What is penetration testing? Can highlighting potential vulnerabilities in your application actually help improve security? We spoke to Bryan Li, a Product Security Manager at Unqork, to learn more.
Now more than ever, enterprise application security is critically important. A well-executed security breach can cost your business millions of dollars in financial and reputational damage in a matter of minutes. In fact, the global average total cost of a data breach in 2020 was $3.86 million, and an increase in cybercrime is expected to cost the world a total of $6 trillion this year.
Hackers today are smart, so top aPaaS vendors need to be even smarter. To beat hackers at their own game, vendors should perform penetration testing—or “pen testing”—to anticipate and investigate security vulnerabilities before others can exploit them. We sat down with Bryan Li, a Product Security Manager at Unqork, to discuss the ins and outs of penetration testing and why it’s so important.
What is Penetration Testing?
Penetration testing, also known as “ethical hacking” or a “white hat attack,” is the practice of evaluating an application or infrastructure’s security by exploiting vulnerabilities with an end goal. “When you break pen testing down to its core elements,” Bryan explains, “you’re trying to see how far you can take a given flaw, so you can evaluate its potential impacts for real-life situations.”
Pen testing shouldn’t be confused with vulnerability scans, which simply uncover any security weaknesses present in your platform. Penetration tests provide additional context to these vulnerabilities, exploring precisely how they might be exploited. You can approach penetration testing in various ways, depending on what security vulnerabilities you want to look for, but the most common types of pen testing are “white box” and “black box.”
“Pen testing with no-code requires additional knowledge into the underlying platform, requiring one to think outside the box. It’s a great tool for finding unaccounted for edge cases and preparing your system to expect the unexpected.”
During white box pen testing, the tester is privy to certain information about the target beforehand, such as the application source code or network architecture, so it’s slightly easier for them to break in from the inside out. Black box pen testing is more akin to “blind testing,” where the tester receives no prior information on the target. This means the pen tester must work hard to crack open the system, see what’s underneath, and find their way into the software.
Pen testing a secure no-code platform is more complicated than pen testing a code-based platform, which encourages testers to think creatively and attack it in dynamic new ways. “Pen testing with no-code requires additional knowledge into the underlying platform, requiring one to think outside the box,” Bryan notes. “It’s a great tool for finding unaccounted for edge cases and preparing your system to expect the unexpected.”
How To Perform a Pen Test
You can run pen tests manually or by using automated penetration testing software. Regardless of which you choose, the process can be broken down into five core steps:
This is where you “scope your target” and gather vital information about your application or platform. You must have a deep understanding of your test’s attack surface—the total number of attackable endpoints and vectors, plus any other weaknesses—in order to effectively perform a pen test.
There are many paths to choose from, with one common option being quite simple: “Have your testers log in as a user and examine the application’s behavior,” Bryan says. Some useful questions to ask yourself here are: “What critical assets are at play here?” “What are the potential weak points in the system?” “What infrastructure is running under the hood?” and “What is the end goal with this test?” Addressing these questions will help you gather complete information about your target’s vulnerabilities.
After you’ve determined your pen test target and attack surface, it’s time to start exploiting. During this phase, the tester is tasked with exploiting vulnerabilities and breaking the application with unexpected inputs. Your pen testers should not only try to find any and all possible vulnerabilities, but also dig deep to see how far they can take them.
"No-code" and "low-code" may sound similar. But they couldn't be more different.
3. Analysis & Reporting
After your testers have explored every possible exploitation, they’ll create a detailed report of the performed penetration test. This pen test report analyzes steps taken in the exploitation process, details which techniques succeeded and failed, and assesses total damage done. It also includes any recommendations for remediation.
4. Clean Up
Pen testers should leave no trace! After they finish up, they should carefully go back through the system and remove anything left behind. This will ensure real hackers don’t get a headstart on the exploits performed during your pen test.
All aPaaS vendors should pen test their platform at least once a year to guarantee consistent security controls. In addition, you should also conduct tests whenever you add new infrastructure, make significant upgrades to the platform, modify end-user policies, or apply security patches to applications built on your platform.
Benefits of Penetration Testing
Penetration testing is essential because it helps you highlight a target’s hidden vulnerabilities and predict how low-risk liabilities can transform into larger threats. As the need for robust security grows, consistent and exhaustive penetration testing can offer your business many more benefits:
Reduce chances of future damage: Retracting applications post-launch to address security issues wastes time, money, and resources, and it can negatively affect your reputation. When you successfully time the pen test of a product, you can worry less about fixing it after it’s been released. Penetration tests also prepare you for potential problems, so you can address them quickly and with confidence should they occur in a real scenario.
Assess potential impacts: Pen testing allows you to predict future challenges and judges how well your platform’s security defenses perform against specific attacks. Understanding this information helps you adopt a proactive security approach, which in turn allows you to stay on top of your software’s safety and performance.
Create with confidence: As you perform pen tests, you can stay updated on whether or not your software meets regulatory requirements. Once you’re sure that your platform is safe, you can focus on innovation and developing features or experiences that will entice customers. Any Creator who uses your platform will know that your organization takes security seriously, and they’ll trust you to keep their sensitive data secure, giving your reputation a big boost.
In short, regular pen testing ensures your software is performing at its very best in total safety.
At Unqork, we put our platform through the wringer by performing extensive pen tests at least three times a year. We conduct internal and external pen testing, independent network and application testing, and in-house manual application testing and review.
Putting Unqork to the Test
At Unqork, we put our platform through the wringer by performing extensive pen tests at least three times a year. We conduct internal and external pen testing, independent network and application testing, and in-house manual application testing and review. When it comes to external pen testing, Unqork rotates between multiple external vendors to ensure we’re getting different perspectives and avoiding any potential biases.
With advance notice, we can also assist with client-driven application tests so you can test for unique vulnerabilities relating to particular security concerns or threats. We take care of penetration testing a Creator’s tools, so you don’t have to, freeing you up to concentrate on building applications that drive business value and successfully meet your business requirements.
Interested in seeing how no-code can aid your organization’s goals? Schedule a personalized demonstration with one of our in-house experts today. Sign up for the Unqork newsletter to stay updated on the latest no-code use cases and discoveries.