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Automated vs. Manual Penetration Testing

Automated vs. Manual Penetration Testing: Here, we are going to learn what is automated and manual penetration testing, which type is best for you?
Submitted by Ankit Pahuja, on JAN 19, 2022

Automated & Manual Penetration Testing

There are two types of security assessments that can be used to find vulnerabilities in a network. The first type, which we will call "manual" assessment, requires resources with knowledge about how to exploit vulnerabilities. These people have extensive knowledge about how networks work at an architectural level. The second type, which we use the term "automated" for this article, does not require any resource with specialized knowledge or skill set beyond clicking around on a website or app interface.

In this blog post, we will examine these two types of tests in-depth to help you decide which type would work best for your needs.

What Is Automated And Manual Penetration Testing?

Automated penetration testing, as the name suggests, is a type of security assessment that uses automated tools to scan and identify vulnerabilities in systems. These tools can be something as simple as a web application scanner or more complex like an exploit framework.

Manual penetration testing on the other hand relies heavily on human intelligence and manual effort to find vulnerabilities. While this approach is less scalable it does have some advantages over using automated scanners alone.

Pros And Cons Of Automated And Manual Penetration Testing

Now that we have the basic idea of what automated and manual penetration testing are, let us take a look at the pros and cons of considering and opting for either of these methods.

The Pros Of Automated Penetration Testing

One advantage of using automated scanning tools is that they are fast, efficient, and can cover a large number of systems in a short amount of time. In fact, some experts claim that they are able to perform more than 1000 assessments per year by using tools alone. Additionally, many commercial scanners come with pre-built exploits for various applications and systems which makes them very easy to use.

Other advantages in detail include-

  • Testers can work nonstop around the clock, 24/365 to find security vulnerabilities in your network and web applications even when you're not there to watch it happen live. It's also easy for them because all they need to do is configure an automated tool like Netsparker Web Application Security Scanner, set up a schedule, and wait for the results. Compare that with what manual testers have to do besides working long hours seven days a week!
  • Since these tools don't get tired or bored easily, they can run through applications and systems much faster than a human. Automated scanners can also test more areas in less time than a manual tester could – meaning you get more bang for your buck with automated scans.
  • Automated scanning tools are great at detecting low-hanging fruit security vulnerabilities that may be missed by humans (especially if the vulnerability is not well known). They're also very useful for identifying issues with specific configurations or custom coding changes that have been made to an application since the last scan.

Cons Of Automated Penetration Testing

The main disadvantage of automated scanning is that it often misses vulnerabilities that are not in the application or system's code. Additionally, many exploits and vulnerabilities found by scanners are already known and have been patched by the vendor. As a result, using only an automated scanner can leave your organization exposed to attack.

  • One major disadvantage of using automated scanning tools is that they sometimes produce false positives. This means that the scanner reports vulnerabilities where there are none, leading to wasted time and effort in resolving them.
  • Another disadvantage of automated penetration testing is that it doesn't always find the more sophisticated and complex vulnerabilities than manual testers can because they require a deep knowledge about how networks and apps work at an architectural level. An experienced pen tester has this kind of information readily available to help him exploit these kinds of issues successfully whereas someone using automated tools will not have such knowledge or experience, making it even harder for them.

The Pros Of Manual Penetration Testing

Manual penetration testing has several advantages over automated scanning. First, human intelligence allows testers to find vulnerabilities that may not be detectable with automated tools. Additionally, manual testers can exploit vulnerabilities in ways that automated scanners cannot which can lead to more comprehensive results.

Other advantages of Manual Penetration Testing include:

  • This type of security assessment takes longer than running scans but there are several advantages like finding vulnerabilities faster (even if only by hours). It's also better suited for certain situations where you need to exercise creativity, discretion, and intelligence when looking for flaws in your systems - like when an automated scan doesn't pick up on something that a human would.
  • Manual testers can be more selective with the types of tests they run, which leads to fewer false positives and better quality results overall. They also can customize tests according to specific needs or requirements, making them much more effective than scanners that rely on predefined test sets.
  • Another big advantage of manual penetration testing is that it often uncovers vulnerabilities that automated tools cannot find because they require a deep knowledge of how networks and apps work at an architectural level. An experienced pen tester has this kind of information readily available to him so he can exploit these kinds of issues successfully where someone using automated tools will not have such knowledge or experience, making it even harder for them.

The Cons Of Manual Penetration Testing

On the downside, manual testing is much slower than automation and requires significant resources in terms of both time and skill-set. In addition, manual testers are more likely to make mistakes that could lead to system compromise.

Other Cons Of Manual Penetration Testing:

  • One big disadvantage of manual penetration testing is that it takes longer than running scans, meaning more time and effort on your part. It can also be more expensive if you need to hire a good security team to do the job right.
  • Another disadvantage of manual penetration testing is that it's not always as reliable as automated scanning tools. Since humans are involved, mistakes can be made – like overlooking certain vulnerabilities or failing to test all areas thoroughly. This can lead to an incomplete assessment and inaccurate results.
  • Finally, the biggest disadvantage of manual penetration testing is that it's often slower than using automated scanning tools. However, this slowness should not be seen as a disadvantage since it allows for more thorough testing.

Which Type Is Best For You?

So which type of assessment is best for you? The answer depends on a number of factors including the size and complexity of your network, the availability of resources, and the time frame you have available for testing.

If you have a large network with many systems to scan then automated scanning may be your best option. However, if you are looking for comprehensive results or need to find vulnerabilities that are not detectable by scanners then manual penetration testing is the way to go. Ultimately it is up to you and your organization's specific needs to decide which type of assessment is right for you.

Conclusion

it is important to realize that there are advantages and disadvantages of automated vs manual penetration testing. Automated scanning will allow you to quickly find vulnerabilities in your system but they won't always be the most thorough results. Manual penetration testing is more time-consuming and expensive than automation but can often provide a better overall assessment since humans have access to information that scanners do not.

Author Bio:

Ankit Pahuja is the Marketing Lead & Evangelist at Astra Security. Ever since his adulthood (literally, he was 20 years old), he began finding vulnerabilities in websites & network infrastructures. Starting his professional career as a software engineer at one of the unicorns enables him in bringing "engineering in marketing" to reality. Working actively in the cybersecurity space for more than 2 years makes him the perfect T-shaped marketing professional. Ankit is an avid speaker in the security space and has delivered various talks in top companies, early-age startups, and online events.

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ankit-pahuja/

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