Security Solutions

4 mins

What is automated penetration testing?

Automation is commonly employed by many organizations. In fact, 31% of businesses have fully automated at least one function. Whether marketing, data entry, or something else, automation is an essential part of many business functions. However, one area where it isn’t used as much as it could be is with regard to the field of penetration testing.

What is penetration testing?

Penetration testing, sometimes known as “pen testing”, has long been utilized to safeguard assets against cyberattack. It involves a simulated attack, usually by security professionals, who are tasked with probing an organization’s assets for vulnerabilities, exploiting them as a means of identifying security holes that require patching. 

Although these tests can take many different forms depending on the application, network, or device involved, usually a specific penetration testing framework is employed. This penetration testing framework consists of guidelines that individuals can follow when conducting their tests. This direction will usually inform personnel about the scope of the test as well as any tools or methodologies they should employ. 

Some of the most common stages within a penetration test framework include:

  • Planning: The first part of most penetration testing frameworks involves preparing for the test. Security staff will formulate their methodologies for the test, what they expect from the results, which tools they will use, and any relevant compliance criteria.
  • Intelligence gathering: A fair amount of research is required if an organization wants its penetration testing to be effective. Companies need to map their assets and investigate commonly employed exploits. 
  • The attack: Once enough information has been gathered, it’s time for the attack phase of the penetration test to begin. Security personnel will begin probing assets and attempting exploits based on pre-agreed methodologies.
  • Post-attack: After conducting the cyberattack, testers will make sure that any assets within the testing environment are returned to their original state. This is only a simulated attack and it’s important that new vulnerabilities aren’t introduced as a result of the test. 
  • Analyzing results: Perhaps the most important part of penetration testing, security personnel will report on the weaknesses found, misconfigurations, and other vulnerabilities. It is then up to security teams to triage the results and decide how best to close any gaps that have been discovered. 

The steps mentioned above reveal how much of a drain on corporate resources manual penetration testing can be. At the same time, the cybersecurity world moves so fast that the manual processes required by traditional penetration testing frameworks risk allowing new exploits to be created by threat actors while tests are being planned and implemented. 

The benefits of penetration testing

Perhaps the main benefit of penetration testing is the way that it provides organizations with visibility into any holes within their current security picture - before cyberattackers exploit them. This includes both known and unknown vulnerabilities and covers weaknesses both large and small. This is particularly important for seemingly minor weaknesses that may enable cyberattackers to infiltrate deep within a network. 

Another advantage of penetration testing stems from the way it leverages the hacker’s mindset. It attempts to mimic how cyberattackers really would behave so you can understand which assets would be targeted and how in the event of a real-world attack. Of course, many organizations only schedule penetration testing periodically, so outside of these tests, they could remain vulnerable to exploits.

Automate your security testing tools

The breadth of cyberattack exploits available today reinforces the need for penetration testing to be as comprehensive as possible. One way of making sure this is the case is to test all areas of your technology stack. For example, if you have public-facing online assets, be sure to employ website pen testing, where testers will focus on hidden vulnerabilities and common attack patterns that target internet assets.

Other types of penetration testing include network pen testing, cloud pen testing, API pen testing, and many others. However, if you're looking for a comprehensive defense, automated penetration testing promises to be even more effective - and less of a drain on resources - than manually testing a range of environments. 

Automated penetration testing is when software is used to eliminate some of the manual processes that are used in traditional approaches to pen testing. With automated penetration testing, 24/7 vulnerability scanning can be employed so the manual probing of assets is no longer needed. This greatly speeds up the process of risk identification and remediation. 

The benefits of automated penetration testing extend beyond speed, however. It is also extremely cost-effective. Intuitive security reports can be generated with just a click. What’s more, the resource savings that are possible with automated pen testing have been heightened by recent advances in artificial intelligence technology. With this technology constantly evolving, the application of AI to automated penetration testing solutions is only likely to improve its speed, detection rates, and cost-effectiveness.

As well as the promise of automated penetration testing discovering increasingly advanced exploits, it’s also great for simply taking on more mundane and repetitive tasks. Data entry and simpler security tests can be conducted by automation software, allowing your security professionals to focus on adding value and validating results. 

Find exploitable risks before cyberattackers do 

It looks as though automation is finally being employed by many organizations looking to improve their penetration testing. The pace at which cyberattackers are moving means that periodic testing or laborious manual tasks are no longer fit for purpose. Instead, companies need to be able to locate vulnerabilities as soon as they are introduced. 

With automation increasingly used by cyberattackers themselves, it stands to reason that it should also be part of an organization’s defenses. The best automated cyberdefense solutions can be seamlessly integrated into a company’s existing tools, cover all attack surfaces (known and unknown), and mimic a wide range of attack strategies so as many potential exploits as possible are countered. Automated penetration testing solutions aren’t meant to eliminate the need for human cybersecurity personnel entirely - they simply streamline their workflows. 

With Hadrian, automated penetration testing constantly evaluates your assets to identify exploitable risks. New penetration tests are triggered immediately when changes to your technology stack are detected that might affect your risk level. There’s no need to wait for the next manual test - automated pen testing examines security flaws 24 hours a day, all year round.

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