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The Most Effective Network Security Testing Tools and Methods

The Most Effective Network Security Testing Tools and Methods

Networking technology is an essential element of business and consumer operations. However, networks aren’t perfect and are subject to a number of vulnerabilities. The increasing reliance on network technology opens several doorways for attacks. Enterprises are in a constant race against cybercriminals to protect their sensitive data and operations.

The stakes are higher than ever. Recent studies reveal that in 2023 alone, the average cost of a data breach reached an all-time high ($4.45 million). By 2025, cybercrime is expected to inflict $10.5 trillion worth of damages in total to organizations worldwide. Breaches not only affect the financial stability of companies but also erode public trust. As hackers’ methods evolve, so too must cybersecurity defenses.

Network security testing tools and methods serve as the critical intelligence unit in this fight. These solutions provide corporations with a real-time understanding of their networks’ security. With these tools, there are several methods for testing the security of your firewalls and other security measures. Some work better than others, depending on your needs. Let’s take a look at the most effective testing tools and methods to keep your company and customers safe from cybercrime.

The Problem: Networks Are Constantly Under Attack

By connecting to the Internet, organizations expand their reach to anywhere in the world. But this comes with a high price: their systems can be more easily compromised.

Protecting enterprise systems is challenging. As the number of applications and devices increases, so does the volume of potential entry points. In addition, new technologies such as 5G networks, the Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, and artificial intelligence (AI) are constantly emerging. Often these systems have rudimentary security functionality at first, making the attack surface larger, more complex, more vulnerable, and more difficult to control. With so many possible entry points, multiple connections, and smaller pieces of code, there are many more aspects of your network to defend.

What’s worse, many of these attacks go unnoticed. According to data from IBM and Bulmira, security breaches in 2021 alone took over 200 days on average to detect and about 75 more to contain. During that time, companies have lost millions of dollars while causing immense damage to customer relationships by putting that data in jeopardy.

Types of Network Security Threats

Some of the most common techniques criminals use to infiltrate networks include:

  • DDOS Attacks – These aim to overwhelm a network’s servers or bandwidth, rendering them unavailable to legitimate users. Attackers use multiple compromised computer systems as sources of traffic flooding, causing a traffic jam that blocks normal services. DDoS attacks can be devastating, causing service outages and significant business disruptions for both employees and customers.
  • Malware – Also called “malicious software,” malware is a blanket term for harmful programs such as viruses, worms, trojans, ransomware, and spyware. These programs infiltrate and damage computers or networks without the user’s consent. Malware can steal, encrypt, or even delete sensitive data. It can also alter or hijack core computing functions, and spy on the user’s computer activity. Often, malware users will try to worm their way to the top of privilege pyramid: the system administrator. These individuals typically have the highest system authority, can freely roam within the system, and make changes to its configurations.
  • Phishing – An extremely common method of tricking individuals into divulging sensitive information like login credentials. It can come in the form of fraudulent emails or messages that appear to be from reputable sources. These messages entice users to click on malicious links or attachments (i.e., malware). The ultimate goal is often network infiltration or some other form of attack.
  • SQL Injections – These attacks target databases through web applications in order to exploit vulnerabilities in certain data-driven applications. By inserting malicious SQL code into a query, hackers can access to manipulate the database, view and delete sensitive data, and even gain administrative control.

These are just some of the most prevalent types of network security threats you might encounter. However, many more exist, and hackers are constantly improving their techniques.

The Solution: Close Security Holes With Network Security Testing

Because networks are often complicated, enterprises are at a disadvantage. Rather than invest in breach prevention, IT teams often spend days and months chasing down possible attacks. To succeed in the future, enterprises will need to move from reactive to proactive network security.

What Is Network Security Testing?

Network security testing aims to evaluate and strengthen the security of a network. Its procedures and analyses are designed to identify and address vulnerabilities in a network’s infrastructure. This includes testing for weaknesses in network components such as firewalls, routers, switches, and servers. It may also involve the examination and enhancement of security policies and procedures.

Techniques used in network security testing can range from passive methods (like vulnerability scanning) to active measures (such as penetration testing). In each, security experts simulate cyberattacks to test a system’s resilience. Companies can use the results to understand their security vulnerabilities and repair them before real attacks put them in jeopardy.

Three Types of Network Security Testing

Network security testing often works by mimicking the actions of an outside intruder to try and penetrate the system through well-known hacking methods. Here are a few ways to do that:

White Box Testing

Here, the tester is given complete knowledge of the network being tested. The tester freely accesses the network and examines its systems and applications. They prod security checkpoints, looking for weak spots. They  try to disrupt or compromise the flow of data over the network. Sometimes, they create problems (like flooding the network with too much traffic) to see how the system reacts. Often used as periodic check-ups, these tests allow companies to discover any new problems in their systems.

Black Box Testing

Here, testers examine the functionality of the network without visibility into its inner workings or structure. Instead, they act like a typical hacker and try to find their own way in.

This testing is helpful because it allows companies to look at their systems from an outsider’s perspective. The process may present them with a new perspective on what their network security actually looks like. With this new vantage point, companies may recognize weaknesses they’ve previously overlooked.

