Pen Testers using Vulnerability Scanners – Closing the Gap


Vulnerability scanning is a common practice for businesses to verify and harden their security controls, and because of its popularity, you have at some point or another, heard that it can replace penetration testing. And while vulnerability scanning and penetration testing may ostensibly seem to both identify vulnerabilities, they are in fact, two separate and distinct processes.

It’s common for organizations to feel compelled to cut costs by exchanging their pen testers for scanners.

While this temptation may be understandable, it’s also ill-advised to give in. Both penetration testing and vulnerability scanning are essential to upholding and maintaining a strong security posture. 

To that end, let’s quickly cover what a hybrid model of pen testing that uses scanners looks like, and the benefits of combining both to maximize coverage and your web application security. 

Pen testing with scanners — isn’t that just cheating?

Traditionally, most businesses have tested their network and application security through pen testing; pen testing can theoretically be performed by red teams internal to an organization but is typically outsourced to contractors in practice.

External contractors usually offer pen testing and perform their services without institutional knowledge of an organization’s applications and systems. 

Manual pen testing is highly effective at assessing and identifying a company’s exploitable weakness in the application through simulated attacks.Penetration tests – provided they are well-scoped – can hone in on an operational system’s risk and grant assurance for security best practices.

However, pen tests by experienced ethical hackers can also be highly expensive — so much so that companies may invest in pen testing but limit its scope and consequently wind up with findings that doesn’t illustrate the entire security weakness that should be addressed.

On top of that, pen testing is a process that’s both time-consuming and leaves gaps in between tests for the attackers who are always on. That’s where scanning tools come in.

Scanning tools are high-level assessment that looks and reports known vulnerabilities and misconfigurations without exploitation. Because it’s automated and easy to set up, more of these scanning tools are likely to become more widely and readily available, too, as the machine learning market’s size continues to grow.

So, simply put, pen testing with scanners is NOT cheating. It’s just a way for businesses to compensate for expensive manual tests that can realistically only be run every so often during events like red team vs blue team exercises and the fact that human intelligence cannot be replaced by automated application scanning.

Why application security teams should combine scanning tools and manual testing

Penetration testing does have multiple advantages that it holds over automated vulnerability scanning: it includes annual testers like those at Outpost24 who guarantee zero false positives and can leverage attack vectors that a real-life threat actor would use.

Unfortunately, pen testing is also pretty much impossible to readily scale up and accelerate, and it typically is unable to provide a high-level perspective of system security since it only focuses on high-priority threats. 

A direct comparison of pen testing with automated scanning tools only concerns dynamic application security testing tools, or DAST, since static security testing tools require source code access, which is typically unavailable to penetration testers. 

Automated tests are, therefore, attractive since they’re quick and economical tools, and a business can use them much more often than manual penetration testing. They also allow for at-scale security testing automation since businesses can integrate them into development and testing. 

The downside? Automated scans can’t locate logical errors the same way manual pen testers can, and they commonly flag false positives that may outweigh the benefits that come with at-scale automated security testing. 

Penetration testing as a service

Data security is an increasingly important area of focus, and organizations that take their information security seriously must consistently run automated scans.

As you know by now, though, automated scanning tools can’t substitute a real human’s logical thinking and experience; you need to pair automated scanners with manual pen testing in order to identify vulnerabilities that you’d otherwise never detect. 

With application pen testing as a service (PTaaS), you can pair automated scans with manual pen testing for real-time security vulnerability and logical error identification.

Since traditional penetration testing can be time-consuming and allows glaring security vulnerabilities to remain exposed for long periods of time, thanks to strictly point-in-time results, businesses need to rely on PTaaS for real-time insight into security vulnerabilities.

PTaaS, unlike conventional penetration testing, lets businesses directly collaborate with penetration testers and is ideal for organizations looking for cost-effective, easily scalable methods with which they can audit and protect their digital assets.

Sponsored and written by Outpost24


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