Benefits of Automated Penetration Testing
Automated penetration testing plays an important role in a security analyst’s arsenal. As part of an organization’s overall security strategy, automated penetration tests quickly evaluate the existing security maturity of its technical infrastructure. However, one cannot solely rely on automated penetration tests, and they must be monitored by the internal security team.
Defining automated penetration testing
When a penetration test is conducted, a tester performs deliberate attacks on an organization’s systems, applications, and networks to find the existing vulnerabilities and exploit them. The goal behind a penetration test, as we have discussed previously, is to assume a hacker-like mindset so that real-life attacks are simulated using the tools which are most likely to be used by the attackers. Conducting these tests is a time-consuming activity, and they need to be performed by properly trained individuals to get the best results.
In order to cut down on the time element, many organizations aim for automating certain parts of the process. Though the penetration tests are still monitored by a skilled security analyst or a team of analysts, many steps of a penetration test can be easily automated. For example, manually running scans on each system will take a significant amount of time, while these steps can be easily automated by using a vulnerability scanner to scan multiple systems at once. On similar lines, automated exploit tools can be utilized to perform an attack.
Why should you conduct automated penetration tests?
Automated penetration testing tools have multiple key benefits for an organization. To start with, automated scans can be performed quickly than manual scans, and hence, the speed of detecting new vulnerabilities also increases.
Second, a security analyst will manually scan and test systems one by one, and it will become a tedious process. Automated tools can cover a large number of systems for thousands of vulnerabilities.
Third, with automated tools performing most of the basic parts of an automated penetration testing, your internal team is not overloaded with monotonous work. They can instead focus their time on looking out for advanced attacks.
Fourth, automated penetration testing tools can also play a major role in the compliance of certain standards or frameworks. For example, PCI DSS under Requirement 11.2 requires regular vulnerability assessments of the cardholder data environment (CDE) and associated critical systems. With automated regular vulnerability assessments in place, it becomes easier for an organization to focus extensively on penetration testing requirements given under Requirement 11.3.
Choosing your toolset
In an ideal automated penetration testing, the internal security team should include a range of tools which allow him to automate as many parts as possible while at the same time, these tools allow manual follow-up of automated results whenever necessary. One of the must-have tools is a network vulnerability management suite. An analyst can opt for Nessus or any such alternative to perform scans across an organization’s entire enterprise network for finding network-facing vulnerabilities. In addition, the analyst should have a web penetration tool such as Acunetix for probing web applications for most common security flaws such as XSS, SQL injection, etc.
Last but not least, the analyst must have the open-source Metasploit Framework (MSF) in his arsenal. It is a collection of a large number of exploits which efficiency bridge the gap between automated and manual penetration tests.