If your organization has conducted a penetration test in the past, it was likely one of six main types of pentests.
After all, an external network pentest is just one area to test your security— and a common type of test for organizations of all sizes.
The problem is, not everyone knows the difference between the six types of pentests. Others confuse external vs. internal network penetration testing, or other types of tests.
In this post, we hope to clear up the confusion and explain what exactly an external network penetration test is. But before we can talk about the actual test, it's important to understand what an external network is exactly.
What’s an External Network?
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, mail, and FTP 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 and is its own separate internal pentest.
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 security flaw in your FTP 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.
A good rule of thumb is: if it has an IP address and is accessible via the Internet, it’s vulnerable to outside cyber attacks.
If you run any web-facing platforms there are a number of ways bad actors could strike to gain unauthorized access to your internal network...
Why Are External Network Tests Necessary?
An external network penetration test (sometimes shortened as an external penetration test) is a contained, simulated cyber attack in which a professional penetration tester tries to breach your system via your external network— without any real threat to your security.
A pentesting team will find a vulnerability and attempt to exploit it and acquire access. The difference is, instead of being attacked by a real 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 your web, mail, and FTP servers and your external network at large, any company running a web-based network service(s) should put their externally-facing network services to the test.
Pentests Are More Than Just an Automated Assessment
Some companies think that they are doing 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— instead of only running a software program to spit out an auto-generated report and leaving you to figure out the rest.
How Do External Network Tests Work?
An external network pentests usually begin with you talking to the pentester about your goals. During your first meeting, you’ll determine the most valuable data your company protects so the testers know what they’re after.
Together, you’ll determine a scope and the pentest’s length (typically anywhere from 3-6 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– looking for outdated services, weak credentials, or 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.
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.
Spot Threats Instantly
Before conducting an external network pentest, there are few things you can do to test your security infrastructure before the professionals do their part
In our 5-1/2 Easy Steps to Avoid Cyber Threats, we make it easy to take a look at your current security posture and make quick, yet impactful changes to elevate your defenses.
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