Penetration tests have always been a bit of a love/hate proposition for most organizational security teams. On one hand, a thorough and rigorous manual test conducted by an experienced team of testers can uncover deeply hidden vulnerabilities that would otherwise fall through the cracks. On the other hand, such tests can take weeks or months to stage, they can be quite expensive, and you have to trust that the testers are competent and that they won’t disrupt normal operations.
That doesn’t even include perhaps the most prominent flaw of manual pen testing: It’s point-in-time nature. While manual tests can do a fantastic job of rooting out even the smallest risks, they are not forward-looking and do not offer continuous assessments and analysis.
Few would argue that we should dispense with pen tests — they are simply too valuable. Yet what if we could improve them dramatically through a simple change: automation?
Why Automated Security Testing is the Future
Even the most exacting manual security test can be fatally undermined by a lack of timeliness. Often, it takes weeks to receive security audits/test reports — and they are as outdated as last week’s newspaper when they finally arrive.
Automation changes that. By dispensing with the need to have humans on the ground, we can minimize the risk of disruptions or oversights associated with human error and make tests less costly and inefficient.
Interestingly, automation within the context of security has lagged automation integration within DevOPs, Continuous Integration and other such realms. One reason for that is the analytical power of the human mind. It’s difficult for software to mimic our knack for creative problem solving and intuitive insights. Given this, manual testing was believed to be too valuable to dispense with, regardless of its myriad disadvantages.
That mindset is quickly changing, however, as automated security testing tools grow ever more powerful and sophisticated. Automation testing will soon reach the point where humans — as talented as we are — may be relegated to a much more marginal role.
Currently, we are somewhere in between. Manual testing remains popular, yet more and more organizations are augmenting such exercises with automated penetration testing.
Best Methods for Implementing Automated Security Testing
If your organization is seeking to achieve continuous security posture improvement, implementing cutting-edge tools such as automated network penetration testing is one of the most impactful decisions you can make.
Let’s quickly review some best practices for automated security testing:
- Choose the right automated tool for your needs. Automated breach and attack simulation (BAS) software offers the same benefits as conventional pen testing but eliminates many of the downsides. These platforms launch simulated attacks on your defenses using the attack paths and tactics that are most likely to be used by Advanced Persistent Threats. Unlike manual tests, they are continuous and provide ongoing visibility into any vulnerabilities that may emerge. They cause no disruption to production and they remove the risks associated with the variability of human expertise. In other words, it’s much like having a highly skilled testing team working on a 24/7 basis. Attackers never stop, so defense should also be continuous.
- Ensure that everyone is onboard and that all testing is complementary. Automated testing is not a one-to-one replacement for manual tests. Both elements can work together to help provide a layered and integrated security posture.
- Help teams integrate automated testing in a seamless and controlled fashion. Training various organizational teams can help ensure that automated testing is incorporated across all departments without any issue. The consistency of automated security testing (it runs in a consistent manner in different environments and applications) is a plus in this regard.
Automated Security Testing can play a critical role in helping your organization achieve one of the most important objectives in cybersecurity: Continuous improvement to your security posture.
For more information on how XM Cyber’s BAS solutions can help, please visit this link.
Yohanan Berros is Customer Operations Managers at XM Cyber