Security Solutions

5 mins

Bug-Proofing Your Rapid Development Cycle: The Power of the Automated PenTest

The need to constantly refresh your IT stack as customer and market needs change means that software is continually being created anew. These technology refreshes are not perfect, however. Bugs, errors, and defects are likely within any software development cycle. When the pressure is on to release new tools in a fast-moving, competitive market, they become inevitable. 

But just because bugs can't be completely avoided, that doesn’t mean they need to lead to risks that undermine your compliance or cause reputational damage. Penetration testing (PenTesting) has long been used by businesses to weed out the threats that are present within their software solutions. By simulating a cyberattack, a PenTest hunts down vulnerabilities and helps organizations evaluate the security posture of new tools. But here, another problem emerges. 

PenTesting: A drain on development resources?

Many different methods of PenTesting exist, from red teaming to build and configuration reviews, but the majority of them require businesses to commit additional resources in terms of either finances or labor hours. This is difficult at the best of times, but the pace of digital transformation is making it particularly difficult for businesses to find the time and money to employ manual penetration testing. Last year, for instance, cybersecurity budgets made up 11.6% of total IT expenditure, a notable increase from 8.6% in 2020. Security budgets are tight and only getting tighter, it seems. 

The other problem is the pace of the modern development cycle. Recent research suggests that the modern software development project takes just eight months on average to complete. The embrace of digital transformation across a broad spectrum of industries means this timeframe is only likely to shrink further. And yet, not all software development lifecycles end in success. In fact, almost a third (29%) of software projects fail due to insufficient or poor testing - which allows bugs to go undetected.

Rapid development and frequent code push mean there's an increased likelihood of bugs infiltrating your system. Modern software development teams often face tight deadlines and are beset by understaffing. This inevitably leads to unrealistic deadlines and overworked developers who start to make mistakes. Other issues can also lead to software bugs, of course, including poor communication during development or shifting project requirements, but time pressure remains a major cause.

The PenTest challenge explained

Any organization that takes the time to employ penetration testing before launching a new piece of software or updating one they are already familiar with should be commended. The intent to tackle security issues head-on is especially important when the attack surface is expanding so rapidly. Even so, difficulties remain. Manual PenTests are not a foolproof way of tackling software bugs or the security issues that may arise as a result of them. Here are three of the most common challenges that arise when conducting manual PenTesting. 

Testing gaps

It’s difficult to say exactly when the right time to conduct a manual PenTest is. Carry one out unnecessarily and it represents a significant drain on resources without much reward. Take too long and you give hackers an opportunity to exploit security bugs. 

Because of the resource-intensive nature of PenTesting, many organizations choose to carry them out annually. In fact, Core Security’s 2023 Pen Testing Report found that the majority (42%) of cybersecurity professionals conduct tests between once and twice a year. Depressingly, 13% admitted to never carrying them out at all. 

The gap between tests, even if security teams stick to a regular schedule, means cybercriminals have plenty of time to exploit bugs. It’s not always feasible to commit security personnel to a new test, however, so vulnerabilities remain open to attack until the next scheduled test rolls around. 

Workflow disruption

PenTesting is not the only task a business needs to complete. They’ll also likely have other priorities like client demands and everyday workflows. Regular penetration testing can get in the way of an organization’s daily operations, disrupting typical ways of working.

Due to the intrusive nature of PenTesting, it is often conducted outside of traditional business hours to minimize business disruption. This creates its own problems though. First, this means that any simulation of a cyberattack is not necessarily representative of what would happen if an attack occurred during work hours. Second, it puts added stress on security personnel who are asked to work at unusual times (while probably being reminded not to neglect their day-to-day tasks).

Don’t forget remediation

It may be easy to forget, but finding a bug or coding error is not the ultimate goal of PenTesting. Fixing it is. But before teams can get to work on remediating a vulnerability, they first need to validate the bug. They can’t go about altering a solution’s coding unless they are sure a bug is present. And validating manual PenTests can take hours.

Following security protocols may mean that teams have to create a document explaining the bug, its root cause, and what their remediation plan is. All of this is time-consuming. Because of the time it takes, manual remediation can also prove expensive and give hackers longer to take advantage of any identified threats.

After the code has been updated and any remediating work  "regression testing" should occur to verify that the flaw has indeed been fixed. Crucially, regression testing is also necessary for ensuring that new software vulnerabilities have not been introduced.

Why it’s time to embrace automated PenTesting 

Given the resources required by manual PenTesting, many security teams are embracing automation. Crucially, this doesn’t mean that human security personnel are suddenly unnecessary. On the contrary, Automated Penetration Testing is about enhancing the efforts of your security team and fortifying your development practices.

First of all, Automated PenTesting provides a way for organizations to bridge their assessment gaps. Automation means risk assessments are continuously carried out, results are verified automatically and security teams can proactively remediate risks when necessary. 

Automated PenTestings can also operate in the background without disrupting normal workflows. Low impact scans can be implemented continuously without the need to schedule out-of-hours testing so security personnel can focus on their core functions. And risk remediation can be automatically validated so teams can quickly and efficiently move on to their next task. 

At Hadrian, we believe Automated PenTesting is the only way to eliminate software bugs in a world that demands an increasingly rapid development cycle. The pace of modern software development leaves little time to manually assess risks - but if businesses choose to forego penetration testing completely, they leave themselves at the mercy of cyberattacks.

The key features of Hadrian’s Automated PenTesting include the real-time discovery of bugs, silent, non-disruptive testing, and event-based architecture that offers security validation through cross-asset testing. Crucially, Hadrian’s Automated PenTesting goes beyond identifying threats to streamline the remediation of risks. Its Orchestrator AI feature verifies whether weaknesses could be exploited by an attacker, removing false positives. Risks are also prioritized so security teams can direct their workflows in the direction of the bugs that may have the greatest impact.

Don’t let potential threats or the burden of manual testing hold up your rapid development cycle. Innovate and update at speed with the peace of mind that comes from Automated PenTesting. 

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