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Comparing Security Testing Options

While it’s clear that penetration testing is important, you may be wondering how it differs from your current vulnerability assessment methods. Or, if you’re already performing manual penetration testing or leveraging third-party testing services, you may want to know how an automated penetration testing product can help. This section will answer these questions and provide you with a better understanding of how an automated penetration testing product can fit into your vulnerability management program.

Vulnerabilty Scanning vs. Penetration Testing

Vulnerability Scanning

There are many different elements of the vulnerability management process, from source code review to vulnerability scanning and penetration testing. While each of these components is powerful in terms of helping organizations lower risk and protect critical IT and networking assets from attack, penetration testing is arguably the most critical in terms of assessing your organization’s susceptibility to real-world threats.

Source code analysis and other code-level assessment systems must be built into the development process itself, as early in the process as possible, to head off potential vulnerabilities before they find their way into production environments. However, even the most heavily scrutinized systems in the world typically go live with many security flaws, based primarily on the time constraints most often faced by development groups, and the scarcity of secure coding skills available among today’s developers.

Popular vulnerability scanning solutions seek to help organizations garner information regarding potential weaknesses by unearthing every type of weakness they can find, but typically produce such large volumes of data that users of the systems are left with a heavy workload in terms of discerning which vulnerabilities pose tangible risks to their IT and networking assets.

Beyond filtering out the many false positives that scanners tend to include in their results, recent industry surveys have shown that, of the tens of thousands of vulnerabilities typically found by scanners in large enterprise networks and applications, only a small fraction represent critical business exposures.

By comparison, penetration testing offers organizations the most effective manner of rapidly identifying their most serious points of security exposure to help prioritize remediation efforts and limit the need to engage in time-consuming patching and code revisions.

Penetration Testing

Penetration testing allows organizations to proactively assess vulnerabilities using real-world exploits, allowing them to evaluate the potential for their systems to be subverted through hacking and malware schemes in the same manner that attackers employ. In addition to saving time that might otherwise be spent chasing down false positives that do not represent exploitable weaknesses, penetration testing also serves as the most effective manner of determining the efficacy of security point solutions and systems defense mechanisms by actively analyzing whether or not those protections can indeed be circumvented by attacks.

Perhaps most importantly, penetration test results enable IT staff to delineate critical security issues that require immediate attention from those that pose lesser risks to help prioritize remediation work.


  Vulnerability Scanning Penetration Testing

Testing Scope

Scans for all potential network vulnerabilities.

Identifies vulnerabilities and determines if they can actually be exploited.

Vulnerability Relevance

Categorizes vulnerabilities based on standardized, theoretical information – not customized to the tested network.

Tests vulnerabilities on specific network resources, enabling prioritization of remediation efforts.

Usefulness of Test Results

Provides false positives, identifying vulnerabilities that cannot be exploited.

Exploits vulnerabilities, identifying only those that pose actual threats to network resources.

Asset Connection Testing

Does not address connections between network, endpoint and application components.

Exploits trust relationships between networks, endpoints, applications and end users to demonstrate actual attack paths.

Remediation Assistance

Delivers long lists of vulnerabilities, limiting remediation options to widespread patching or time-consuming code revision.

Assesses the potential risks of specific vulnerabilities, allowing users to address their most significant risks first and test the effectiveness of security patches.

Testing of Other Security Investments

Does not simulate attacks to test IDS, IPS, AV, filtering, behavior monitoring, firewalls or other security technologies and end user policies.

Launches real-world attacks to determine if other security investments are functioning properly and users are adhering to organizational rules and regulations.

Security Risk Assessment

Only identifies missing patches or improper configurations, making it impossible to effectively gauge  security risks.

Safely mimics the actions of a hackers and malware attacks, providing risk evaluations based on tangible network threats.

Manual Penetration Testing vs. Automated Penetration Testing

Manual Penetration Testing

Until recently, penetration testing has been a very complex manual process that could be performed by only a select few security specialists with many years of relevant experience. Testers typically must write their own exploits, learn to master tools available in the public domain, and perform many tedious, time-consuming tasks. While comprehensive, manual penetration testing usually requires an extensive team of professionals possessing diverse skill sets, which most organizations cannot afford to maintain in-house or contract on a frequent basis.

