Penetration: Can It Be the First Sign of a Breach?

Penetration: Can It Be the First Sign of a Breach?

 By Charles Joseph | Cybersecurity Advocate
 Last update: November 25, 2023

Penetration refers to a process where an individual or a program successfully gains unauthorized access to a system or network with the intention of finding vulnerabilities, threats, and risks. This practice helps in enhancing the system’s security by fixing the detected issues.

Penetration Examples

1. Example

A cybersecurity expert was hired to perform a penetration test on a company’s network. The objective of this exercise was to identify any vulnerabilities that may exist in the system that could potentially aid an unauthorized intrusion.

The expert started by attempting to bypass the security measures using various strategies. During the test, they targeted the employee accounts since they often hold sensitive information. After several attempts, they managed to exploit a weak password on an employee’s profile.

By doing so, they gained unauthorized access into the network, revealing a flaw in the company’s password policy. This discovery highlighted the critical role of strong and unique passwords in preventing unauthorized access. Consequently, the company had to review its password policy to ensure every employee set a strong password to protect the overall system.

2. Example

In another scenario, a penetration tester was engaged to evaluate the cybersecurity measures of an enterprise. One of the elements the tester was assessing was the susceptibility of the staff to phishing attacks, a commonly used method for gaining unauthorized access to systems.

Stay One Step Ahead of Cyber Threats

Want to Be the Smartest Guy in the Room? Get the Latest Cybersecurity News and Insights.
We respect your privacy and you can unsubscribe anytime.

The tester developed a simulated phishing attack against the business. They created an email that appeared to be harmless, possibly even relevant to the targeted employee. For instance, the email might have been disguised as an internal memo or a customer query.

Once the recipient clicked on the link or attachment included in the email, it allowed the tester to bypass various security measures and access sensitive information. This example demonstrated how easily a phishing attack could provide unauthorized access to systems, emphasizing the importance of staff education in recognizing and preventing such security breaches.

3. Example

In a third example, a penetration test was conducted for a business with a web application. The main goal was to discover any coding loopholes or vulnerabilities that could be exploited by malicious entities.

While conducting the test, the expert used a method known as SQL injection. This technique involves injecting malicious SQL code into a query, which can then force the database to reveal, alter, or delete the data it contains.

The penetration tester was successfully able to break into the web application using this method, revealing a significant vulnerability. By exploiting this vulnerability, a hacker could potentially gain unauthorized access to user data. Subsequently, the detected issue was fixed to secure the application against such threats, illustrating how penetration testing helps in identifying and rectifying potential security risks.


Ultimately, penetration testing is a crucial practice for maintaining system and network security. By identifying and addressing vulnerabilities, these tests fortify defenses against potential cyber threats, emphasizing a proactive approach to cybersecurity.

Key Takeaways

  • Penetration testing involves conducting planned attacks on a system to identify vulnerabilities and enhance security.
  • These tests can often uncover weak spots, such as weak passwords, susceptibility to phishing attacks, and coding vulnerabilities in web applications.
  • Penetration testing is not limited to digital attacks but also involves attempts at physical breaches.
  • These simulated attacks help companies understand their security posture & the need for improvements.
  • Penetration testing illustrates the importance of continuous monitoring and regular updates in cybersecurity practices.
  • Related Questions

    1. How is penetration testing different from vulnerability scanning?

    While vulnerability scanning is an automated process that scans systems for known vulnerabilities, penetration testing manually mimics an attacker’s strategies to breach the system. Penetration tests typically provide a deeper understanding of potential security weaknesses.

    2. How often should penetration tests be performed?

    Penetration tests should be performed regularly, typically once a year or after any significant changes to the system such as updates or addition of new hardware/software, even though it may vary based on the company’s size and industry.

    3. What are some common types of penetration tests?

    Common types include network penetration tests, application penetration tests, and physical penetration tests. These can target your internal network, external network, wireless network, or even your employees via social engineering.

    4. Why is it significant to make penetration testing a regular schedule?

    Regular penetration testing is vital to stay ahead of evolving threats. As new vulnerabilities and attack strategies emerge, regular tests ensure your defenses are updated and effective.

    5. What skills do penetration testers require?

    Penetration testers require a deep understanding of computer systems, networks, and programming. They also need creativity to think like a hacker and predict potential exploits. Strong problem-solving skills are also crucial for identifying and rectifying vulnerabilities.

    "Amateurs hack systems, professionals hack people."
    -- Bruce Schneier, a renown computer security professional