Businesses are venturing into using automated penetration testing to replace or complement their conventional cyber threat assessments. It’s no surprise, considering how time-consuming and tedious running manual pen tests can be. However, if you’re still unsure about whether or not you should integrate automated penetration tests to your business, then continue reading and consider how automated pen tests can protect your assets against cyber threats.
What is automated penetration testing?
To define automated penetration testing, we need to understand first what pen testing is. Also called ethical hacking or white hat hacking, pen testing is the simulation of a cyber attack to assess the defenses in the IT landscape (computer systems, applications, networks, etc.) and expose security loopholes and vulnerabilities for corrective action.
Automated penetration testing then is the automation of manual and repetitive steps in the conventional testing process. Understanding and executing automated penetration testing can give you in-depth assessments of your cybersecurity within a shorter period and modernize your methods for uncovering IT weaknesses.
How automated pen testing boosts your cyber protection
Now, let’s look at four ways automated penetration testing can fortify your IT landscape against cyber threats:
1. It speeds up the discovery of vulnerabilities.
Manually testing every component, protocol, and service cannot go at the same speed and efficiency that machines and scripts can. Automated tools’ processing capabilities are exceptional as they can initialize and execute an enormous number of payloads per test. These automated tools operate at a far more rapid rate, starting from the most significant security issues detected to the least impactful ones.
Automated penetration tests are also more efficient since one tool can handle the whole testing process instead of experts using several mechanisms throughout it. They can scan potential susceptible areas in your IT ecosystem and autonomously simulate exploits. After that, the tools instantly compile their findings to create a report. All these make vulnerability detection, remediation, and report generation much faster. You don’t need to wait for days or weeks for results that would have become outdated by then.
2. It supplements comprehensive security frameworks.
Automated penetration testing works alongside other mechanisms in the bigger cybersecurity picture, often depicted by frameworks such as the MITRE ATT&CK. Short for MITRE Adversarial Tactics, Techniques, and Common Knowledge, MITRE ATT&CK guides you on frequent criminal strategies along the entire cyber attack lifecycle.
Once you understand how to use the MITRE ATT&CK framework, you can then incorporate automated penetration testing methods and tools since they test your IT defenses on relevant stages in the cyber kill chain. With automated pen testing working faster than the manual process, you can supplement your other security mechanisms and supercharge your cyber protection in a shorter amount of time.
3. It can cover a broad attack surface.
Your business can have a hundred different vulnerabilities — both apparent and discreet — exposing you to many potential threats. Plus, your security teams are likely unsure about what precisely is on your extended network. Will they find chatty gaming systems, outmoded and unsafe PCs, infected video cameras, etc.?
If you use manual testing methods to cover a vast range of these potential attack surfaces and evaluate and compare with known vulnerabilities, you’ll need boatloads of time and skill. However, that is an unrealistic, inefficient, and costly investment for most businesses — making automated pen testing methods a suitable alternative to do the job.
As mentioned, automated pen tests apply to various phases across the cyber kill chain and MITRE ATT&CK framework. Because of that, they can easily map and cover extensive attack surfaces through web application crawling to determine possible onslaught inputs, particularly the low-hanging fruit and other related weaknesses. From digging through network traffic and attempting to crack passwords to recognizing passive and active susceptibilities — automated pen tests can safely run and turn “fake” vulnerable manipulations into full-blown attacks for evaluation purposes.
Using automated penetration testing, you can address any visibility gap and position your cybersecurity team well for risk assessment and mitigation.
4. It provides continuous cybersecurity.
Traditional pen testing needs heaps of resources, especially in terms of time and money, which is why companies typically perform one or a few tests annually. Small to medium-sized businesses have it even more rarely. As a result, critical security gaps, e.g., misconfigurations, unpatched vulnerabilities, and others, stay in a company’s IT landscape for weeks or months without getting noticed and handled correctly.
Plus, as mentioned earlier, manual pen testing and its report generation take days to weeks. New misconfigurations and potential weaknesses would have emerged by that time, making your responses insufficient or not wholly relevant. This is why shifting from conventional to automated pen testing can overturn your cybersecurity condition.
You can run ongoing penetration tests every day, twice daily, or on every update and get instant reports. When that happens, you get to establish fundamental baseline security. Since automated pen tests continuously scan your IT systems, you can monitor your company’s risk profile almost in real-time, address issues promptly, and share valuable findings with your team and leaders.
Should I forgo manual pen tests for automated ones?
Automated penetration testing certainly works excellently and more efficiently to increase your protection against common cyber threats. However, automated pen tests can still work alongside parts of conventional penetration testing methods requiring human intervention. They can also certainly support your security team’s efforts.
Automated pen testing tools are best for collecting data, performing repetitive tasks, probing broad attack surfaces, and extensive vulnerability scanning and detection. These machine-run tools can then notify and prompt your team to analyze the findings, develop appropriate solutions, and integrate them with the MITRE ATT&CK framework and your company’s overall cybersecurity policies, programs, and plans. That’s why leveraging automation in penetration testing complements manual tasks in the traditional assessment process and maximizes your cybersecurity.
Automated penetration testing enables you and your IT department to do more in less time — and with high degrees of customization in line with your assessment’s scope and objective. This makes automated pen tests an indispensable part of your security and risk management and prevention plan to thwart widespread cyber threats.