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Penetration Testing Services: Manual or Automated?

February 24, 2021
Admir Dizdar

What are Penetration Testing Services?

Penetration testing (also called pentesting) is a controlled attempt to breach IT systems. Penetration testing is performed on behalf of the organization, in order to discover and remediate security weaknesses. There are two types of penetration testing services: manual and automated.

Manual penetration testing services

Traditionally, organizations contract penetration testing services from ethical hackers or security consulting firms. Manual penetration tests are extensive and methodical, but because of their high cost and complexity, they are performed infrequently, usually once per quarter or even once per year. In addition, manual pentesting can be unpredictable as some testers are very good, and others are not as good so will perform less well.

Automated penetration testing services

A new type of penetration testing service is penetration testing as a service (PTaaS). In this new model, a software as a service (SaaS) platform gives an organization automated tools it can use to perform penetration tests against its own systems. The main benefit of PTaaS is that it is predictable, inexpensive, and enables penetration testing on a continuous basis.

PTaaS can be fully self-service, used by the organization’s security or development teams or it can be delivered in a hybrid model, where the PTaaS provider offers a technological platform, but also helps operate it with its own security experts, guiding penetration testing and recommending remediations.

In this article, you will learn:

Penetration Testing as a Service (Automated Penetration Testing)

Penetration testing as a service (PTaaS) is performed by utilizing an automated online service, which organizations can use without contracting an external penetration tester.

PTaaS combines manual and automated penetration testing, allowing security teams to identify and fix vulnerabilities faster, better understand security mechanisms, and perform more frequent security testing. Customers use an online interface to manage penetration testing and data, making it easier to define scope of new penetration tests, view test results in real time, and perform continuous testing. 

Benefits of PTaaS services

The main value of PTaaS is that penetration tests can be performed much more frequently. New code and configurations are released daily, and each new version can have new vulnerabilities. With PTaaS, it’s possible to schedule and run a new penetration test for each new release. 

This type of continuous testing proactively improves the security environment, by identifying vulnerabilities, simulating potential attacks, and prioritizing the severity of attack outcomes.

Key features of PTaaS platforms

Here are the most important features potential customers should look at when evaluating an automated penetration testing service:  

  • A library of up-to-date recommendations for vulnerability remediation
  • Ability for multiple testers to collaborate on the same testing project
  • Standard reporting and severity metrics across multiple vulnerability scanners
  • Customizable reporting formats
  • Long-term tracking of penetration testing activities and remediation of vulnerabilities discovered
  • Integration with existing ticketing systems and governance, risk and compliance (GRC)

Related content: read our guide to penetration testing tools

Contract Penetration Testing Services (Manual Penetration Testing)

Unlike PTaaS, traditional penetration testing services are usually contracted to a security firm or individual ethical hacker. This individual or team provides an assessment of potential threats to company systems, in a systematic way, according to a predefined scope. 

Penetration testing starts from the perspective of an outside intruder or malicious insider. Like a real attacker, the pentester performs reconnaissance of the environment, identifies possible exploit paths, and attempts to penetrate the system being tested, without causing damage or exposing sensitive data.

The most important part of a penetration testing service is a final report that provides a list of vulnerabilities discovered during the test, assets or systems related to each vulnerability, an asset-related risk score, and recommendations for mitigating the risk in each of the affected systems.

Key qualifications of penetration testers

A good penetration tester should be:

  • Certified in relevant technology systems and compliance standards
  • Proficient with IT systems used by your organization
  • Experienced with exploit toolkits, and preferably able to customize exploits and malware
  • Experienced in social engineering
  • Analytical and methodical
  • A good communicator, able to provide reports that can communicate vulnerabilities and their impact both to management and technical staff

Types of Penetration Testing Services

Penetration testing services can be applied to several levels of the IT infrastructure. When selecting a penetration testing service, ensure it supports the type of penetration tests your organization needs.

Web Application Penetration Testing

Web application penetration testing looks for weaknesses in data validation and integrity, problems with authentication and session management, and other vulnerabilities. Penetration tests can identify security issues in databases, web application source code, and backend networks.

A web application pentest typically has three phases. Reconnaissance, discovery of security vulnerabilities, and exploiting vulnerabilities, in an attempt to gain unauthorized access to the application or its backend systems.

Learn more in our detailed guide to web application penetration testing

Network Penetration Testing

A network penetration test identifies security weaknesses in network infrastructure, including firewalls, switches, routers, and endpoints like servers and employee workstations. It can help prevent attacks exploiting incorrect firewall configuration, attacks against routers or switches, DNS attacks, proxy attacks, man in the middle (MiTM), and more.

Network penetration testing uses techniques like port scanning, traffic fuzzing, configuration vulnerability testing, virus scanning, and system fingerprinting. 

API Penetration Testing

Application programming interfaces (APIs) play a crucial role in modern information systems. Many IT systems communicate with APIs, or expose APIs, over the public Internet, making APIs a preferred attack vector for many attackers. 

API penetration testing involves learning an API’s structure and commands (some tools can import API commands using standards like OpenAPI), and checking for vulnerabilities like weak authentication, code injection, resource rate limiting, and data exposure. 

Mobile Application Penetration Testing

Many organizations have adopted bring your own device (BYOD) policies, meaning that employee’s personal mobile devices are allowed to connect to the network. Naturally these devices are less secure than corporate devices. 

Mobile penetration testing can test new attack vectors, such as deploying malware through mobile applications or phishing messages sent to personal devices, attacks exploiting weaknesses in WiFi networks, compromise of mobile device management (MDM) protocols, and more.

Penetration Testing Services with Bright

Bright significantly improves the application security pen-testing progress. By providing a no-false positive, AI powered DAST solution, purpose built for modern development environments the pen-testing process can be automated and vulnerabilities can be found faster and at a lower cost. Moreover, integrating Bright into DevOps environments enables you to run DAST scans as part of your CI/CD flows to identify a broad set of known (7,000+ payloads) security vulnerabilities early in the development process. 

In addition to detecting technical vulnerabilities, Bright’s unique ability to detect business logic vulnerabilities offers broader coverage and detection than any other automated solution. 

Learn more about Bright

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