In the digital age, data can be as valuable as physical assets. Every year, companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars on hardware and software to protect the data located on their computers. A single security breach could mean having trade secrets compromised or customer information in the wrong hands. Passwords, firewalls and encryption are valuable tools in the ongoing battle against those who would attempt to bypass a company's network security.
Once all of the components of a proper security system are in place, it is proper procedure to run a final test. This test is referred to as penetration testing. The cyberspace version of a military unit conducting war games, the test is an effort to compromise the newly installed security. A thorough test is the best way to reduce the risk of a security breach at the hands of a real threat.
The first step in the process is risk assessment. This is the practice of determining exactly what is at stake. By finding out exactly where vulnerabilities lie, a better picture can be formed as to exactly what a would-be information thief would be after. For instance, if an online retailer has a large database containing sensitive customer information such as credit card numbers or bank information, they can identify those assets as being a huge liability if compromised, as well as a prime target for hackers. Anther example of a potential liability is a company that has gone through great lengths to assemble a list of leads or clients. These kinds of assets are particularly appealing to unscrupulous competitors or hackers intent on blackmail.
After areas of vulnerability are determined, the penetration test can commence. Generally, the first systems tested are those that can be accessed from the outside. Websites, email access points and remote access platforms are the most frequent gateways for security breaches, and as such are the subject of the most intense tests.
In order to conduct a proper test, a security company must not only be familiar with the most current techniques and tools available to hackers and cyber criminals, they must also have the ability to foresee potential methods of bypassing security systems. This will keep a company's computer system defense one step ahead of those who would wish to do harm. A solid penetration test is the last, and perhaps most important step, in being protected against important data being lost or stolen.