Automated Penetration Testing

A commercial-grade automated penetration testing solution is typically produced by a team of experienced security experts and developers who complete sophisticated vulnerability research, build safe, cutting-edge exploits and then combine them into a simple, easy-to-use package. By thoroughly testing across networks, endpoints, web applications and email users, an automated penetration testing solution can provide a clear, comprehensive view of an organization’s security posture.

  Manual Penetration Testing Automated Penetration Testing

Testing Process

  • Labor-intensive, inconsistent and error -prone, with no specific quality standards.
  • Requires many disparate tools. Results can vary significantly from test to test.
  • Generally requires highly-paid, experienced security personnel to run and interpret tests.
  • Fast, easy and safe. Eliminates errors and tedious manual tasks.
  • Centralized and standardized to produce consistent and repeatable results.
  • Easy to use and provides clear, actionable reports.

Network Modification

Often results in numerous systems modifications.  

Systems remain unchanged.

Exploit Development and Management

  • Developing and maintaining an exploit database is time-consuming and requires significant expertise.
  • Public exploits are suspect and can be unsafe to run.
  • Re-writing and porting code is necessary for cross-platform functionality.
  • Product vendor develops and maintains all exploits. Exploits are continually updated for maximum effectiveness.
  • Exploits are professionally developed, thoroughly tested, and safe to run.
  • Exploits are written and optimized for a variety of platforms and attack vectors.


Tester must remember and undo all changes. Backdoors can be left behind.

Leading products offer comprehensive cleanup with one click and never install backdoors.

Pivoting / Privilege Escalation

Requires system alterations since code must be uploaded and compiled on compromised machines.

Users can quickly probe deeper into an environment. Code never has to be uploaded, and tests can be run remotely.


Requires significant effort, recording and collating of all results manually. All reports must be generated by hand.

Comprehensive history and findings reports are automatically produced. Reports are customizable.

Logging / Auditing

Slow, cumbersome, often inaccurate process.

Automatically records a detailed record of all activity.


Testers need to learn non-standardized, ad-hoc testing methods.

Users can learn and install in as little as one day.


Penetration Testing Services vs. Penetration Testing Software

Depending on your industry, you may need to contract professional penetration testing services to comply with government or industry regulations that require third-party testing (typically on an annual or biannual basis). These consultants offer hands-on expertise and analysis, but their results typically vary depending on each consulting firm’s particular skill set – and once the experts walk out the door, the assessment process ends. While these periodic third-party penetration tests may ensure regulatory compliance, they provide only one step toward guaranteeing network and application security, and represent a mere snapshot in time when the tests are being completed.

By supplementing or substituting third-party penetration testing engagements with a software solution, your organization can increase the frequency, scope and consistency of its security evaluations – often for less than the cost of a single consulting engagement. Regulatory requirements notwithstanding, such a product will enable you to make the best use of your penetration testing dollars and maintain a vigilant watch against emerging vulnerabilities on an ongoing basis.

Perform tests on a continuous basis
By regularly monitoring your networks, endpoints and web applications between consulting engagements, an in-house penetration testing solution enables you to ensure more consistently high levels of security.

Control the Testing Process

Automated penetration testing products free you from turning control of infrastructure and applications over to an outside party. You can therefore run and monitor all tests privately and securely, and share information regarding critical vulnerabilities with only those parties that absolutely need to know about them.

Increase the effectiveness of service providers

Automated penetration testing solutions provide your service providers with professionally developed, updated and comprehensive exploits that third-party testers can leverage to maximize the value of their consulting engagements.

Make the best use of your consulting budget

By automating the penetration testing process, a solution  allows you to focus your consulting budget on making the most of professional recommendations, rather than on having them focus more time on completing unnecessary manual tasks.

Better prepare for consulting engagements

Bringing an automated penetration testing solution in-house allows you to remain up-to-date regarding your security posture, allowing you to play a more active, informed role in defining the scope of consulting services.

Determine the ROI of security services and solutions

By using an automated penetration testing solution on a regular basis, you can rapidly measure the effectiveness of other consulting engagements and security solutions by testing the efficacy of any defensive measures or policies they introduce.


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