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The Importance of Infrastructure Penetration Testing in Cybersecurity

Lorna Jones

Lorna Jones, Senior Cyber Security Consultant
Nov 03, 2023

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The House Always Wins: Why Pen Testing is the Ace Up the Sleeve for Finance Firms

Las Vegas casinos employ cutting-edge security measures to stack the odds in their favour. From surveillance cameras to guards patrolling the floor, the protection of assets is a priority. But even with all these precautions, Vegas criminals have still hacked casino systems, stolen data, and gotten away with millions.

The finance industry is no different. Banks and investment firms are prime targets for cybercriminals seeking access to sensitive customer financial data and accounts. And while finance companies invest heavily in cybersecurity tools, hackers consistently find ways to beat the odds and pull off lucrative heists.

Last year, a cyber gang called Cobalt pulled off the first-ever bank robbery over the SWIFT financial transaction system. Posing as legitimate bank employees, they infiltrated the Bangladesh Central Bank's systems and attempted to steal nearly $1 billion. The bank blocked most transactions but still got away with $81 million.

The Bangladesh bank heist illustrates that even sophisticated financial institutions are vulnerable to hacking their infrastructure. Their security defences had holes which Cobalt managed to exploit. What they needed was a penetration test.
Penetration testing, or pen testing for short, is a legal, authorised cyber-attack simulation. Ethical 'white hat' hackers conduct it, who probe networks, applications, endpoints, and infrastructure for weaknesses before criminals can find them.

Comprehensive pen testing is necessary for financial firms to future-proof cyber defences and protect their bottom line. Here's why it's the ace up the sleeve for finance industry security:

Beating Hackers at Their Own Game

Casinos use decoys and deception to catch cheaters. Penetration testing does the same to beat criminal hackers. Ethical hackers use many of the same tools and techniques as real attackers but in a controlled way that does no damage.
The goal is to identify vulnerabilities in finance company infrastructure and applications before someone can exploit them. Detailed reports then allow vulnerabilities to be fixed by IT security teams.

Pen testing exercises simulate worst-case scenarios:

Denial-of-Service Attacks:

DoS attacks overwhelm systems with junk traffic, making services unavailable. Tests check if load balancers, rate limiting, and infrastructure capacity defences can withstand different DDoS attacks.

Malware Infections:

Malware and ransomware variants can spread quickly once inside a network. Pen testing evaluates anti-malware controls and monitors to see how far adversaries could move laterally.

Phishing Schemes:

Deceptive phishing emails with malicious attachments or links are a top infection vector. Pen testing uses real-world phishing techniques to evaluate employee readiness and the effectiveness of email security controls.

Insider Threats:

Compromised employee credentials provide valuable access. Testing initiates password attacks, steals credentials, and pivots using insider access to see what data is exposed.

Web App Attacks:

Hackers exploit vulnerabilities in public web applications every day. Testing probes for flaws like XSS, SQLi, business logic errors, etc., that open doors to customer accounts.

Supply Chain Attacks:

Hackers can leverage third-party partners to reach the ultimate target. Testing checks the security of vendor apps, APIs, and network interconnections.
Data Exfiltration - Getting access is only step one - hackers want valuable data. Testing validates data security controls by stealing and decrypting sensitive data files as proof of concept for actual theft.

These scenarios represent the kind of cyberattacks that regularly make headlines. Pen testing prepares finance firms by pitting their defences against the same hacking techniques. It enables security teams to spot and seal gaps before damage is done.
This real-world approach to security testing reveals if, how, and where hackers could breach defences. The best casinos have mystery shoppers trying to cheat games - finance firms need ethical pen testers to spot gaps before cyber crooks do.

Stress Testing Infrastructure Resilience

Vegas casinos are designed for reliability and uptime. Downtime means losing money. Finance firms also need infrastructure to withstand crashes, failures, disputes, and disasters.
Penetration testing assesses how infrastructure stands up to adverse events. Ethical hackers will test redundancy, failover systems, backups, emergency procedures, and incident response to verify how resilient operations are. Can systems recover fast if hackers succeed or disaster strikes?
Tests probe the ability to:

• Withstand DDoS attacks that overwhelm systems
• Failover to redundant systems when servers crash
• Rely on backups for recovery if data is corrupted
• Support operations with degraded infrastructure capacity
• Communicate securely during incidents
• Transition to disaster recovery sites if needed
Stress testing infrastructure is essential for finance firms where they measure downtime in millions of lost transactions and revenue. Pen testing reveals if the infrastructure is truly resilient.

Validating Compliance with Security Mandates

Like counting cards, hacking the finance industry means playing by different rules given regulatory requirements. Banks and investment companies must comply with several cybersecurity standards and audits, such as:

PCI DSS - Required for any business that processes, stores, or transmits cardholder data. It mandates strong access controls, encryption, security testing, and more.
GLBA - The Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act requires financial institutions to ensure customer records and financial information security and confidentiality.
SOC2 - Service Organization Control reports demonstrate security practices for data processing and cloud/SaaS providers.
ISO 27001 - Establishes best practices for information security management systems. Certification demonstrates systematic security. 

