Automated Penetration Testing: Useful Tool With Limitations to Consider

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In today’s digital landscape, penetration testing is an essential part of any organization’s cybersecurity strategy. Running automated pentesting provides a quick and cost-effective way to improve security posture, however relying solely on it to identify vulnerabilities can lead to a false sense of security, as they lack the ability to replicate a skilled hackers using a mix of human creativity and a deep understanding of modern ecosystems to identify security flaws that can be exploited in unique contexts to circumvent security measures and breach an organization.

Organizations should leverage automated testing to ensure continuous identification of vulnerabilities that have been published by manufacturers, while performing comprehensive manual tests on a periodic basis to ensure full vulnerability coverage and gain a more detailed perspective.

What is Automated Penetration Testing

Automated penetration testing utilizes software to simulate cyber attacks and detect weaknesses in networks, applications, IoT devices and more. The software contains an inventory of known exploits and vulnerability scans to uncover security gaps based on common misconfigurations or unpatched flaws.

Tests are scheduled to run scans periodically to check for new issues. The automated nature allows frequent testing to stay on top of evolving attack techniques and new system changes.

Main Benefits

  • Swift Identification of Known Weaknesses: Automated tools quickly find publicly known vulnerabilities based on sizable databases that generally get updated when the manufacturer releases an official fix. This allows fast remediation of security gaps and exploits that are associated with the various versions of products and software used by the organization’s IT infrastructure and applications.
  • Covering Vast Environments: Automated Testing can target large IT environments and vastly more assets than manual testing, allowing
  • Catching Low-Hanging Fruit: Though not finding obscure issues, automated testing identifies the easiest entry points for less sophisticated hackers.

Limitations of Automation

While providing value, relying solely on automated penetration testing has important downsides to consider:

  • Struggles with Chained Attack Vectors: Automated tools only cover known exploit scenarios based on pre-programmed vulnerability checks and often fail at identifying and demonstrating the critical nature of a successive exploitation of multiple vulnerabilities
  • Lacks Understanding of Business Logic: The tools lack core business and application knowledge to test the software beyond basic security settings and system configurations.
  • Provides False Sense of Security: With only surface-level testing, the limited leads organizations to incorrectly assume their systems are fully secured against real-world attacks, while they may be potentially exposed to more complex exploits and hacking techniques.

Manual Testing Essential for Realistic Perspective

To gain a true perspective of cyberattack risks, there is no replacement for manual penetration testing by an experienced specialist. Human experts bring sophisticated methodology, in-depth business process knowledge, and creative thinking to uncover vulnerabilities missed by automation.

Manual tests simulate the approach of advanced hackers who target organizations based on their infrastructure, applications, and other attributes. Specialists exploit logical business flaws versus only known technical bugs, providing a realistic assessment.

Combining automated and manual testing produces optimal results. Automation handles rapidly evolving known issues, while experts focus on deep analysis to uncover risks unique to each organization.

Strike the Right Balance for Your Cybersecurity Program

The best approach depends on the size, systems, and cybersecurity needs of your organization:

  • For small companies, running occasional automated scans provides essential vulnerability checks between more comprehensive manual tests.
  • As organizations grow larger, implementing continuous automated testing creates consistent monitoring of the evolving attack surface.
  • Highly complex environments with surplus budget should combine ongoing automated checks with in-depth quarterly manual tests by specialists.

Contact our cybersecurity experts to discuss your needs, challenges and receive free guidance to protect your organization from modern cyber threats.

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