Penetration Tests

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Penetration test: use it for reducing risks, not as the only method for IT security

Most organisations conduct penetrations tests for identifying vulnerabilities. However, often the real reasons for these tests are regulatory compliance, customer expectation or contractual requirements. In other words: just to check the box. As a result, the impact and effectiveness of pentesting have been drastically reduced. A penetration test becomes a questionable snapshot, and that’s not the only problem with pen tests. On this page, we’ll show what a pen test is, its disadvantages and how to use penetration tests properly. 

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What is a penetration test?

A penetration test is a method for simulating a cyberattack on a system in a safe way. It is used to assess the security of a system. Results of a penetration test are identified vulnerabilities, risks and threats and exploits for them. Penetration tests are often called pen tests.

There are three types of penetration tests:
• white box penetration tests, where the tester receives system information in advance;
• grey box penetration tests, where the tester receives some information; or
• black box penetration tests, where only the company name is given. The tester doesn’t have any information about the system.

Why shouldn’t I be using penetration tests alone for cyber security?

Pentesting should be used for reducing risks or controlling costs and not as the only way to determine whether applications and data are safe, or worse: just to check the box. Due to the limitations of pentests listed below, it’s not wise to rely solely or majorly on pentesting for ‘safety’. 

What is a Coordinated Vulnerability Disclosure Policy?

What are the disadvantages of penetration tests?

There are several disadvantages or problems of penetration tests:

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Limited budget

A pentest starts with a hypothesis and is answered with a conclusion. Changing the focus of the research mid-way is not possible most of the time because this will result in a parallel pentest. Budget and time do not allow that.

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Limited time

Pentests are time-boxed with a limited scope, while criminals have all the time in the world to look at your digital environment.

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Limited expertise

Typically, one or two people perform a pentest. As experienced as they are, two people have a limited amount of knowledge and expertise as opposed to a whole team of security experts.

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Limited flexibility

Pentests do not allow the scope to be changed since the time frame is set and the budget is fixed. You can’t add testers with specific knowledge mid-assessment.

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Limited learning by DevOps

Most of the time, DevOps are not involved in the result a pentest brings forth. This limits the possibility of learning precisely in the area where it is needed.

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Slow feedback loop

Pentesting takes up time, slowed down even more by waiting on a report. When that report is finally written, your DevOps-team is already tackling its next project.

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 Limited possibilities to scale

Calling one of the Big Four every two weeks to pentest a new release is not sustainable.

What is a Coordinated Vulnerability Disclosure Policy?

How do I solve the disadvantages of penetration tests?

All these limits don’t mean you should stop pentesting, though. Our suggested solution is to debug pentests with Bug Bounty Programs. You can do this by reducing the number of pentests to free up budget for Bug Bounty programs and combine the two for a more reliable, cost-efficient and sustainable way of continuous security testing.

What is a Bug Bounty Program?

A Bug Bounty program is a program in which ethical hackers - or researchers as we like to call them - are invited to look for vulnerabilities in online environments. When a bug is found, he or she receives a reward (bounty): the value depends on the severity of the vulnerability. 

You can start a Bug Bounty Program any time you like, and you can run it for as long as you like. Vulnerabilities that are found, are reported instantly - whether you set a limited time, or just focus on one particular subject. You can invite as many skilled researchers as you would like for a Bug Bounty Program, making sure you get results from different expertises. No more waiting for a big report - Bug Bounty Programs provide direct insights.

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