Penetration tests provide validation and audit reports to prove compliance with these standards. Tests verify that required controls and preparations like access management, data protection, patching, and incident response plans are implemented and effective.
Regulations also require periodic penetration testing, annually or after significant changes to applications and infrastructure. Pen testing gives finance firms the documentation they need to avoid fines for non-compliance.

Securing an Expanding Network of Interconnected Systems

Like card sharks hunting for a vulnerable table, hackers are expanding their focus, looking for weak points across finance companies' digital estate. More technology means a larger attack surface.
Various interconnected systems that finance firms now rely on:
Finance firms' digital assets and attack surfaces have expanded dramatically over the past decade. Companies rely on a complex web of interconnected systems and access points that criminals can exploit:

Cloud Platforms
Finance firms are migrating data, applications, and infrastructure to the cloud at a rapid pace. Cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud provide flexibility and scalability. However, misconfigurations and poor access controls make cloud resources an attractive target. Pen-testing cloud assets are essential because a breach can compromise many finance operations simultaneously.
Online and Mobile Banking
Customers rely on online and mobile apps for 24/7 account access. Every endpoint is an entry point for hackers. Your business must test apps for vulnerabilities like injection attacks, improper session handling, and misplaced trust in client-side code. Mobile introduces new risks of compromised devices and insecure Wi-Fi networks.
Web Applications
Public-facing web applications like customer logins, payments, and money transfers are ripe targets. Hackers can sniff out flaws in web architecture, submit malicious inputs, or steal session tokens to compromise accounts. The website is the front door for many attacks.
APIs and Microservices
Finance firms now rely on APIs and microservices to connect disparate apps and data sources. But APIs need more traditional perimeter defences, often using simple protocols like REST without proper authentication. API traffic should be pen tested to verify consistent security and data protection.
Branch Office Networks
While offices now rely more on cloud systems, headquarters and branches still have on-premises networking infrastructure, servers, and endpoints. Local networks require ongoing pen testing to avoid lateral movement and privilege escalation attacks within the finance environment.
Remote Employee Access
The shift to hybrid and remote work means more employees access systems externally. Your IT team must validate Secure access protocols, VPNs, and endpoint security to prevent home networks and devices from becoming threat vectors.
Interconnections between these systems enable convenient information sharing and broader access for adversary activity. Pen testing across assets closes gaps anywhere within the digital finance ecosystem that could empower breaches.

Traditional network pen testing is no longer enough. Testing must include new infrastructure, apps, access points and connectivity. Ethical hackers must check for weaknesses in this broader ecosystem. Cloud assets, communication protocols, APIs, and web apps all expose potential access for criminals if not correctly secured.

Testing for Social Engineering Risks

In casino security, the most significant vulnerability is people. Staff can be tricked, bribed, or coerced. Social engineering exploits human factors to defeat defences.
Finance companies face the same problem. No matter how strong their cybersecurity measures are, employees can be manipulated by social engineering attacks and unknowingly let hackers in.
Penetration testing is essential for catching social engineering risks. Ethical hackers use phishing, phone scamming, and other techniques to test employee readiness:

- Phishing emails see who clicks malicious links.
- Voice phishing tricks staff into sharing sensitive info.
- Tailgating tests if intruders can access facilities.
- Pretexting attempts to obtain passwords by impersonation.
- Baiting tempts insiders to plug in malware-laden drives.

These tests identify which employees are prone to manipulation and show where policy training or more robust access controls are needed. A layered defence combines cybersecurity technology and an alert workforce.

Pen Testing is Part of the Cyber Insurance Policy

To hedge their risks, casinos purchase insurance policies with extensive coverage. Cyber insurance plays a similar role for finance firms. It covers costs that arise from data breaches, infrastructure failures, or cyber incidents.
Penetration testing is now considered a cyber insurance requirement. Insurers discount firms who complete thorough pen tests and fix identified vulnerabilities beforehand.
Proving infrastructure resilience lowers insurance premiums. Pen testing reports provide evidence of solid controls and cyber readiness to insurance underwriters. Being prepared with pen testing can prevent or reduce payouts from incidents.

Here’s why your business must DOUBLE-DOWN on Pen-testing

Threat actors use increasingly sophisticated and aggressive techniques to target financial systems and data. Stopping them requires fighting back with a tested defence.
Penetration testing is a critical element of a cybersecurity strategy that closes gaps before criminals can strike. Like casino security teams, information security groups must probe infrastructure for flaws using ethical hacking techniques.
For finance firms, pen testing verifies that critical systems are secured against real-world attacks. It tests infrastructure resilience, validates compliance, and evaluates staff readiness against tricky social engineering schemes.
Regular penetration testing assures that finance firms have the cybersecurity advantage to safeguard their assets and customer data. Don't wait to be the next multi-million dollar cyber heist victim. Book a call with us today, and let the pen-testing games begin!

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