Assuring the CIA Triad in Pentesting

As both cybersecurity threats and adversaries evolve and the cost of a data breach continues to climb, it’s becoming increasingly critical for businesses to continuously assess and strengthen the security of their systems.

Every year, breach costs continue to rise; in 2022, the average cost of a data breach in the United States rose to a staggering $9.44 million, while the global average hovered at $4.35 million globally.

During a penetration test, a simulation is conducted to ensure that the business is confidentially conducted, data is protected to continue business operations, and systems are functional during the assessment as much as possible. To do this successfully, penetration testers must be highly skilled and certified to conduct the test while maintaining confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data, systems, and operations. These three principles form the CIA Triad – a foundational term that describes why these three principles are paramount in information security, as they are managed throughout the lifecycle of the penetration test.

In this blog post, we’ll define the CIA Triad, its origins, and how it can be used strategically to ensure a successful, compliant penetration test.

Understanding the CIA Triad

The CIA Triad framework is a cornerstone in information security built on three core principles to ensure that data, users, and IT systems are kept secure, accurate, and accessible; these principles are defined as ‘confidentiality, integrity, and availability.’ The triad plays a significant role in protecting valuable assets and users from unauthorized access, tampering, and service disruptions.


The confidentiality component of the CIA Triad is centered around keeping information private by ensuring that only authorized personnel or entities can access it. Similarly to how you lock your doors to keep strangers out, organizations implement defensive measures like passwords and other authentication and encryption tactics to help protect trade secrets, customer and employee data, financial records, and any private information in the digital world from adversaries.

Preventing unauthorized access, disclosure, or theft of confidential information requires vigilance, which is why the foresight that pentesting offers is so critical. Identifying risks like weak access controls, unencrypted data transmission, or inadequate authentication mechanisms early-on allows security leaders to patch them before they compromise the confidentiality of the information in their systems.


The integrity principle is intended to ensure that data is accurate, reliable, and unaltered. Maintaining data integrity is important to every organization, but even more so in the financial and healthcare sectors and other related industries. For example, when a bank account holder transfer $10,000 out of their account for a down payment on a house, it’s the bank’s responsibility to ensure that the transaction request is not tampered with. Imagine the consequences of having an extra zero added to the dollar amount or the receiving account number being adjusted by just one digit.

Conducting pentesting to identify and remediate vulnerabilities that could compromise the integrity of data, such as weak data validation, improper input sanitization, or insufficient audit trails, is critical to help prevent unauthorized modification, destruction, tampering, and maintain compliance.


Availability in the context of the CIA Triad ensures that systems and data are accessible and usable when needed. Incidents that disrupt or deny access to critical resources, such as distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, can severely impact an organization’s operations. For example, if an eCommerce business’ website experiences frequent downtime or is often unresponsive from high traffic, it can negatively impact the company’s ability to generate revenue.

Pentesting conducted on web applications and other systems should uncover vulnerabilities that could lead to service interruptions, resource exhaustion, or other availability-related risks. Security leaders can learn from pentesting reports to gain complete security posture visibility and implement robust infrastructure, security, load balancing, and redundancy measures. These act to guarantee that mission-critical systems and services remain consistently accessible to meet customer demands, maintain user satisfaction, and prevent potential revenue loss.

The Origin of the CIA Triad

The CIA Triad has roots in the U.S. government and military systems, where protecting sensitive information from unauthorized access, modification, and disruption was and still is critical to national security. The emergence and evolution of the CIA Triad can be traced back to various milestones in the field of information security, yet it is difficult to pinpoint an exact date or single source. Regardless, the CIA Triad has emerged as a fundamental framework used by security and IT leaders worldwide reference it to understand and address the core principles it establishes for information security.

Back in 1976, the U.S. Air Force formalized the concept of confidentiality as a part of the Airforce Intelligence and Security Doctrine in Airforce Instruction (AFI) 16-701, which laid the groundwork for what is recognized as classified or “need-to-know” information by the Department of Defense (DoD). The concept was then adopted by other government agencies and developed into a concrete principle of information security.

The concept of Integrity within the CIA Triad can be traced back to a seminal 1987 paper titled, “A Comparison of Commercial and Military Computer Security Policies,” authored by David Clark and David Wilson. This paper acknowledged the distinctive requirements of commercial computing, particularly with accounting records, placing a strong emphasis on ensuring the correctness and accuracy of data. It recognized the vital need for maintaining data integrity in commercial data processing, further solidifying the significance of this principle within the CIA Triad framework.

The origins of the Availability principle have not been precisely identified, however, the concept gained significant attention in 1988 following the notorious Morris worm attack. The worm infected thousands of UNIX machines, causing significant network congestion and rendering many systems inaccessible. The consequences of the attack underscored the urgency needed to prioritize the availability of computer systems and networks.

Today, the CIA Triad serves as a prominent framework leveraged by cybersecurity and IT leaders. It serves as the foundation for developing effective security strategies to implement robust security controls and assess risks and vulnerabilities in IT systems.

How the CIA Triad Is Upheld in Pentesting

Although the ultimate goal of penetration testing service is to identify and exploit vulnerabilities in an organization’s systems to deliver insights that help them improve their cyber resilience, the CIA Triad principles can be used to help ensuring that penetration tests are secure and comprehensive.

Read on to see how each principle of the CIA Triad is upheld in penetration testing.

Maintaining Confidentiality During a Pentest

During a penetration test, pentesters may come across personal identifiable information (PII), trade secrets, and other confidential information when exploiting the vulnerabilities they identify. Penetration testers are required to respect the confidentiality of any sensitive data and information they have access to during the penetration testing process, which varies across different industries.

