How Much Does A Pen Test Cost?

Cyber security is an ongoing headache. There are always new threats, fresh compliance regulations, and all those other pesky tasks the information technology team has to address on a daily basis. 

The main objective of pen testing is to identify security weaknesses, penetration testing tools can also be used to test the robustness of an organization’s security policy, its regulatory compliance, its employees’ security awareness, and the organization’s ability to identify and respond to security incidents as they occur.

Have you been wondering how much a pen test costs? This article answers these questions and more. Keep reading.

What Is Pen Testing?

Pen test is also known as a penetration test or ethical hacking. It describes the intentional launching of simulated cyber attacks that seek out exploitable vulnerabilities in computer systems, networks, websites, and applications.

Why Penetration Testing Is Important?

If you are still skeptical, here’s why you must get penetration testing for your business:

  • A penetration test finds out the most lurking vulnerabilities in your system that may be exploited by hackers. A timely vulnerability disclosure & remediation saves you money and spares you the embarrassment following a data breach.
  • The cost-value ratio of a penetration test is huge. It positively impacts your organization’s security & business decisions.
  • Penetration tests also help in acquiring & retaining key certifications (such as PCI-DSS, HIPAA, etc) often necessary for your business operations.
  • A secure application builds customer trust.

How Much Does A Pen Test Cost?

Standard pricing for penetration testing is not the norm in the security audit & penetration testing world. Most penetration testing services prefer not to disclose their pricing and rely on one-on-one quotations. This is because pen test cost tends to differ widely from application to application.

Here are factors that determine the cost of a pen test:

  • Size: The cost of pen testing is directly proportional to the scale and complexity of the organization. Size refers to the number of employees and branches of an organization, complexity refers to the complexity of applications, servers, IP addresses, facilities, and databases that are involved. 
  • Scope: Every pen test follows a scope declaration by the organization as a roadmap for the testing. The scope defines priority areas to be tested in your application or network such as – the number of pages, APIs, test cases, network devices, etc. It also puts forward the objective of the organization in conducting the testing.
  • Methodology: Pen testing pricing can also vary as per the methodology and comprehensiveness of the test. Different methodologies have different focus areas and consist of a different sets of tests. Adding or removing specific tests, again, affect penetration test costs.
  • Experience: An established company charges more based on its service record, accreditations, and experience. This is because with experience comes the competence so necessary to carry out this job without breaking the system. With a trusted service, you can also be sure of the safety & privacy of your organizational details.
  • Remediation: Most Pen tests end post reporting the vulnerabilities. Some services, however, go the extra and assist you in fixing those vulnerabilities which add up to the overall costs
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Is The Costliest Penetration Testing The Best?

Pen testing costs are high due to the extensive testing plans. There are times pen-testing costs are proportional to the credentials of the security researcher.

To choose the best option for you, you need to have a clear idea of what you wish to achieve with the test. If your application does not really require or is not at a stage to go through extensive tests, you can opt that out and go for a moderate pen test instead.

Experience and accreditations can be extremely valuable in security testing, so paying extra for that is not actually a bad idea. Testing the in & out of an application is a very delicate matter and should be handled with utmost care & attention, which often comes with experience.

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How Often Should I Perform A Penetration Test?

To decide on the most suitable penetration testing frequency for your organization you need to thoroughly understand your application & network, as well as your security objectives 

  • If you roll out new app features, updates, & fixes frequently, you may need to test your application’s security more often. Monthly pen tests would likely work best for you in such a case.
  • If you roll out new features, updates & fixes every quarter, you can go for quarterly pen tests, or after every new release.
  • If your organization is not big on new feature additions but wants to uphold security at all times, a quarterly pen test would work well for you too.

What Are The Stages Of Penetration Test

1. Planning and reconnaissance

The first stage involves:

  • Defining the scope and goals of a test, including the systems to be addressed and the testing methods to be used.
  • Gathering intelligence (e.g., network and domain names, mail server) to better understand how a target works and its potential vulnerabilities.

2. Scanning

The next step is to understand how the target application will respond to various intrusion attempts. This is typically done using:

  • Static analysis – Inspecting an application’s code to estimate the way it behaves while running. These tools can scan the entirety of the code in a single pass.
  • Dynamic analysis – Inspecting an application’s code in a running state. This is a more practical way of scanning, as it provides a real-time view of an application’s performance.

3. Gaining Access

This stage uses web application attacks, such as cross-site scripting, SQL  injection, and backdoors, to uncover a target’s vulnerabilities. Testers then try and exploit these vulnerabilities, typically by escalating privileges, stealing data, intercepting traffic, etc., to understand the damage they can cause.

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4. Maintaining access

The goal of this stage is to see if the vulnerability can be used to achieve a persistent presence in the exploited system— long enough for a bad actor to gain in-depth access. The idea is to imitate advanced persistent threats, which often remain in a system for months in order to steal an organization’s most sensitive data.

