January 23, 2023
Organizations can no longer ignore the urgency of securing their software continuously. As cyber threats do not take breaks, neither should developers in their efforts to remediate flaws. We present why it is important to continuously conduct penetration testing. We argue that it helps maintain a sensible security posture and save on costs (hint: especially time). Along the way, we compare this approach with point-in-time penetration testing. Further, we mention the ways in which our Penetration Testing solution overcomes the challenges commonly associated with continuous assessments.
How often should penetration testing be done?
Have you seen the subjects in the newsletters people in cybersecurity get delivered to their inbox? It's always something like "threat actors are exploiting a flaw in [insert software name]," or "[insert malicious technique name] reaches a new high." Not to mention the inclusion of ransomware attacks, which are constantly making headlines. Does it make sense to conduct security assessments solely once every year? The answer is a resounding "no!"
Granted, firms getting their systems' security checked annually, or that at least had an assessment one single time, are addressing the problem, however minimally. Point-in-time penetration testing provides them with a snapshot of their security posture. This could be in terms of the known attack surface, vulnerabilities in systems, quantified risks or remediation rate at that time. That is their baseline, which is useful for comparisons with the next assessment. But there's still the uncertainty about whether they can withstand the attacks targeting them between those periods, what with developers having to create value constantly anyways. What firms really need is to see what their attack surface, threat environment and vulnerability management performance look like in real time. The bottom line is: Penetration testing should be done continuously.
Benefits of continuous penetration testing
Real-time security posture identification
When assessments are done continuously, firms can make timely discoveries of assets making up their attack surfaces. They then have the opportunity to check for vulnerabilities in those assets. Any new threat (e.g., attack scenario) appearing in their environment is immediately imitated by the ethical hackers performing the tests. Although ideally, these highly certified professionals find the weaknesses or vulnerabilities before any exploit in the wild is heard of. Risk identified and mitigated is also true to the security posture now, not to that of months ago. And because developers are notified instantly of any flaw found in recent changes, they can go ahead and solve it while that code is fresh in their heads.
It may surprise you, but costs may be lower for continuous pen tests than point-in-time engagements. And these are not only dollar costs.
Conducting assessments annually (or just not continuously) means firms have to spend a great amount of time establishing the project scope, getting ahold of the right professionals, establishing expectations and deliverables, agreeing upon methodologies and a timeline, etc. This has to be done over and over again. Continuous pentesting may require occasional tweaks to the initial setup every now and then, but that is it.
Time of remediation is also greatly reduced by doing continuous assessments, as developers are notified and get to fix issues along the way. In contrast, point-in-time assessments accumulate what could be a year's, half a year's or a quarter year's worth of security issues. Managing all these weaknesses and vulnerabilities becomes a tiresome and seemingly unending task. Ultimately, developers are forced to do rework on months-old code instead of producing value.
Regarding money, the cost of continuous pentests, ideally, won't surpass that of data breaches. It's a hard pill to swallow, but your firm spends on cybersecurity to prevent losing significantly greater amounts to the effects of cyberattacks. Continuously testing your systems' resistance to the latest trends in attacks is a better strategy in comparison to point-in-time security testing when attempting to prevent malicious hackers from breaking in.
Whereas the scope of penetration testing in the point-in-time approach is generally static, it is adjustable in the continuous testing approach. The former is therefore at disadvantage, because in case there are assets discovered that were unknown before the engagement, the penetration testing scope would leave them out. A contract of continuous pen testing would allow the firm to adjust the scope so that further testing focuses timely on those newly discovered areas of the attack surface.
Ongoing support from experts
When firms have implemented the point-in-time approach, the time constraints may not allow developers to get in touch with the security analysts and solve many of their doubts. Like we said in a previous item, the reports may contain several months' worth of issues. Your team may apply a reasonable prioritization strategy to fix what could cause the most trouble and get support from experts on the issues, but much could be remaining to be addressed. The security analysts may validate that the fixes are effective, and, if it's the case, your firm may achieve sufficient compliance with a standard. Then it's until the next assessment that developers get to solve their doubts with the experts. And even then, more urgent issues may arise. Continuous assessments may eliminate this problem by allowing contact with the experts permanently.
Challenges to continuous penetration testing
Despite knowing that they are subjected to constant cyber threats, there are reasons why firms contracting third-party penetration testing might go for point-in-time assessments.
Most often, it is a matter of the firm asking, "How much does penetration testing cost us in relation to our budget for cybersecurity?" Indeed, the company may allow itself only the regular point-in-time assessment. And it may do so at least annually, in the case it needs to follow certain standards where penetration testing compliance is mandatory.
Additionally, there's the challenge of penetration testing being a manual method and therefore taking time to yield results. This fuels the view of security being an obstacle for the production of value.
And there's also the challenge of the firm's resources to deal with all the data that continuous penetration tests yield. Doubts arise not only about where the data are to be stored but also how to keep track of findings as they accumulate.
How Fluid Attacks addresses those challenges
At Fluid Attacks, we offer our Penetration Testing solution under the model of penetration testing as a service (PTaaS). Which means we recognize the need of security to cover the entire software development lifecycle (SDLC). We offer firms looking to outsource penetration testing services a solution that addresses the challenges to continuous pen testing:
Acknowledging the budget constraints of most firms, our continuous assessments are cost effective.
We let developers deploy first, the production of value being a necessity, then our ethical hackers follow, so they test micro changes and report the cybersecurity issues they find.
We include with our service access to our Attack Resistance Management (ARM) platform, where users configure the assessments' scope, view findings through helpful visuals, assign remediation, read recommendations, talk to our hackers, keep track of the flaws and the exposure to risk they represent, and much more.
Contact us to receive our continuous penetration testing proposal.
Our Penetration Testing solution is part of our Continuous Hacking Squad Plan. You can try now for free our Continuous Hacking Machine Plan, which involves only automated security testing, to find deterministic vulnerabilities in your systems and get introduced with our platform. You can also upgrade to Squad Plan from the trial to enjoy continuous pen testing.
Recommended blog posts
You might be interested in the following related posts.
Get an overview of vulnerability assessment
For which security standards is pentesting a must-have?
Pentesting is a system-agnostic approach to security
Differences between these security testing approaches
Our CLI is an approved AST tool to secure cloud apps
How BAS solutions work, their importance and benefits
Disclosure rules proposed by SEC may soon take effect
A simple approach to try out in cybersecurity training