According to Forbes, “every company is now a reachable target” for threat actors. Advanced measures — such as penetration testing — have become a valuable component of cybersecurity for many organizations worldwide that seek to harden their security posture and stop threat actors in their tracks.
Since there are six types of pentests available, it can be difficult to know where to start. Understanding the differences can help you find what testing is best for your organization — and when.
Your public-facing assets can be a cyber security weakness. That’s where external pentesting comes in. In this post, we’ll tackle the top five questions about external network penetration testing.
5 External Network Penetration Testing FAQs
1. What Is an External Network?
According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, an external network is a network not controlled by an organization. Think of your external network as your organization's perimeter; it contains all systems directly connected to the Internet and exposed to it.
Do you run web-facing platforms — such as web apps, mail, stand services (like SMB or SSH) and SFTP servers? These systems are all considered a part of your external network at large.
This runs in direct contrast to your internal network, which is composed of systems exclusively accessible to your employees or partners. For a test of these systems, you would need an internal network pentest.
2. Why Are External Networks Vulnerable?
Because systems within your external network are accessible by the web, they are more susceptible to cyber attacks. Whether it’s exploiting a weakness in an Internet-facing host service or capitalizing on your lack of multi-factor authentication, all a cybercriminal needs is a foot in the door to compromise your entire system.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: if it has an IP address and is accessible via the Internet, it’s vulnerable to an Internet-facing host service. If you run any web-facing platforms there are several ways bad actors could strike to gain unauthorized access to your internal network.
3. Why Are External Pentests Necessary?
In 2022 alone there were over 1,800 data compromises, making data breach prevention more important than ever.
In an external pentest, a pentesting team will find a vulnerability and attempt to exploit it and acquire access. The difference is, instead of being attacked by a bad actor, the pentesters do not do anything malicious. Instead, they detail how they were able to compromise your system and offer solutions to prevent this type of compromise in the future.
Because new vulnerabilities emerge every day within the web, mail, FTP servers, and your external network at large, external network penetration testing is necessary to find any weaknesses in your perimeter. Your team can then use the pentest report to update your security measures and mitigate risks.
How Is This Different From an Automated Assessment?
Some companies think they do their external network security justice by running automated security assessments to detect vulnerabilities within their infrastructure. While automated assessments can help to catch low-hanging fruit, these scans often miss deeper security vulnerabilities and should only be used as the first line of defense before conducting a thorough penetration test.
When it comes to assessing your true threat landscape and risks, you can’t rely on automated scans alone. You need a pentester who takes it a few steps further — one who checks for false positives with manual review and pursues the vulnerabilities they find.
4. How Often Should You Run an External Network Pentest?
Because hacking techniques and network vulnerabilities evolve daily, it’s important to frequently check for gaps. We recommend annual external network pentests to stay on top of the latest threat landscape— or, anytime you make significant changes to your external network such as adding a new company website.
5. How Do External Network Tests Work?
External network pentests usually begin with a conversation between you and the pentester to discuss your goals. Ultimately, the objective of this is to uncover security vulnerabilities from your organization’s external-facing perimeter. The pentesters will establish a pentesting framework that they’ll use to launch a successful engagement.
Together, you and the pentesting team determine a scope and the pentest’s length — typically anywhere from 2-5 weeks, depending on your company size and the complexity of the engagement. Once the start date is settled, the pentesters will look for any way they can get in through your external network. Examples of weak points include outdated services, weak credentials, and other vulnerabilities to exploit.
After the test comes to an end, you’ll receive a detailed, comprehensive penetration test report. With it, you can expect an explanation of how/if the pentesters breached your system and what they were able to obtain. You’ll then receive a list of remediation recommendations for improving your security, rated by risk.
Protect Your Organization From Cyber Attacks
External network penetration testing lets you view your organization’s defenses from a threat actor’s perspective — without the risk. When pentesters identify vulnerabilities, you can shore up your cybersecurity and worry less. Explore the penetration testing services available for your business with Mitnick Security.