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4 March, 2021


Annual penetration testing v. continuous monitoring

Penetration tests have become an essential part of an organization’s security strategy to find and fix vulnerabilities before attackers exploit them. The frequency of penetration tests depends on a variety of factors such as regulatory requirements, risk assessment results, and available financial resources. Our clients often ask our experts about the right frequency for penetration tests or selecting any one out of annual penetration testing and continuous monitoring. While there is no straightforward answer to this question, we explore the best possible solution in this article.

Annual Penetration Tests

Over the years, conducting annual penetration tests has become a primary line of defense against cyber attacks. While penetration tests continue to be popular, such exercises are better than doing nothing. Penetration tests are either conducted by internal teams or outsourced. At times, organizations adopt a mixed approach or go a step further by conducting red team exercises to simulate a real-life cyber attack.
Nevertheless, there is a drawback that is often missed – what if an attacker exploits an existing vulnerability while the organization is mid-way through its annual cycle?
Or in practical terms, a network engineer opens a port on the firewall but ends up exposing a database with critical data to the public internet? Or, what if a vulnerability becomes publicly known in your server, but you do not detect it until the next annual penetration testing exercise is organized? There can be many instances like this where a flaw or loophole might have occurred unintentionally.
This situation leaves us with one prominent question: Who is responsible for noticing vulnerabilities, loopholes, and flaws that might have occurred in between tests?
This is where continuous monitoring saves the day.

Continuous Monitoring

Without continuous monitoring of an organization’s IT ecosystem, a vulnerability or flaw can be easily exploited by an attacker since it would not have been identified. While continuous monitoring covers up for the drawbacks of annual penetration tests, many decision-makers might have an impression that continuous monitoring of their assets will require extensive resources. Is this requirement justified?
Consider an example of your organization’s workplace. Penetration tests can be considered analogous to annual attempts to see if thieves can break into or not. On a similar note, continuous monitoring will be analogous to security guards that safeguard the physical location 24×7. So, would you leave your organization’s entire IT ecosystem unattended throughout the year?
The obvious answer is no. As far as requiring resources is concerned, automation of vulnerability scans is not only cost-effective but also reduces the burden on your security teams. As per an organization’s requirements, the frequency of automated scans can be decided. An ideal automated scanning solution thoroughly documents the scan results and provides them in the form of a well-structured report. An interactive dashboard with detailed statistics can help in giving a wider outlook, while scan reports are sent over the email to the responsible individuals.

What is the recommended approach?

While your organization has an annual penetration testing plan in place, it must be supported by a continuous monitoring solution. As threats get more sophisticated, security is one area where organizations should not compromise. Annual penetration tests only provide a single line of defense, but they alone are not sufficient. Using BreachLock’s cloud-based security testing platform, you can automate security testing for your organization with a few clicks. Our cloud platform is supported by Artificial Intelligence aided scanning capabilities for monitoring your network and applications. Once the automated scans are scheduled, they will complement your organization’s manual testing efforts by providing detailed security coverage until the next penetration test is scheduled. If a weakness arises in one or more components of your organization’s IT ecosystem in between, continuous monitoring will act as the first port of call for your security teams.
Attackers are constantly looking out for vulnerabilities to exploit and cause damage to your organization. While an attacker would put in their best possible efforts to carry out a successful attack, your organization’s efforts must not be lackluster. An attacker only needs to be successful once out of their many attempts, but an organization has to defend its IT ecosystem every day throughout the year. Moving forward, continuous monitoring of assets in sync with scheduled penetration tests is the only plausible way to go.

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