Because penetration testers are often privy to classified information, trusted pentesting providers hire full-time, certified, in-house penetration testers to serve their client’s security testing needs. Implementing stringent non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) for pentesters working under their governance is a common practice for top tier pentesting providers, however, this is not always the case. Many pentesting service providers hire independent contractors to do the work, which could compromise the confidentiality of their client’s information.

Why Integrity Matters in Pentesting

Every penetration test aims to assess and improve the integrity of a system’s security controls. In the same token, it’s also important that penetration testers are careful not to use any techniques or tactics that could compromise the integrity of the environments they test. The goal is to identify vulnerabilities and potential exploits without causing any adverse impact on the application or network’s functionality or data integrity.

Today, there are many certifications that organization’s require penetration testers to have in order to be permitted to pen test their systems. Most pentesting providers require their security experts to earn rigorous certifications to help ensure that they are qualified to conduct a penetration test without adversely impacting the integrity target systems. Some examples of the certifications that both pentesting service providers and certain customers require are OSCP, OSCE, CEH, CISSP, and CREST. Possessing any of these certifications indicates to security leaders that the expert can be trusted to uphold the integrity of their mission-critical assets.

How Availability Factors into Pentesting

When a penetration test is underway, the continuity of the business will be discussed in the scoping phase before the penetration test begin where the availability of the organization’s systems and services is a crucial topic of discussion. The objective is to strike a balance between conducting a thorough assessment of security vulnerabilities and minimizing potential disruptions.

To ensure availability during the penetration test, the testing team employs various strategies. They utilize testing methodologies and tools that are designed to minimize the impact on system performance and availability. They carefully plan their activities to avoid any actions that could cause unintended consequences or system failures.

Additionally, communication and coordination between the penetration testing team and the organization’s stakeholders are vital. Clear channels of communication are established to keep everyone informed about the testing progress, potential impacts, and any necessary precautions. This allows the organization to make informed decisions regarding the timing and extent of the penetration test to minimize disruptions to critical operations.

Strengthen the CIA Triad with Third Party Pentesting

The CIA Triad is not a one-time task to manage; rather, it is an ongoing commitment to safeguard sensitive information, maintain data integrity, and ensure IT system availability for users, customers, and organizations at large. By prioritizing the CIA Triad in pentesting engagements, organizations can proactively address security risks and foster a robust security culture while conducting secure security testing that doesn’t interrupt business operations.

Supporting the CIA Triad during pentesting is crucial for organizations aiming to maintain robust security. An independent, third party penetration test can help teams prioritize the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data to support overall data security best practices.

Assure the CIA Triad during Your Next Pentest

In the dynamic landscape of cybersecurity, pentesting plays a crucial role in identifying vulnerabilities and fortifying systems against potential attacks. With certified expertise and a comprehensive, industry-proven approach, BreachLock ensures that pentesting engagements adhere to all aspects of the CIA Triad. We conduct thorough vulnerability assessments and pen tests to identify vulnerabilities that could compromise data confidentiality, assess the integrity of systems and applications to prevent unauthorized modifications, and evaluate the availability of critical resources to safeguard against disruptions.

By choosing a trusted partner like BreachLock, security leaders can rest assured that their pentesting activities align with the CIA Triad. BreachLock penetration testers are experienced, certified, and trained to uphold CIA principles while proactively identifying vulnerabilities and helping clients with rapid remediation of critical vulnerabilities.

Ready to see how BreachLock can conduct a secure, compliant penetration test that supports and strengthens the CIA Triad? Schedule a discovery call with one of our security experts to learn more now.


1. How can a penetration tester uphold the CIA Triad in pentesting?
Certified penetration testers uphold the CIA Triad (Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability) in pentesting engagements. They prioritize protecting sensitive information, maintaining data integrity, and minimizing disruptions to system availability. They handle confidential data responsibly and ensure secure communication channels. Penetration testers report vulnerabilities accurately, providing detailed information for remediation. These practices enhance security measures, safeguarding the CIA Triad. Adherence to ethical guidelines and legal boundaries is vital throughout the engagement.

2. What is an example of the CIA Triad?
One example of the CIA Triad is how the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) security rule ensures how personal health information (PHI) is transferred, stored, and shared, while being made available for patient care, business operations, and external parties. Another example can be found within the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), which essential enforces the CIA Triad principles for payment card data security by requiring organizations to protect cardholder data (confidentiality), maintain data integrity through secure processes and audits, and ensure availability of payment services.

3. Can the CIA Triad be applied to any organization or industry?
Yes, the CIA Triad is applicable to organizations across industries. Whether it’s financial institutions, healthcare providers, government agencies, or businesses of any size, the principles of confidentiality, integrity, and availability are essential for maintaining the security of information assets. Organizations in highly regulated industries that have data security requirements should use the CIA Triad as an overarching set of principles to inform the security, governance, risk, and compliance functions.

4. How can organizations benefit from partnering with BreachLock for penetration testing?
By partnering with BreachLock, organizations can leverage the expertise of a trusted penetration testing provider. BreachLock’s comprehensive approach and skilled testers enable organizations to identify vulnerabilities, assess risks, and prioritize remediation efforts based on the CIA Triad principles. This partnership helps organizations strengthen their security posture, mitigate potential threats, and comply with industry regulations.

5. What are the consequences of neglecting the CIA Triad?
Neglecting the CIA Triad can lead to various security breaches and incidents. Unauthorized access to sensitive data, data manipulation, system failures, and service disruptions can result in financial losses, reputational damage, legal consequences, and compromised customer trust.

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