Penetration Testing Compliance

For which security standards is pentesting a must-have?

Blog Penetration Testing Compliance

| 6 min read

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The need to protect sensitive information has resulted in regulations in every industry. Some of such regulations require conducting penetration testing. This offensive approach, which mimics the behavior of malicious attackers, can yield very accurate security testing results. In this blog post, we present whether penetration testing is required by the international standards about which most people have this question. However, we stress the importance of going beyond basic compliance.

What is penetration testing?

Penetration testing (or “manual” penetration testing) is an approach to security assessment that consists in simulating updated attack scenarios to check the defenses of information technology systems. Such an approach is possible only with human intervention, where security professionals, ethical hackers, are the ones who know how malicious threat actors operate. Thus, pen testing goes beyond vulnerability assessments (aka vulnerability scanning or vulnerability analysis) done by tools only. Leveraging automation alone leads to high rates of false positives and false negatives, which adds administrative burden to organizations' technical teams. So, when it comes to accuracy and cost saving, pen testing has the upper hand.

Penetration testing for regulatory compliance

Is GDPR penetration testing compliance a thing?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) lays down rules relating to the protection of natural persons' data and privacy within the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA). This applies even to companies that, operating outside those territories, store, process or transfer personal information of EU and EEA citizens.

This standard requires firms to implement technical and organizational measures to ensure a level of data security appropriate to the risks. Further, it mandates the testing of the effectiveness of such measures regularly. Although penetration testing is not mandatory per GDPR, it is an approach that, simulating real-world attacks, can accurately assess the confidentiality, integrity, availability and resilience of systems. For example, some basic system requirements, such as specifying the purpose of data collection and respecting tracking preferences, are not validated by automated tools.

At Fluid Attacks, we check that your systems comply with security requirements mapped to the GDPR. These include effective data handling and privacy controls.

Is GLBA penetration testing compliance a thing?

Since December 2022, financial institutions are required to conduct penetration testing annually. This is according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's final rule on the Standards for Safeguarding Customer Information. The Commission established these standards as required by the Gramm Leach Bliley Act (GLBA), which aims to regulate the privacy and data security practices of institutions in the finance industry.

As the name of the Standards suggests, institutions are required especially to prove that their controls to safeguard customer information are effective. One thing worth mentioning is that the definition of information systems in the Standards includes physical systems and employees. Thus, pen testers should use techniques such as social engineering and phishing to test organizations' cybersecurity.

We help you with GLBA compliance by checking that your systems specify the purpose of data collection, request user consent and allow users to opt-out, among other requirements.

Is HIPAA penetration testing compliance a thing?

HIPAA is a federal law, according to which, standards must be created that regulate and improve how entities handle Protected Health Information (PHI). This kind of information refers to that which could be used to identify a patient. PHI can be lab results, hospital visits, prescriptions and vaccination records. Healthcare institutions, and clearly every company that has patient data, should ensure the confidentiality and security of the information using proper administrative, physical and technical safeguards.

The use of penetration testing is advisable but not mandatory. It is worth noting, though, that every organization benefits from testing their systems against simulations of the behavior of malicious threat actors. In this case, we are talking about an industry that has attractive attributes in the eyes of adversaries. One of the main motivations for attackers targeting healthcare institutions is the high value for patient data. A contributing factor may be the fact that these entities often use legacy systems. We know that unpatched systems are easy targets, since their vulnerabilities are probably known and therefore exploited constantly by opportunistic threat actors.

We check that your systems comply with HIPAA-related security requirements. Among them are those concerning authentication, authorization and cryptography.

Is ISO penetration testing compliance a thing?

ISO/IEC 27001 (or just "ISO 27001") is developed by the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission). It provides requirements for establishing, implementing, maintaining and continually improving an information security management system (ISMS). This ISO document is officially a standard that can be used worldwide as the basis for formal compliance assessment by accredited certification auditors.

