Do Small and Medium Sized Businesses Need Penetration Testing?

Posted on Posted in Business, Cybersecurity, Insights

The trend towards remote working and the use of Cloud-based technologies has dramatically increased the risk profile of many organisations. A new breed of IT specialist, the ethical hacker, has arisen. They use a set of tools and techniques to assess an organisation’s IT security and recommend any remedial measures that are needed.

In the past, large organisations tended to be the prime targets of hackers, but recently, smaller businesses have become targets.  This is as a result of the increasing access to their IT infrastructures, poorer IT security, and in many cases, the dependence the organisation has on their continuing and correct operations.

In parallel, the attack surface has also increased. Online environments require several different applications, communications in particular, in addition to the mainstream business applications. Failing to make sure that they are compatible, and that upgrading one application doesn’t expose new attack possibilities is essential.

In general, businesses in the SME sector use small or outsourced IT support services and it is difficult or too expensive for them to maintain a full-time IT Security operation. That is why a regular IT security review is essential for those businesses, if only to make sure they are prepared for new attack vectors, and that they are not exposing new attack surfaces. Penetration testing is an essential part of that process.

Penetration Testing

Penetration testing, also known as pen testing, is a cybersecurity practice where a professional ethical hacker, sometimes known as a penetration tester, attempts to identify and exploit vulnerabilities in a computer system, network, or application to assess its IT security status. Whether small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) need penetration testing as part of an IT Security review, depends on several factors:

  1. Risk Profile

    Risk Profile

    The need for penetration testing often depends on the SMB’s risk profile. If the business handles sensitive customer data, financial information, or proprietary intellectual property, the potential impact of a security breach may be significant. In such cases, penetration testing can help identify and mitigate vulnerabilities before they are exploited.

    Some industries are more likely than others to be hacked. The financial services industries in general, and increasingly today, online retailers are particular targets. The type of attack has also changed. Denial of Service attacks (“DDoS”) attacks are used by some hackers to close down competitors. Ransomware has become increasingly common as an attack vector.

  2. Regulatory Compliance

    Regulatory Compliance

    Some industries and administrations have specific regulatory requirements for cybersecurity. For instance, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the United States impose strict data security requirements. SMBs in regulated industries may need penetration testing as part of a formal registration process to demonstrate compliance.

  3. Complexity of the IT Environment

    IT Environment

    Complexity of the IT Environment: If an SMB has a complex IT environment, including multiple servers, applications, and network infrastructure components, it can be more susceptible to vulnerabilities. Penetration testing can help uncover weaknesses in IT Security that might be overlooked in such environments. Upgrading one application can make others incompatible or expose new vulnerabilities.

  4. Third-Party Relationships


    If an SMB relies on third-party vendors, partners, or cloud service providers for critical IT services, they should consider penetration testing to ensure that the security of these external relationships does not pose a risk to their business. That is of course in addition to the usual security checks they apply to third parties having access to their systems.

  5. Budget and Resource Constraints

    Budget Constraints

    While penetration testing can be highly valuable, SMBs may have budget and resource limitations. In such cases, SMBs can consider periodic or one-time penetration tests for their most critical assets or applications rather than comprehensive testing of the entire IT environment.

  6. Growth Plans

    Growth Plans

    SMBs with plans for growth should consider incorporating penetration testing into their cybersecurity strategy. As the business expands, the attack surface may increase, making regular testing more crucial.

  7. Incident History


    If an SMB has experienced security incidents or breaches in the past, penetration testing can help identify and address weaknesses to prevent future incidents.

  8. Vendor and Product Selection


    Before implementing new IT solutions or software, SMBs can use penetration testing to evaluate the security of these products to ensure they do not introduce vulnerabilities.

  9. Security Awareness

    Security Awareness

    SMBs should invest in employee cybersecurity awareness and training. While penetration testing is essential, user education and awareness are also critical for preventing common security threats like phishing attacks.

In summary, while penetration testing can be a valuable cybersecurity practice, its necessity for small and medium-sized businesses depends on their specific circumstances, risk tolerance, regulatory requirements, and budget constraints. SMBs should conduct a risk assessment and consult with cybersecurity professionals to determine the most appropriate cybersecurity measures, which may, in some cases, include penetration testing.

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