When it comes to cybersecurity, pen tests are definitely one of the cooler kids on the block. However, you need the correct documentation and critical reports. If the proof is in the pudding, then pen tests are pretty sweet, but the final report is the dessert you’re looking for.
We’re looking at penetration testing reports, their importance, and what they should include to best support the evaluation and the organization’s remediation efforts.
Here’s what you need to know.
What’s a pen test again?
If you missed our blog on how penetration testing can help in SOC 2 compliance or achieving PCI DSS compliance through penetration testing – no stress. Perhaps you’re working on getting (and staying) ISO 27001, HIPAA, or GDPR compliant, or you’d like to bolster your security posture and gauge whether or not you’ve missed any vulnerabilities, threats, or weaknesses within your system. Either way, we’re here to give you the low-down.
Penetration testing, also known as pen tests or “ethical hacking,” tells the bad guys where to stick it by using their own tactics against them. You’re moving your team from defense to offense and going through the ultimate security drill to gauge whether your controls have what it takes. A pen test highlights your organization’s weaknesses before a cybercriminal can use them against you. Even more so, it helps you understand which areas outside threats could easily be exploited by executing a simulated attack using the same tools, tactics, and procedures that a cybercriminal would use.
The result will highlight vulnerabilities and their impact on your systems, network, or even your entire organization if (or rather, when) compromised.
What is a penetration testing report?
The pen test report is where the real magic happens. Ultimately, a pen test report is a detailed list of information that relays all the findings discovered while conducting the pen test and what that means for an organization’s compliance or overall security posture. A penetration testing report is also the only tangible proof that a pen test was conducted and the overall result. A pen test aims to identify vulnerabilities and security concerns that organizations can remediate. The report is how these vulnerabilities are communicated to the organization. Easy enough?
Due to the importance of turning the findings in the report into proactive solutions and controls, most good penetration reports follow a systematic approach.
In the report, the finding hones into the specific weak spots and risks the pen tester identified while conducting the test. This is segmented into individual issues. These points are then elaborated on, and pen testers include the relevant technical information to guide security and development teams in understanding the issue, its impact, and the root cause. Pent esters also include the recommended approach to mitigate each vulnerability.
Here’s what you need to know – grab your pen(test)!
An effective penetration report
First, let’s look at the goal: The report outlines the problems and how to solve them. Your organization has just undergone the mother of all security drills – but you don’t do drills simply because you need the practice (although practice doesn’t hurt).
So, before creating your pentest report, revisit your pentest strategy and purpose to as a reference guide;
- Highlight the specific aims your organization had for the pentest
- Understand the plausible impacts of a breach
- Understand the the testing process and organizational inputs
After you’ve documented and pinpointed the actual pen test’s overall purpose, process, and impact, you can proceed with your actual pen test with your chosen pen tester.
In summary, a pen test report should include the following:
Each pentest report should include an executive summary. The purpose of the summary is to provide non-technical readers with an overview and high-level view of the overall findings, vulnerabilities, and their impact. Ultimately, leadership should be able to understand the practical importance and implications of the pentest and the critical security concerns it exposes and addresses without having to keep a search tab open to understand and decipher the language used. Therefore, this summary should touch on all the most essential elements relevant to the vulnerability, risks, and business impact without deep diving into the technical details.
After the risk exposure for the tested assets are outlined, the official assessment takes place and any security issues are identified.
The pen tester will then score the vulnerabilities in the context of likelihood and impact. During this phase is when the exploitation difficulty level can be addressed, helping organizations gauge whether or not they were an easy target or if their security systems put up a good fight. Ideally, you’d like to hear that your security controls gave the ethical hacker a good run for their money.
Remediating the findings
It’s all fine and well highlighting an organization’s vulnerabilities and risks. Still, without remediating the findings, it won’t mean much. Therefore, the pen test report should usually include the raw results and general recommendations to remediate the relevant findings, such as: perform an annual pentest, educate your developer team on security risks and start developing using ssdlc methodology.
Pen tests made easy with yours truly
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