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Penetration testing levels

We offer different penetration testing levels designed to meet the demands of your organisation.

Every organisation has something worth stealing, whether it’s personal information, payment card data, medical records or intellectual property. Cyber criminals know this and usually cast a broad net with their attacks, looking to exploit any weaknesses.


Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are especially vulnerable to cyber attacks. According to the Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2017 , 46% of all small businesses in the UK identified at least one cyber security breach or attack in the previous 12 months. This is partly because many SMEs don’t consider themselves targets and so don’t do enough to protect themselves, but even those that are aware of the risks often don’t have sufficient resources to defend themselves.

Because so few organisations have thorough cyber security measures in place, a penetration test will be one of the first significant steps they take to becoming secure. Performing a test might seem undesirable. However, investing in regular penetration tests is a much better prospect than the alternative. A joint report by Kaspersky Lab and B2B International found that the average cost of data breaches for SMEs is £65,000 per year.

Penetration testing levels

At IT Governance, we offer two levels of penetration test to meet your specific budget and technical requirements:



Level 1 penetration test

For the majority of organisations, a level 1 penetration test will be appropriate to help mitigate the threat of the opportunist attacker who is looking for easy targets by exploiting known vulnerabilities.

This test involves manual assessments with automated scans to assess the true extent of the vulnerabilities affecting your applications, systems or networks. By combining a level 1 test with regular vulnerability scanning, you can prioritise the resolution of identified issues and establish a comprehensive assessment of your risks from external threats.

A level 1 penetration test requires minimal scoping and can be performed quickly and cost effectively, providing a good overview of your security posture if performed at regular intervals.



Level 2 penetration test

A level 2 penetration test is appropriate for organisations that may be specifically targeted by attackers, perhaps because of the information they hold or the nature of their business.

This level of test involves a painstakingly detailed process of identifying security holes and vulnerabilities in your hardware (including printers, fax machines and workstations) and software, systems or web applications and then trying to exploit them.

The extent of a level 2 penetration test means it takes time to perform and is usually only recommended to clients that require a complex cyber attack simulation.

A comparison chart to help you decide


Level 1

Level 2


To determine the potential vulnerabilities in target systems and how to

To determine whether your business is vulnerable to a hacker and whether you could detect an attack.


Identification and analysis of the vulnerabilities in your networks, systems, websites, web applications or wireless networks.

Tests involve looking at vulnerabilities and trying to gain access to critical resources.

Target audience

Companies that want to go beyond ‘light-touch’ vulnerability scans or assess their cyber security baseline.

Companies that have a mature security programme and want a full test of their network.

Skill level required



Emulates a real-world attack




Agreed at outset.

Agreed at outset.

Fixed-price package



Scoping call with a consultant



Testing methodology

Aligned with the OWASP

Aligned with the OWASP.

Vulnerability scanning



Can be performed on-site



Can be performed remotely



Identification of false positives



Exploitation of vulnerabilities



Detailed report



Manual grading of risk and impact



An approach for determining your testing requirements

You should consider the following before embarking on any penetration test or vulnerability assessment project.

  • 1. Evaluate drivers for penetration tests

    Determine your goals based on an evaluation of relevant criteria, such as the impact of serious incidents, increased threat levels, or significant changes to business or IT processes.

    If your goal is to become PCI compliant, or to protect other specific data, you will need to work out the scope of that data environment and ensure it is segmented. If, on the other hand, you are responding to a breach at another or similar organisation, try to understand what form the attack took and the underlying motivation.

    By understanding the motives and techniques of attackers, you can focus on building effective defences.

  • 2. Identify target environments

    Your penetration testing programme should identify the target environments that need to be penetration tested.

    Ask yourself what your most valuable assets are. It may be your intellectual property, important business applications, key IT infrastructure, confidential data or simply your reputation.

    Understanding what you need to protect – its value to you, its value to an attacker, and the impact of a loss in terms of operational, financial and reputational damage – will help you to determine an appropriate level of expenditure on protection.

  • 3. Prioritise your efforts

    Now you are ready to build a penetration testing programme that will prioritise protecting your most valuable assets from your biggest threats. By combining frequent low-level vulnerability scanning with regular level 1 penetration tests of your estate and level 2 testing of your critical systems and assets, you can maximise the value of testing in the most efficient way.


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