Gray Box Testing

This is a combination of the white and black box methods. Here, the attacker is given select information (e.g., a username and password) that they use to access and infiltrate the network. This testing is especially helpful for ransomware attacks, where hackers attempt to shut down a company’s key business applications and only offer to fix the problem if the company pays them a ransom.

Network Security Testing Methods

Mixing and matching testing methods can often help clarify how well your networks are protected, so you can take steps to eliminate vulnerabilities. Here are a few more specific examples of commonly used tests:

  • Intrusion Detection System (IDS) Testing: Similar to firewall testing, IDS testing evaluates how well an intrusion detection system identifies unauthorized access to the network or policy breaches. This ensures that the IDS is effectively monitoring network traffic for suspicious activity and responding to any detected threats.
  • DDoS Attack Simulation: A controlled distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack which helps evaluate DDoS mitigation tools and techniques. This can help determine how resilient your network or application is in the face of a DDoS attack.
  • Cyber Attack Emulation: Emulating real security threats such as malware, phishing, zero-day attacks etc., to measure the performance of network security architecture.
  • Vulnerability Scanning: This enables a company to identify weaknesses in a network’s defenses. Vulnerability scanners compare network details against databases of known vulnerabilities. They then report potential exposures that need repair.
  • Network Scanning: This process identifies all active devices on a network as well as details like their operating systems, open ports, and the services running on those ports. This test helps visualize the network’s structure and the potential vulnerabilities of each node.
  • Penetration Testing (Pen Testing): This is a simulated cyber attack against a network used to check for exploitable vulnerabilities. Unlike vulnerability scanning, pen testing involves a human element, where security professionals attempt to exploit weaknesses in the network just like hackers. Pen tests can be conducted with varying levels of knowledge about the network (white box, black box, or gray box). It can also include physically accessing the network by infiltrating your company’s offices, headquarters, or facilities.
  • Ethical Hacking: Similar to pen testers, ethical hackers (also known as white-hat hackers) identify security vulnerabilities in a network using the same skills as criminals. They are hired by organizations to hack into their networks and identify vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by malicious actors. This can be an effective solution, but the vetting process can be time-consuming and expensive, especially with ongoing testing.

Network Firewall Testing Challenges

The firewall is an essential barrier to test. Firewalls protect company computers and the network at large from malicious traffic. They are like security guards monitoring the flow of data, checking credentials, and allowing only legitimate users to access the network.

It’s no wonder that the use of firewalls as a security method is growing. In fact, the worldwide firewall market generated $3.46 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $24.34 billion in 2030 (a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 21.6%).

Changes in Firewall Vulnerabilities

Firewalls are not perfect and can miss malicious (and costly) traffic. When configuring a firewall, businesses must establish policies to automatically determine authorized users. In doing so, companies may unwittingly open up vulnerabilities.

This is largely due to the increasing challenge of setting strong filters. During the pandemic, remote work increased dramatically, and businesses had to extend enterprise networks to include employees’ home networks. As a result, the line between work and home became blurred. Unlike controlled, in-office networks, companies have little to no control over at-home networks, and securing them is more challenging.

Even employees trained in cyber security may unknowingly download malware that can infect local systems and reach into other parts of the network, even on remote networks.

Non-Malicious Traffic

Companies may also use a firewall to restrict certain types of non-malicious traffic simply because it isn’t related to their operations. For instance, a firewall may block traffic from social media sites like Facebook and Instagram to prevent employees from using them while on the clock and mitigate losses in productivity.

At the same time, social media can also create openings for hackers to infiltrate your network. With about half a billion Facebook accounts exposed in 2021, the risk of a hacker accessing your network through a trusted employee’s profile shouldn’t be ignored.

The Ultimate Network Security Testing Tool

Any organization using network technology needs security testing. However, many corporations do not want to devote constant time and resources developing and maintaining their own tests.

It’s often wiser to outsource network security testing or to purchase a solution that works with your network out of the box. Since the third-party testing manufacturer is responsible for updating the solution, your maintenance burden is virtually eliminated.

One solution is Apposite’s Attack Library, designed to test your network against a variety of simulated threats and unwanted traffic. Constantly updated with the latest hacker methods and CVEs, Attack Library enables you to stay ready with your network security measures. With an Attack Library subscription, you can test your network against DDoS attacks, malware, and even unwanted non-malicious traffic from social media and similar sources.

This solution also allows you to test if your network lets in the right traffic, ensuring your firewalls aren’t blocking legitimate users by mistake. As a cloud-based solution, it requires no additional hardware. If you’re already using Apposite hardware for network emulation and traffic generation, Attack Library is a great addition to help validate the performance of your firewalls.

Final Thoughts

Network technology offers unparalleled opportunities for business growth and connectivity, but it can expose vulnerabilities to cybercriminals. The escalation in the sophistication of cyberattacks, coupled with the expanding digital footprint of enterprises, makes robust network security testing absolutely critical.

Apposite’s Attack Library is a cutting-edge network security tool, designed to help network engineers measure the performance of their firewalls and other security devices. For companies looking to bolster their security and remain ahead of the curve on network technology, Apposite provides several effective solutions.

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