How Small Businesses Can Benefit from Automated Penetration Testing

Uncovering your IT vulnerabilities (and fixing them) even before hackers can get to them is a great way to protect your company. After all, if you know the security gaps in your IT systems first, you’ll understand how they can be exploited, allowing you to set up the right protection measures. You can do all this and bulletproof your online store by implementing automated penetration testing, which can help you remediate your IT infrastructure’s vulnerabilities.

It’s a crucial tool in a cybersecurity analyst or service provider’s toolkit to conduct regular assessments to identify potential weaknesses that attackers can use as entry points to take over your systems. In this guide, we’ll look into what automated pen testing is, why it’s a critical part of your business’s overall security strategy, and how it will benefit your company.  

Automated penetration testing: A quick overview

To understand how automated penetration testing works, you need to first understand what penetration testing is. From a 30,000 feet perspective, a penetration (or pen) test is a process where security testers attempt to find system vulnerabilities and “exploit” them to assess the IT infrastructure’s integrity.

Data shows that 70% of organizations perform penetration tests to measure their security posture. The testers simulate attacks to the system, network, and applications, adopting a “hacker-like” mindset to find existing weaknesses using tools that attackers will most likely use.   However, an automated pen test doesn’t mean a fully automated version of this process. It involves a set of activities that can still require manual on top of automated procedures.

Some of the pen testing processes that testers can automate include detecting software flaws, such as a server with missing security patches, weak passwords, and unintended security credentials that are exposed to the internet. Essentially, automated pen testing refers to the tools and processes testers use to automate crucial parts of running penetration tests.

For instance, running manual scans on each system takes too much time and effort. With automated pen testing, testers can use vulnerability scanners to go through multiple systems simultaneously. Testers can also utilize automated exploit tools to perform simulated attacks and detect system flaws.

Penetration testing vs. vulnerability assessments

While penetration testing is often confused with vulnerability assessments, the two are not the same. Vulnerability scans are automated tests that use off-the-shelf scanning tools to find common system weaknesses.

Automated pen tests have a broader scope and combine human-led and machine intelligence to identify and exploit system security defense gaps. With automated pen testing, security analysts can cover more ground and assess vulnerabilities deeper, helping you understand and significantly reduce potential cybersecurity risks to your business. 

Benefits of automated pen testing

Identifying your IT infrastructure’s security flaws can take tons of time and resources. Every minute those gaps are out in the open provides plenty of opportunities for hackers to launch their attack and take over your system.

Automated pen testing helps mitigate this risk, along with the following benefits.

Greater coverage

It’s challenging to perform manual pen testing if your business owns thousands of assets across multiple locations. You’ll need enough resources, time, and skilled testers to cover everything. However, with automated penetration testing tools, cybersecurity analysts can test for vulnerabilities more efficiently and with less human intervention.

Automated tools reduce the manual tasks in the pen testing process, covering a huge number of systems for thousands of weaknesses in less the time and energy it takes using traditional pen testing methods. 

For example, testers can perform manual crawling on your system, then guide automated pen testing tools by identifying the scope required for the scan. This helps cover all your systems, assets, and entire IT infrastructure, allowing you to identify existing and new vulnerabilities and implement proper protection measures promptly.

Additionally, automated pen testing tools perform many of the test’s basic parts, allowing testers to focus their time on finding and dealing with potentially more advanced cyber attacks. 

A more efficient testing process

Automated pen tests streamline the testing process, allowing you to identify system vulnerabilities quicker and put the right security measures to address the gaps. Automated pen testing also means more tests you can conduct since cybersecurity experts can configure the tools to test targets for various attack types using hundreds (or thousands) of payloads in one go.

Manually doing this would suck up a lot of time and effort, even for a team of testers. However, you can streamline the pen testing process with automated tools. This, in turn, can save your business from some of the average penetration testing costs of around $3,000 per month, and other expenses on tools, service fees, and manpower (among others).

Deliver reports faster

Manually documenting manual pen testing reports can take up a huge chunk of your resources.

However, automated penetration testing tools with robust reporting features can deliver findings quickly, sometimes in a single click (depending on the test’s complexity and scope).

Many automated penetration testing solutions also allow testers to customize reports, so you get the granular and comprehensive findings you need to address your system’s security vulnerabilities. 

Aid your compliance with regulations

Penetration testing plays a critical role in your business’s efforts to comply with specific standards and regulations. For instance, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) Requirement 11.2 mandates regular vulnerability assessments for the Cardholder Data Environment (CDE) and its associated critical systems.

Automated penetration testing tools streamlines complying with this requirement for your business. It also helps your company maintain proper customer data privacy and protection.

Automated pen testing tools

An ideal automated penetration testing includes a set of tools that allow pen testers and service providers to automate as many parts of the process while manually following up results (when necessary). Ensure your internal cybersecurity team or chosen third-party individuals (including service providers) use a network vulnerability management suite. This allows security analysts to conduct scans across your company’s entire network to find vulnerabilities efficiently.

Another critical pen testing technique reliable pen testers use is the MITRE ATT&CK® framework. This is a knowledge base accessed globally that contains techniques and adversary tactics based on real-world observations.

It includes systemized adversary tactics and techniques that give cybersecurity analysts the reference framework and taxonomy of the cyber-attack kill chain.

In a nutshell, the MITRE ATT&CK® framework helps testers build meaningful, life-like attacks to help your business challenge, assess, and optimize your system and IT infrastructure security controls.

Additionally, your pen testers should have the basic web penetration testing tools to determine common security flaws such as SQL injection and Cross-Site Scripting (XSS).

Are you ready to implement automated penetration testing?

While there is no 100% guaranteed protection from all sorts of cyber-attacks, automated penetration testing can help you mitigate some of the potential risks to your business.

Automated penetration testing streamlines discovering vulnerabilities within your systems, giving you the information you need to understand your security gaps.

This helps you implement robust security measures to prevent potential attacks resulting from system, network, and web app weaknesses that hackers exploit.

Alex