakes. 

About Author

Zachary Amos is the Features Editor at ReHack, where he covers cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and other trending tech topics. For more of his work, follow him on Twitter or LinkedIn.