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5. Analysis

The results of the penetration test are then compiled into a report detailing:

  • Specific vulnerabilities that were exploited
  • Sensitive data that was accessed
  • The amount of time the pen tester was able to remain in the system undetected

What Are Key Players In Penetration Testing

1. The Network Mapper

NMAP is a tool that discovers weaknesses in an enterprise’s network environment. It can also be used for auditing purposes. NMAP takes raw data packets that have just been created and uses them to determine:

  • What hosts are available on a particular network trunk or segment
  • The information about the services which are being provided by these hosts
  • What operating system is being used (also known as “fingerprinting”)
  • The versions and the types of data packet filters/firewalls being used by any particular host

By using NMAP, organizations can create a virtual map of the network segment, and from there, pinpoint the major areas of weakness that a cyber attacker could potentially penetrate. NMAP can be used at any stage in the pen testing process

2. Metasploit

Rather than a single tool, Metasploit provides a package of different pen testing tools. It is a framework that is constantly evolving to keep up with today’s ethical hackers, who are able to contribute their knowledge to this platform as well.

Powered by the PERL platform, Metasploit comes with an entire host of built-in exploits which can be used to execute various kinds of pen test, and these are even customizable. For example, it already comes with a built-in network sniffer, and various access points from which to mount and coordinate various kinds of cyber-based attacks.

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3. Wireshark

Wireshark is an actual network protocol and data packet analyzer that can point out what is happening with the network and assess traffic for vulnerabilities in real-time. By reviewing connection-level information as well as the constituents of data packets, it highlights their characteristics, origin, destination, and more. While it flags potential weaknesses, a penetration testing tool is still required to exploit them.

4. The Web Application Attack and Audit Framework

W3AF is a pen testing suite created by the software developers at Metasploit. Its main purpose is to find and try to exploit any security weaknesses in web-based applications, and it consists of many tools that can root out these kinds of threats.

5. John the Ripper

JTR is a fast, efficient password cracker, currently available for many flavors of operating systems (Unix, macOS, Windows, DOS, BeOS, and OpenVMS). It can be used by pen testers to detect weak passwords and address the inherent weaknesses in typical password use. 

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Methods Of Penetration Testing

Pen testing can be carried out in various ways such as:

1. External testing

External penetration tests target the assets of a company that is visible on the internet, e.g., the web application itself, the company website, and email and domain name servers (DNS). The goal is to gain access to and extract valuable data.

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2. Internal testing

In an internal test, a tester with access to an application behind its firewall simulates an attack by a malicious insider. This isn’t necessarily simulating a rogue employee. A common starting scenario can be an employee whose credentials were stolen due to a phishing attack.

3. Blind testing

In a blind test, a tester is only given the name of the enterprise that’s being targeted. This gives security personnel a real-time look into how an actual application assault would take place.

4. Double-blind testing

In a double-blind test, security personnel have no prior knowledge of the simulated attack. As in the real world, they won’t have any time to shore up their defenses before an attempted breach.

5. Targeted testing

In this scenario, both the tester and security personnel work together and keep each other appraised of their movements. This is a valuable training exercise that provides a security team with real-time feedback from a hacker’s point of view.

What To Look For In A Pen Testing Service/Solution Provider?

When choosing a trusted and reputed third-party penetration testing service provider, look at 

  • Customer reviews
  • Security person’s accreditations
  • Detailed plans and methodology
  • Vulnerability management dashboard
  • Retesting after remediation facilities
  • Warranty possibilities
  • Certifications
  • Team and communication, are among the very first things.

You can also ask for a case study, known companies they worked with, customer reviews & testimonials, etc.

FAQs On Penetration Testing

How is pen testing done?

A penetration test usually involves the use of attacking methods conducted by trusted individuals that are similarly used by hostile intruders or hackers

Is penetration testing a good career?

Penetration testing can be an excellent career choice for individuals with strong computer, IT, and problem-solving skills. The BLS projects much faster-than-average growth for information security analysts, including penetration testers, from 2020 to 2030.

Do you need a degree to be a pen tester?

While it can be helpful to have a degree in computer science, information technology, or cybersecurity, not all penetration testing jobs require a degree.

Do pen testers work from home?

Freelance pentesters have the liberty of working from wherever they want unless they get subcontracted to work on on-site jobs that require them to travel.

Conclusion

With cyber-attacks increasingly on the rise, it is very important than ever that organizations perform regular penetration testing to identify their vulnerability, exposures, block holes, and ensure that cyber controls are working as normal.

Pen tests help the organization take a proactive stance as it seeks out weaknesses in its infrastructure (hardware), applications (software), and people in order to develop effective controls that are continuous and able to keep up with the ever-evolving cyber threat landscape.

References

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