Fully Automated Penetration Testing Doesn’t Exist! Know Your Options.


There has been a great deal of discussion of late regarding "Automated Penetration Testing" and "Manual Penetration Testing". Despite the encouragement by many vendors, automated penetration testing does not exist. The actions they describe are very close to what you would expect from "Vulnerability Scanning". This is important, as a consumer should know exactly what to expect from a vendor.

Penetration Testing is the process of discovering and identifying vulnerabilities within the systems deployed by an organization, exploiting them to understand the level of potential threats those vulnerabilities might pose, and the damages that would be caused by a successful exploitation. A successful penetration test not only identifies the vulnerabilities but also finds different ways to exploit those vulnerabilities with the goal of determining the outcome of a successful exploitation. As a result, Penetration Testing is a complex and time-consuming, painstaking process. There are many reasons why conducting a proper Penetration Test is recommended. Here are a few:

  • Identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in systems and networks that could be exploited by an attacker.
  • Understand the potential impact of a successful cyber-attack on your organization.
  • Determine the effectiveness of current security measures and identify areas for improvement.
  • Meet industry regulations and compliance requirements that mandate regular security testing.
  • Provide evidence of due diligence in the event of a security breach.
  • Improve incident response capabilities by simulating a real-world attack scenario.
  • Enhance overall security posture and reduce the risk of a successful cyber-attack.
  • Prioritize security investments by identifying the most critical vulnerabilities.
  • Gain insight into the mindset and tactics of potential attackers.

Stay ahead of cyber threats by regularly testing and updating security measures.To provide the expected value of a penetration test, and provide the expertise required to care for potentially fragile components of the systems while testing, it makes this an extensively manual process.

That is why fully automated penetration testing does not exist. 

Vulnerability Scanning, often mislabeled as "Automated Penetration Testing", is the process of automatically identifying security vulnerabilities in a computer system, network, or web application. The scan is typically performed by a security platform such as Nessus or Qualys, which is configured to look for known vulnerabilities in the scanned systems. These tools use a database of known vulnerabilities, such as those found in the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE), to check for the presence of these issues in the system. During a vulnerability scan, the tool will perform a series of tests on the system, including checking for missing security patches, misconfigured services, and weak passwords. The scan will typically produce a report that lists any vulnerabilities that were found, along with a description of the issue and a recommended course of action to address it. Unfortunately, Automated Vulnerability Scans are historically known for generating false-positives and manual validation is required to verify if the reported vulnerabilities exist in the environment.

It is important to note that vulnerability scanning is different from penetration testing, which goes beyond identifying known vulnerabilities and simulates an attack on the system to test its defenses and identify any exploitable vulnerabilities.

At Critical Path Security, we feel that it is important for you, as a customer and client, to know the difference between these two services. As both have value, we will work closely with you to determine your exact course of action, and provide you with a custom-tailored service that meets and exceeds your needs.