The security controls that may be regarded as most relevant vary markedly across industries adopting the ISO 27001. So there is no one-size-fits-all set of controls to validate, although there are items explicitly required for certification. In this regard, there are clauses that can justify the use of pentesting as the preferred approach. One refers to the organization determining its information risk assessment process. The other, refers to providing evidence of the monitoring and measurement of information security. We recommend penetration testing as an extremely suitable approach to test organizations' defenses against attacks that could realistically appear given their threat landscape.

Fluid Attacks tests compliance with several security requirements mapped to the ISO/IEC 27001. They include legal, privacy, data handling, source code and network security requirements, among others.

Get started with Fluid Attacks' Penetration Testing solution right now

Is PCI penetration testing compliance a thing?

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is global and well known. Its purpose is to prevent data theft and fraud by securing debit and credit card transactions. Basically, every company that accepts, processes, stores or transmits debit and credit card information should achieve PCI DSS compliance. Further, certifying and communicating that a company complies with this standard assures customers that they can trust the company's application with their data.

PCI DSS penetration testing compliance consists in performing external and internal penetration testing regularly. Additionally, the specific requirement asks companies to correct the exploitable vulnerabilities and security weaknesses found. And what does it mean by "regularly"? That's conducting penetration testing at least once every year. However, service providers are required to prove that their systems are assessed "at least once every six months and after any changes to segmentation controls/methods." This is because they generally have access to greater volumes of cardholder information or can be an entry point to compromise multiple other entities.

Fluid Attacks checks that systems comply with security requirements mapped to the PCI DSS. These are related to data handling, cryptography and secure source code, among others.

Is SOC 2 penetration testing compliance a thing?

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) created the System and Organization Controls (SOC, aka service organizations controls) to refer to reports produced during an audit. SOC 2 shows the result of the evaluation of service organizations based on five trust service criteria: security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality and privacy. This standard is relevant to technology companies (e.g., SaaS companies) that provide information systems as a service to other organizations.

Auditors checking compliance with the trust service criteria are instructed by this standard to validate whether the service organization assesses its systems' controls constantly or on separate occasions. Further, the standard names penetration testing as one acceptable type of such assessments. Although SOC 2 penetration testing requirements are not clear on the right frequency with which assessments should be conducted, we recommend they are done continuously, mimicking the constant flux of cyber threats.

We check security requirements related to SOC 2 criteria in your systems. These requirements include data handling, device security, authentication and authorization controls, among others.

Is SWIFT CSCF penetration testing compliance a thing?

The SWIFT Customer Security Controls Framework (CSCF) establishes mandatory and advisory security controls to promote the security of the SWIFT interbank communications system. SWIFT stands for "Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication," which enables financial transactions and payments between banks.

This standard explicitly requires financial institutions to perform penetration testing. This security approach is requested to fulfill a specific control objective of validating the operational security configuration and identifying security gaps. (You can download this standard's self-attestation form, which mentions the need of performing pentesting, by following this link.)

We check your systems for compliance with requirements related to the SWIFT CSCF. These include the ones about authorization, authentication and third-party components, among others.

Do I need penetration testing compliance?

The fact of the matter is that if you are in an industry that deals with sensitive client data, you are required to conduct security testing. Regardless of whether or not it is mandatory in your industry to conduct penetration testing specifically, you should know how selecting this approach is more sensible than running vulnerability scanning solely. Moreover, we recommend that you subject your systems to security testing continuously, not just regularly. Remember that threats are constantly evolving, so, during the time you are not testing, you are most vulnerable to being breached.

If you were looking for a standard that is not in this blog post, it probably is in our Documentation. Feel free to contact us if you have any compliance-related questions.

How we help you with penetration testing compliance

Fluid Attacks performs continuous penetration testing from the beginning and throughout the software development lifecycle. Our penetration testing solution is part of our all-in-one service, Continuous Hacking. In our assessments, we check that the target systems comply with several renowned international standards. We help our clients go beyond compliance by performing penetration tests continuously, checking every version of their systems. Our clients know it's not enough to have just one penetration test per year or quarterly, because they make changes everyday and the threat landscape is also in perpetual evolution.

Continuous Hacking includes access to our platform. There, users can see how well they comply with several standards. Start your 21-day free trial to leverage our automated security testing and explore the platform. You can upgrade to include pentesting.

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