Penetration Testing and the Pros and Cons of Manual vs Automated Penetration Testing

In this article, I’ll explain what penetration testing is and what are the pros and cons of manual vs. automated penetration testing in cybersecurity.

Nowadays, we are seeing a significant increase in cyberattacks, unethical hacking, and malware integration all around us. Multinational corporations, prominent financial sectors, and even government agencies are under continuous threat of cyberattack and, in most cases, end up losing millions. But the amount of money might not be significant for these corporations. Moreover, the brand reputation, resulting lack of trust, and loss of confidential customer data can wreck these sectors.

Therefore, enterprises are always on the lookout for efficient techniques that can help security analysts evaluate the effectiveness of information security measures within their business.

The penetration test is a similar technique that is leveraged to pierce the cyber defense of a business’s cybersecurity, hence allowing testers to check for exploitable vulnerabilities in enterprise networks, web applications, and user security. 

What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration Testing

As mentioned earlier, the fundamental objective of penetration testing is to analyze and detect vulnerabilities or weaknesses in systems before an attacker does. It is capable of helping the testers in comprehensively evaluating the security of the complete enterprise IT infrastructure by safely exploiting existing vulnerabilities before a hacker finds them.

These vulnerabilities may exist anywhere in the entire system from operating systems and online service portals to software solutions and may be the result of improper configurations or risky end-user behavior.

By conducting a penetration test, enterprises can actually validate the efficacy of cybersecurity mechanisms implemented by the business and make decisions on whether the service provider must be changed or not. 

Manual Vs. Automated Penetration Testing

penetration testing and pros cons

Like every other testing service, penetration testing also can be done manually or can be automated by using automation frameworks. The manual or automated technologies are leveraged to systematically penetrate into and compromise servers, customer endpoints, web applications, interconnecting wireless networks, business network devices, mobile devices, or any other points of exposure that have the potential to be hacked.

Both manual and automated methods can be leveraged to identify these vulnerabilities that have been exploited by a particular system. But the process does not end there, testers will have to again try to leverage the compromised system to launch subsequent attacks at other internal resources, particularly by trying to achieve increased levels of security clearance and more penetrated access to electronic assets and information.

This could be quite challenging to perform manually and most of the times enterprises leverage an automation framework to automate these processes. Because automated penetration testing is not only capable of identifying flaws but can also create automated reports with detailed security vulnerabilities and present them to the IT or network system managers.

Based on these reports,  cybersecurity experts can make strategic decisions and implement a more reinforced cybersecurity strategy as well as prioritize related remediation efforts. 

The Pros And Cons Of Manual Vs Automated Penetration Testing

Pros and cons of manual penetration testing

Pros of manual penetration testing

The pros of manual penetration testing are that it presents testers with better flexibility and a better opportunity in identifying and solving vulnerabilities within the tested systems. Manual penetration testing can seamlessly detect more minute unidentifiable vulnerabilities and attacks that automated tests may miss, such as: 

  • Blind SQL injection attacks
  • Logic flaws
  • Access control vulnerabilities

An experienced penetration testing analyst can analyze the responses of an application to such clever unidentifiable attacks by leveraging a manual penetration test. It can further help them to potentially identify threats that may otherwise appear legitimate to automated software testing but, in reality, is a threat.

Another benefit of manual penetration testing is that experts can review results in real-time and take necessary actions immediately. With automation testing, testers will have to wait for the automated test results and then identify the ones that need to be resolved initially.  

Cons of manual penetration testing

As with all the other manual testing scenarios, cost and time are the main concern for manual penetration testing as well. Manual testers require a significant amount of time to penetrate comprehensively, especially into large enterprise networks or software solutions.

They have to also ensure that the issues are fixed and the new code does not affect the functionality of the previous codes. Also, depending on the number of processes required, it could take weeks to get the complete results, which isn’t always ideal in the software development life cycle, especially if major vulnerabilities exist.

Automated penetration testing pros and cons

Pros of automated penetration testing

Unlike other testing processes, penetration testing is more complicated and expensive, therefore, several companies conduct tests less frequently. But by automating the testing procedure, the complexity and resources required can be eliminated significantly.

This will empower more companies to adopt penetration testing and help them reinforce their security protocols. Also, frequent automated penetration testing, helps enterprises stay updated with the latest threats and malware so that these new cyber threats will not affect their systems.

Another most common benefit of test automation services is that it reduces the pressure on manual testers, so they can prioritize other core responsibilities and will no longer have to spend days if not weeks on penetration testing.  

Cons of automated penetration testing

One significant con of automated penetration testing is that even expert analysts are still not completely aware of the automation tools, frameworks, procedures, etc, and still consider it as an emerging technology. Because every automation tool is only as good as the knowledge of the person using it.

And without proper expertise, these automation tools cannot be leveraged to their complete potential. Some decision-makers also worry that automated tools could displace human penetration testers, but that is not necessarily the case. Automation testing tools can only enhance human capabilities and help them achieve better results. 

Another potential con of automated penetration testing is that it still remains limited in functionality and cannot be deployed for each and every testing scenario. 

Conclusion

As advancements in technology increase, each day so does the sophistication in cyberattacks. Therefore, it is more important than ever that not only large business enterprises but also SMEs and startups perform frequent penetration testing to identify their exposures and vulnerabilities to threats.

These advanced tests and analyses can help enterprises to take a proactive stand against cyber threats and identify weaknesses in their infrastructure, applications, and hardware devices.

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