What Is Active Testing?

    In cybersecurity, active testing refers to the planned, systematic assessment of a system or network’s security measures through the use of intrusive techniques and emulated attacks. The approach stands in opposition to passive testing, which focuses on the observation of systems without deliberate active engagements. The goal of active testing is to identify vulnerabilities and attempt to exploit them to evaluate their effectiveness against the methods employed by real-world adversaries.

    Why is active testing essential?

    Active testing is essential for organizations because it empowers them to remain proactive in their approach to cybersecurity. By identifying and assessing vulnerabilities and evaluating their associated risk levels, organizations can effectively prioritize remediation efforts to mitigate risk. In this way, they continually upscale their defenses to remain resilient against evolving threats.

    When should active testing be used?

    Active testing should used on a regular basis to facilitate a comprehensive and effective cybersecurity strategy. Crucial junctures where active testing is advised include any point where major changes are made within an IT environment, such as during the development and deployment of new systems or the implementation of major security updates or patches. 

    What are the types of active testing?

    The following are the most widely used methods of active testing in cybersecurity:

    • Penetration Testing: Organizations employ professional penetration testing experts to emulate real-world attacks on specific target systems to identify and exploit their vulnerabilities.
    • Red Team Exercises: A team of skilled security experts known as a “red team” conducts a comprehensive assessment of an organization’s defensive measures by emulating all of the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) of real-world adversaries.
    • Vulnerability Scanning: Organizations use automated tools to scan their systems to identify known vulnerabilities and prioritize them for remediation.
    • Ethical hacking: An organization employs an ethical hacker to attempt to gain unauthorized access to its systems to identify exploitable vulnerabilities. This involves the emulation of attacks as well as methods such as social engineering.

    What Are the benefits and challenges of active testing?

    As with any security approach, active testing has its benefits and challenges. The benefits of active testing include the following:

    • Emulated attacks provide a realistic assessment of security measures.
    • Vulnerabilities are identified and remediated before they can be exploited.
    • Organizations gain a clear understanding of security posture and attack surface.
    • Security controls and incident response capabilities are comprehensively validated.
    • Organizations can identify risks and prevent data breaches to ensure compliance with regulatory standards.

    The challenges of active testing include the following:

    • Downtime for testing can cause some operational disruption.
    • Emulating the tactics of real-world attackers can be difficult as methods are constantly evolving.
    • Comprehensive testing can involve significant outlay as it requires skilled personnel and purpose-built security tools.
    • The nature of threat emulation means there is potential for accidental damage or data loss if errors are made.
    • Tests are periodic, so active testing may need to be complemented by continuous monitoring.

    Leveraging active testing for stronger posture

    Active testing is an essential aspect of what comprises a comprehensive and detail-oriented cybersecurity approach. By emulating the methods of real-world attackers, active testing enables organizations to identify vulnerabilities in their systems and upscale their defenses pre-emptively to stay proactive in defending themselves against security threats. and enhancing their overall security posture. As such, it is key to a strong security posture.

    Glossary related terms
    Automated Penetration Testing Automated Security Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS) External Attack Surface Management (EASM) Ransomware Readiness Assessment Red Teaming Security Validation Vulnerability Management Security Control Validation