Think of internal and external penetration testing as quality assurance (QA) testing for your security policies and controls. In-depth testing allows you to identify weaknesses or flaws in your security programs to help enhance their efficacy. Both internal and external penetration testing are beneficial for businesses, but there are some differences in the defenses they evaluate and overall approach.
In this blog post, we explore the key differences between internal and external penetration testing and how to choose between them.
What is penetration testing?
Penetration testing is a simulated attack conducted by ethical hackers to evaluate the strength and logic of a system’s defenses against cyber threats. Using advanced tools and techniques, penetration testers mimic cyber attackers to breach a business’ security systems and gain access to confidential data.
This type of testing is a great way for businesses to evaluate if their security controls and processes will hold up in the event of an attack. Penetration testing services– ranging from cloud security assessment and adversary simulation to internal and external vulnerability assessments – help businesses identify security weaknesses for remediation before they are exploited by malicious actors. Testing can also support compliance readiness for SOC 2, HIPAA, and more.
Internal penetration testing vs. External penetration testing: Differences
External penetration testing
External penetration testing simulates an external attack on a business to identify weaknesses in the wide area network (WAN). The goal is to gain access to a business’ internal network.
Ethical hackers will evaluate a business’ public-facing infrastructure, including websites and apps, firewalls, and more, to find vulnerabilities that can be exploited by a cybercriminal attempting to get a hold of sensitive data.
For an external penetration testing project, GraVoc’s information security team assesses publicly available information on targets that hackers could exploit, performs port scanning, analyzes network traffic, manually inspects code for web apps, attempts brute force attacks, and more, to search for and test vulnerabilities.
Internal penetration testing
An internal penetration test is designed to identify vulnerabilities inside a business’ local area network (LAN). The idea behind this testing is to assess how far hackers can go once they have breached a business’ external security. So, an internal penetration test is both credential and non-credential based to determine the full scope of lateral movement once attackers have access to a business’ network.
During internal penetration testing, ethical hackers evaluate most of a business’ networked devices, including servers, workstations, printers, VPN devices, and switches.
For an internal penetration testing project, GraVoc reviews physical security of critical IT and data communications infrastructure, access control lists for firewall, performs configuration and business logic testing, checks for missing security patches and potential malware, and more.
Internal vs. External penetration testing: Which one should you choose?
Both internal and external penetration testing are important to determine if your business is equipped to withstand an attack, whether it’s from an external actor or a hacker that already has access to your internal network.
If you have not performed a penetration test before, you could start with external testing to review perimeter security. An external penetration test may also make sense if you have added new technology components to your network, such as websites.
An internal penetration testing is a good way to assess the security of your IT infrastructure, determine employee readiness, and the validity of your access controls and policies. The results can help you create a more mature and well-rounded security program.
If you are in the process of obtaining a security certification, compliance requirements may also play a role in choosing internal or external penetration testing.
Ultimately, you should perform both types of penetration testing to maximize protection for your business.
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