How does automated pen testing compare to manual?
Is one better than the other?
While most companies are familiar with and conduct manual pen tests, automated pen testing has become an option to consider in recent years.
Let’s explore the pros and cons of each.
Manual pen testing pros and cons
- The top benefits of manual pen testing are that it offers flexibility and a higher likelihood of discovering and mitigating vulnerabilities within the tested systems. Manual pen testing can find cleverer vulnerabilities and attacks that automated tests may miss, such as blind SQL injection attacks, logic flaws and access control vulnerabilities. A trained professional can examine the responses of an application to such an attack in a manual pen test, potentially catching responses that may appear legitimate to automated software but, in reality, are a problem.
- Some pen tests can also only be performed manually. If a company wants to examine social engineering preparedness, for example, manual pen testing is needed, especially when testing for issues such as vishing. (voice phishing)
- Manual pen testing can also enable more creativity when looking for flaws. A good penetration tester will use their instincts and, based on the results, may opt to go into testing further in an unexpected direction.
- Another benefit of manual pen testing is having an expert on hand to review reports. While automated pen testing tools also generate reports, security analysts still have to review and remediate many of the issues detected.
- The top cons of manual pen testing are cost and time. Depending on a pen test’s thoroughness, it could take weeks to get results, which isn’t always ideal — especially if major vulnerabilities exist.
- Manual pen testing can also be expensive, which is why many companies do it only to fulfill compliance and regulatory requirements. When companies can’t afford an internal red team or pen testing team, third-party service providers are normally used for testing needs — another cost.