Automated vs Manual Penetration Testing

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January 3, 2024

Pentesting is largely divided into two methodologies: Automated vs Manual Penetration Testing. Both have significant qualities that influence the success of a Penetration Test, potentially affecting an organization’s ability to meet its security objectives. When comparing manual penetration tests to automated pentest solutions, it’s critical to first assess the test’s specific requirements and objectives. Despite their higher initial cost, manual pentests provide better depth and thoroughness, with a reduced risk of creating false positives than automated tests.

Penetration testing as a service is a prevalent practice among enterprises, who frequently contract with outside security providers for this reason. This method has various advantages. These service providers take pride in their work.

while useful, lack the nuanced understanding and adaptability of human experts. Continue reading to explore the benefits of both human-led and automated pentesting, as each offers unique features that are important for those in charge of offensive security strategies and adhering to compliance standards.

What is pen-testing/?

 Pen-tesing sometimes known as penetration testing, is a common phrase in the cybersecurity field. Although it is frequently written as ‘pen testing,’ the industry standard is the single-word form ‘pen testing.

This procedure entails a planned and sanctioned assault on IT systems, which includes online applications, network devices, and other technological assets. What is the goal? To conduct a thorough evaluation of the efficiency of a company’s security measures. Pentesting is more than just testing hardware; it also assesses software and apps critically. The underlying rationale for corporations to engage in pentesting echoes the ancient adage that ‘prevention is better than cure. Whether for enhancing security or following to regulatory standards, detecting and correcting vulnerabilities through pentesting reduces the likelihood of these weak points being exploited by malicious actors.

As outlined by the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), penetration testing unfolds across six distinct stages:

Automated vs Manual Penetration Testing

  • 1. Planning and Investigation
  • 2. Scanning
  • 3. Exploitation / Unintended Access
  • 4. Permanent State of Access
  • 5. Reporting
  • 6. Retest 
  • These stages aid in the development of a pen-testing hypothesis, the collection of relevant data, and the execution of a thorough analysis, all within the framework of a well-documented pentesting methodology. Upon completion, companies can use the insights and corrective actions gained from certified pentest findings. This not only aids in overcoming security gaps, but also in achieving regulatory compliance and improving audit readiness.

Understanding Manual Penetration Testing:

Manual penetration testing is a time-consuming method performed by expert penetration testers or a specialized team. This team uses a combination of automated techniques and strategic methodologies to identify security flaws in systems. What distinguishes manual penetration testing is the incorporation of human brain and knowledge, which increases the effectiveness of the attacks. The findings are an important part of the entire penetration testing report delivered at the end of the examination.

The procedure begins with the creation of a detailed test plan outlining key information. This corresponds to Phase 1 of the OWASP recommended methodology. The team performs several scans to collect data, which includes information about software, hardware, database versions, and any third-party programs or plugins used.

Automated vs manual penetration testing

The following stage entails performing a comprehensive investigation.

The team compiles a complete dossier throughout the final reporting step. This paper not only catalogs vulnerabilities services and their exploitation, but it also provides a critical analysis of these security flaws. The report’s level of technical detail is matched to its intended audience. For example, rather to digging into the intricate minutiae of the penetration testing team’s methodology, a report meant for executive leadership can emphasize overarching risk management and security implications.

Understanding the Advantages of Manual Penetration Testing

Why choose manual penetration testing over automated methods? There are key reasons that illustrate how manual pen testing delivers more effective results.

Spotting Logical Vulnerabilities: The detection of logical defects within applications is one area where automated tests fall short. Although not every logical inconsistency is a direct vulnerability, human testing excels at finding and correcting these complicated issues, indicating weaknesses in your application’s structure that automated methods may overlook.

Enhanced Remediation Efficiency: Tailoring a test to fit your organization’s specific needs, including its compliance requirements and both external and internal dynamics, significantly improves the remediation process. Automated vs Manual penetration testing helps organizations achieve a quicker and more effective resolution, leading to a substantial reduction in the average time required to address vulnerabilities. This not only enhances security but also maximizes the return on investment by efficiently mitigating risks uncovered through manual testing.

Challenges and Limitations of Automated Penetration Testing

While automated penetration testing appears to be a cost-effective solution, a deeper look at its many restrictions reveals that the supposed financial advantage is somewhat eclipsed.

One of the major disadvantages of automated penetration testing is the absence of subtle precision and accuracy that characterizes manual penetration testing. Automated tools can only evaluate the scenarios for which they are programmed, therefore they lack the breadth of analysis afforded by manual testing. Furthermore, the high incidence of false positives is a big difficulty with automated testing. This necessitates substantial additional verification, which might weaken the trustworthiness and credibility of automated penetration test results over time. Furthermore, automated penetration tests are frequently more generic.

strategies that manual tests can unearth. Another important aspect to consider is the market perception and acceptance, where manual penetration tests are often held in higher regard compared to their automated counterparts.

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Automated vs manual penetration testing

Our innovative solution addresses common scalability and cost-effectiveness concerns by providing an agile and DevOps-compatible penetration testing service. Are you interested in learning more about the potential of the NextdoorSec cloud platform and our PtaaS in your unique situation? Begin your cybersecurity adventure with us today by scheduling a pen test exploration conversation!

Noor Khan

Noor Khan


My name is Noor, and I am a seasoned entrepreneur focused on the area of artificial intelligence. As a robotics and cyber security researcher, I love to share my knowledge with the community around me.

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