Security Solutions

6 mins

How To Incorporate Penetration Testing into your CTEM Program

By now, you’ll probably have seen countless headlines about the number of cyberattacks organizations are facing, with as many as 83% of businesses experiencing more than one data breach throughout the year, according to IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach Report 2023. The most high-profile of these can result in shocking headlines and major reputational damage, such as the AT&T data breach that saw “millions of customers caught up in a major dark web leak.”

Given the substantial impact of even a single successful attack, it is far from surprising that organizations have adopted several strategies to counter malicious actors. One of these is penetration testing. 

Pen testing has been widely employed by organizations for a number of years now, where cybersecurity teams launch “offensive" security simulations to assess whether their defenses are strong enough. However, despite its long history, traditional approaches to pen testing suffers from several limitations - as outlined in this eBook. Increasingly, it forms just one strand of a continuous threat exposure management (CTEM) strategy. 

While penetration testing focuses on achieving a specific goal, CTEM is about mapping your organization’s entire exposure at any time and involving any asset - known and unknown. Both pen testing and CTEM can work in harmony to safeguard an organization’s network and assets. But only if you know how to incorporate the former.

Different Approaches to Delivering CTEM

Between 2024 and 2029, the global CTEM market is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 10.1%, driven by several different security approaches. These are designed to more effectively mitigate threats in today’s fast-evolving security landscape. Their adoption is an acceptance that traditional approaches to penetration testing are not fit for the modern threat landscape. They either don't test frequently enough, have too small a scope so can’t possibly cover every externally facing asset, or, when augmented with tools, have false positives. As such, the new nirvana is then CTEM.

Among the security use cases that being augmented by a CTEM approach, there are a few gaining traction. Security Operations Center (SOC) analysis, for instance, is just one example of a cybersecurity approach that can be improved by pairing it with CTEM. SOC analysts are tasked with monitoring, analyzing, and responding to security issues in order to prevent attacks. However, traditional manual cybersecurity methods can leave SOC analysts facing a barrage of alerts, many of them false positives. 

A CTEM framework can support SOC analysis by leveraging real-time threat data to reduce the number of false positives and free analysts to focus on adding value and tackling the most pressing threats. 

Another cybersecurity approach that can be paired with a CTEM framework is vulnerability management. This often uses digital tools to identify flaws or weaknesses in networks or assets that could be exploited by attackers.

CTEM can update traditional vulnerability approaches through the addition of real-time visibility. This allows remediation efforts to be prioritized, so stretched cybersecurity budgets can be used most effectively.

DevSecOps and Threat Hunting are two other security approaches that stand to benefit from CTEM, whether it’s through autonomous code scanning or the automatic detection of anomalous behavior. 

And, of course, no discussion of the ways CTEM can empower cybersecurity teams would be complete with explaining how it aligns with penetration testing itself. While traditional pen testing approaches can be time-consuming and result in security personnel being inundated with false positives, a CTEM framework reduces the burden by continuously and autonomously scanning for vulnerabilities in real time.

With modern security approaches underserved by traditional penetration testing, it’s time to adopt a security strategy for the modern age.

An Evolving Cybersecurity Landscape

Once upon a time, simply leveraging penetration testing as part of an organization’s security posture may have been enough. Conducting periodic pen tests, followed by manual prioritization and remediation would have prevented some attacks and helped plug security gaps if a breach did take place. Today, we live in a very different cybersecurity landscape. 

Currently, the number of threats organizations face is larger than it’s ever been and growing. The US government’s National Vulnerability Database, for instance, found a 25% increase in the number of new vulnerabilities between 2021 and 2022. Cyberattackers are set to add new technologies to their arsenal of weapons too. As a case in point, three-quarters of cybersecurity professionals have seen an increase in attacks over the past year - and 85% attribute it to threat actors weaponizing AI.  

We no longer live in an age where manual pen testing is sufficient. As such, organizations aren’t giving up on pen testing completely. It’s simply being modernized to counter today’s cyberattackers. One of the ways that this is being carried out is by incorporating pen testing into CTEM programs. 

Because cybersecurity today is a constant battle, continuous threat exposure management is increasingly viewed as the only viable way of shoring up defenses. Unlike traditional, reactive approaches, CTEM delivers real-time threat intelligence. It’s not about firefighting, plugging security gaps after they’ve been exploited. It’s a proactive five-stage framework designed to find and eliminate vulnerabilities before it’s too late: Scope, Discover, Prioritize, Validate, and Mobilize. 

However, while the CTEM framework is proving hugely helpful in defending against attacks, that doesn’t mean penetration testing is no longer needed. In fact, they are complementary approaches. While pen testing can help check particular routes an attacker might use to infiltrate a network or compromise an asset, a CTEM program is better placed to verify the overall state of your cybersecurity posture. They are both useful methodologies - so why not employ them simultaneously?

The Challenges

Although the benefits of pairing pen testing and CTEM are clear to see, incorporating the two approaches can present challenges. Firstly, it may involve aligning different teams within your organization and you may encounter some pushback from employees who are used to traditional security methods and are reluctant to change. 

In addition, managing company resources may present another challenge when attempting to  incorporate penetration testing into your CTEM program. The resource burden of penetration testing is likely to be too high for it to scale effectively to work with a CTEM program. This is driving the need for automated penetration testing.

In addition, to be effective, CTEM programs need to run as frequently as possible. In fact, it is essential that they operate in real-time to reduce the time a threat actor has to exploit a vulnerability. Real-time CTEM programs can help make companies more secure but if run manually could be extremely resource intensive, especially if organizations are then verifying false positives “by hand.” If organizations want CTEM that works in real-time and consumes fewer resources, they need to embrace automation and use tools that generate as small a number of false-positives as possible.

Why Penetration Testing is Fundamental to Your CTEM Program 

Penetration testing’s importance to security strategies is well established but traditional approaches have suffered from several limitations in terms of scope and regularity. On the other hand, CTEM frameworks are all about providing ongoing, holistic analysis of your network and assets. Their methods are different - but crucially, they are complementary.

What’s more, you can employ automated penetration testing alongside CTEM to significantly reduce the cost of your security operations, increase efficiency, and free your security team from the time-consuming manual task of evaluating false positives. Together, pen testing and CTEM can streamline your entire external exposure management lifecycle.

At Hadrian, we understand that the number of different cybersecurity approaches can leave businesses unsure of which method is right for their needs. One thing is certain, however, traditional, manual strategies are no longer fit for purposes in the modern threat landscape.

That’s why our solution offers autonomous penetration testing out of the box while easing your transition to a mature CTEM program. Our in-house hackers train our autonomous AI platform to identify a wide variety of risks so your defenses benefit from the scope and precision necessary to deal with a fast-evolving array of threats.

Adopting a mature CTEM isn’t without its challenges. Hadrian can help your organization overcome them by automating the entire external exposure management lifecycle, from initial asset discovery to risk remediation. Rather than being a resource burden that holds your security strategy back, Hadrian’s automated penetration testing can empower a teal-time CTEM strategy that won’t overwhelm your team with false positives. 

Get in touch with us to find out how you can manage cyber risk by incorporating automated pen testing into your CTEM program.

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