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What is The Role of Penetration Testing in Data Privacy

Cyber Security | March 18, 2020

Lack of penetration testing, A recent study found that 33% of businesses have lost customers because of a breach.

Not only will this kind of security incident further add to the costs of the potential damages, but it can also negatively impact the reputation of your business — which can be harder to recover from. 

If you lose the personal information and other financial data of your customers, all your hard work could go down the drain from just one cyber attack. 

This is why running penetration tests regularly plays a crucial role in securing critical data. 

Although it isn’t a perfect solution that will keep out every single cyber threat, pen testing can help you uncover vulnerabilities in your networks, systems, and web apps before hackers do.

It is by far one of the best methods you can use to strengthen your cybersecurity.

In this post, we’ll take a look at the role of pen testing in the protection and privacy of your customer and business data.    

Why use penetration testing? 

On average, a hacking attack happens every 39 seconds — which means there could be hackers right now with plenty of time in their hands and have the right tools who are attempting to break into your systems. 

If you’re not aware where the weak spots in your systems are (or that you even have security vulnerabilities), then your highly-sensitive data could be easily exploited and exposed by hackers.  

Penetration testing helps provide a solution by helping you assess whether or not the security measures, configurations, and tools you have in place are strong enough to withstand attacks. 

Pen testing generally works by identifying your system vulnerabilities, examining the real-world effectiveness of your existing security controls under a skilled hacker, and documenting the findings of the test to strengthen your security measures and provide actionable suggestions. 

While automated testing will help you identify a few cybersecurity issues, true pen testing dives deeper by looking into your security vulnerabilities to manual attacks as well.

With manual and regular automated testing, you can determine software, infrastructure, physical, and even staff weaknesses to develop strong security controls for your business. 

Data Privacy and Protection Issues in Businesses

Businesses are some of the biggest targets for cyber attacks because of the access companies have to thousands of customer data. 

Without a comprehensive assessment of your payment systems and security controls (among other things), you could be leaving your customers’ data vulnerable — which can lead to a massive data breach. 

To give you a better idea of how damaging a single hacking incident can be to businesses, let’s take a look at some of the data breaches that happened in 2019. 

Online marketplace Poshmark reported a data breach in August 2019 and said in a statement published on its website that an unauthorized third party stole some of its customer data. 

The user profile data that was taken included usernames, names, city, gender information, email addresses, and scrambled passwords. 

The company was using a bcrypt hashing algorithm, but hackers still managed to compromise customer information.


In July 2019, supermarket chain Hy-Vee detected a customer payment incident that was breached by malware. 

The attack targeted specific point-of-sale (POS) systems at Hy-Vee drive-thru coffee shops, fuel pumps, and more — with the malware able to search for track data including card numbers, names, security codes, and expiration dates.   

With many companies – big and small scale alike – being targeted by hackers to steal customer information, the need for penetration testing becomes increasingly vital to strengthen your security vulnerabilities that could be easily exploited. 

Pentesting for Security Compliance

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) sets guidelines for the processing and collection of personal data from people who live within the European Union (EU). 

Since the regulation applies to all websites (regardless of where you are based or whether or not you specifically market services and goods to EU residents), if you’re attracting European site visitors, your business will need to comply. 

With pen testing, you can comply with the GDPR requirement stated in Article 32 on the need for “a process for regularly testing, assessing and evaluating the effectiveness of technical and organizational measures for ensuring the security of the processing.”

Penetration testing also helps your business become compliant by providing an end-of-state, final check to ensure that your required security controls are being implemented properly. 

Plus, pen testing can aid in identifying potential security risks to your customers’ data during the early stages of developing your new processing systems. 

Penetration Testing as a Preventive Security Measure

Taking a preventive approach towards information security is one of the best controls you can have for data privacy and protection

With penetration testing, you can perform a thorough and comprehensive assessment of your existing security measures, detect vulnerabilities, establish proof of concepts, and, ultimately, practical recommendations to mitigate your security risks. 

By identifying specific weaknesses and potential threats through the test, you can take the right steps to help ensure that your environment is not vulnerable to attacks.

This allows you to set up preventive security measures or strengthen the ones you already have in place, establish accountability and awareness among your employees, and reduce the risks of data loss and the costs that come with the potential damages.  

One of the challenges of detecting threats is that hackers are using more evolved and sophisticated methods to carry out attacks.

With regular pen testing, though, you can constantly test for real-life attacks and methods — which helps you determine your actual exploitable weaknesses that hackers can use to steal personal data.  

Lessons Learned from Pentesters

There are several misconceptions about whether or not you should run pen testing for your business.

You might hesitate to perform penetration testing due to the costs of getting highly-skilled pen testers and services — not to mention the expenses of implementing the recommendations after the test. 

If you’re not convinced yet about the cost-benefits of penetration testing, then maybe lessons from real-life pen testers will get you to reconsider. 

First, pen testing will help you assess the level of preparedness of both your technical and non-technical employees to respond correctly to cyber threats. 

Because pen testing involves attack simulations, it’s an excellent way to train your staff to handle threats.

Let’s say a pen tester runs a phishing campaign simulation for your marketing team to assess the possibility of a successful attack and gauge the impact.

If the results of the test show significant security risk, then a pen tester would recommend a security awareness training and conduct a follow-up simulation.

Second, pen testing provides an excellent opportunity to compile a security checklist for your business. 

In the assessment phase after the test, the pen tester will give you a prioritized list of security improvements and fixes you need to make. 

To some extent, this security checklist is one of the best output you can get from a pen test as it gives you a starting point for developing your defenses against data breaches and theft. 

Final Thoughts

Penetration testing plays a vital role by identifying your security vulnerabilities — allowing you to strengthen your defenses and protect the data of your customers and your business. 

After all, the benefits of implementing pen testing for your security can far outweigh the costs of paying for damages from a cyber attack — not to mention the negative impact on your reputation. 

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