Manual vs Automated Penetration Testing

Remote working has become the norm and cyber crime is going through the digital roof. Cyber security has always been important to your business, now it’s vital.

As remote working takes over, end-to-end protection from the cloud to the employee becomes essential, Testing your protection is equally essential.

We explore manual vs automated penetration testing. 

Penetration, or pen, testing can be used to discover all manner of underlying vulnerabilities, so it’s seen as a vital part of the cyber security tool kit for all organisations.

In this article, you’ll learn about the role of penetration testing and its importance. You’ll learn about manual penetration testing and automated penetration testing and the advantages and disadvantages of both.

You may also find this article useful too: Why penetration testing is important.

Read on - it’s important stuff.


The role of penetration testing.

Pen testing is a bit like an audit.

It checks your organisation’s vulnerability assessment and management processes are sufficient.

It’s a way to check your cyber security is up to scratch by using the same techniques a hacker might use to try to break through to your IT systems and networks.

It’s sometimes called ethical hacking.

Often the tests will verify what you already know or suspect. It gives you assurance in the security of your systems.

But the tests can also throw up vulnerabilities that you may not be aware of.

For example, before a new application or system is deployed pen testing can be used to check it’s fully secure and highlight any potential vulnerabilities.

If you don’t carry out these pen tests (or security audits), how can you improve your cyber security and associated processes?


Manual penetration testing

What is manual pen testing?

Manual pen testing is when trained pen testers test the vulnerability and risk of a machine or software.

Manual pen tests are often extensive, methodical and complex.

It involves data collection, vulnerability assessments, the actual exploit/attack and preparing a report. It can be a lengthy process although testers often use scanning tools to help.

There are many pros and cons to manual pen testing which we’ll dip into now.

Advantages of manual pen testing

Some of the advantages of MPT (manual pen testing) include:

-          In-depth testing of all layers of security of the target application.

-          Uses the knowledge, experience and skills of the pen tester.

-          Overcomes any limitations of automated vulnerability scanners.

-          Uses multiple tools for more in-depth testing.

-          Considered a must-have for a robust security review.

-          Provides a comprehensive snapshot of all security flaws in the target application.

Disadvantages of manual pen testing

However, there are some disadvantages associated with MPT. These include:

-          Testing time required can be lengthy, which can cause bottlenecks and slow development down.

-          Tends to be more expensive.

-          The scope of systems tested can be restricted.

-          Potential for human error.

-          Results can vary between pen testers.

-          Testers’ experience and expertise may vary.


Automated pen testing.

What is automated pen testing?

To cut down the time of conducting pen tests, many organisations aim to automate parts of the process, although the pen tests are still monitored by a security analyst.

For example, a vulnerability scanner can scan multiple systems at once saving significant amounts of time. In addition, automated exploit tools can be used to carry out an attack, again saving time.

Like manual pen tests, there are advantages and disadvantages of automated pen testing.

Advantages of automated pen testing

These include:

-          Lower cost.

-          Fast test completion and return of results, so avoiding bottlenecks in the development process.

-          Picks up new vulnerabilities quickly by running regular vulnerability scans.

-          Scans on demand throughout the multiple stages of security and development review.

-          Benchmarks to highlight improvement over a selected time period.

-          Don’t require manual work during the testing process.

-          Ability to collect huge volumes of data across networks.

-          Skills required to conduct tests are lower than a manual test.

Disadvantages of automated pen testing

These include:

-          Can’t test all 7 layers of network security.

-          Doesn’t work for web-based applications.

-          Automated reports are not created by trained personnel.

-          Higher chances of false positives and negatives.

-          Can’t think exactly like a human hacker or analyse and assess the situation.

-          Lacks human expertise and intuition.


Manual vs automated pen testing.

Luckily you don’t have to choose one form of pen testing over another, you can have the best of both worlds.

If you can get highly trained experienced pen testers combining with automated pen testing, you’re onto a winner.

Manual and automated pen testing effectively complement one another, so both can play valuable roles in your company’s cyber security strategy.

This article has come from part of our research that has uncovered some key findings that every UK CISO will want to know. We will be hosting a hybrid, interactive event that will be broadcast on the 15th October, 3:30 pm from a studio in London, UK to a live audience of CISOs and CTOs - Bluefort Live

Therefore, the best advice is to speak to an experienced pen test service provider like BlueFort Security and let them guide you through to an option that’s perfect for your cyber circumstances.

Give us a call on 01252 917000, email or use our contact form.

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