Penetration testing has been one of the industries that are relatively slow adopters of automation. As security firms started automating many parts of the cybersecurity process including scanning and threat intelligence updates, security testing for some time was still mostly about traditional methods.
“In the past few years, the use of automation in many spheres of cybersecurity has increased dramatically, but penetration testing has remained stubbornly immune to it,” as noted CISO Alex Haynes explains in an article exploring the potential of AI replacing humans in this field.
This is perfectly understandable, considering that penetration testing needs to be thorough and supervised by experts. Many of its parts are repetitive, but they require the scrutiny of human cybersecurity professionals to be carried out effectively. AI and machine learning technology has yet to reach a level advanced enough to competently handle the complexities of security testing.
However, the past years have produced excellent examples of solutions that take advantage of automation. These pen-testing platforms employ automation in specific areas that make excellent sense. These existing solutions provide convincing evidence of the benefits of automation in this field of cybersecurity.
More effective cyber threat intelligence gathering and assessments
Security testing relies on extensive information to effectively detect, identify, and address vulnerabilities and weaknesses in security systems. If cyber threat intelligence were to remain manually updated, it would be difficult for security testing to achieve an efficiency level that can handle the overwhelming volumes of attacks cybercriminals launch on a regular basis.
To emphasize, huge amounts of information are gathered to serve as the basis for the identification and detection of threats. Going through all of the data is time-consuming, which means it can slow down the process. Also, not all of the data obtained can be useful. Some only serve as noise and can also impact the testing efficiency.
Automated penetration testing platforms like Cymulate come with features that not only automate the collection of cyber threat intelligence, but also employ automation in the assessment of these threats to determine the ones deemed immediate or urgent, so cybersecurity personnel can deal with them as soon as possible.
Screenshot of Cymulate’s Immediate Threats Intelligence Assessments interface
Scores or ratings of specific threats may be generated to provide a quantified overview of the different threats encountered. Quick details about the targets, vectors, statuses are also usually available. These help in making threat assessments faster and easier. Reports are also generated instantly in formats that are easy to comprehend even for those who do not have technical backgrounds in security testing.
Automated attack simulations and continuous testing
One of the most important features of automated penetration testing systems is their ability to simulate attacks and test the effectiveness of security controls. These simulations are based on security incidents recorded in a comprehensive database maintained by the provider. Some modifications may be implemented to account for changes that will be used by bad actors as they retool their attacks for certain situations.
The simulations reflect end-to-end attacks that include reconnaissance work, supply chain compromises, phishing campaigns, and ransomware infection. These are not a one-off operation. Often, simulations are conducted repeatedly and continuously to ascertain that there are no downtimes in the effectiveness of security controls.\
Doing attack simulations manually is highly inefficient. It takes a lot of time, effort, and resources–something that only a very few organizations can handle. It makes perfect sense to automate these whenever possible. The good thing is the technology already exists.
Screenshot of Cymulate’s Purple Team Dashboard
Cymulate’s attack simulation platform, for example, features the functions for effective adversarial tactics simulation. It can run tests for endpoint security, lateral movement, and data exfiltration. It also features a purple team dashboard to conveniently examine security controls in a single interface.
Cymulate conducts a comprehensive analysis to determine attacks that have been prevented, not prevented, detected, and not detected. The results are laid out in a rich visual presentation with graphs and color indicators for easier scrutiny.
All of these are undertaken with the advantage of not being limited by a single entry point, which is what happens with manual penetration testing. The automated platform runs multiple tests simultaneously through various entry points to reveal vulnerabilities and track impact scenarios that may vary depending on the entry point.
Moreover, Cymulate integrates the MITRE ATT&CK framework to take advantage of the most up-to-date knowledge base of cyberattack techniques, tactics, and common knowledge. Cymulate’s automated security testing does not only rely on internal cyber threat intelligence but also uses an authoritative model of cyber adversary behavior to detect creative and novel attacks designed to bypass existing cybersecurity defenses.
Improved threat response through automated evaluation, prioritization, real-time reports, and guided responses
Another significant benefit of automating the penetration testing process is the enhanced ability to respond to various threats. Instead of taking a lot of time going through different threats individually, automated security testing platforms provide a guided process. This does not only simplify the way threats are addressed. It also reduces the possibility of committing mistakes when deciding on the right course of action to address a specific threat.
In Cymulate’s web application firewall (WAF) resources, for example, the process of rectifying issues is reduced to a very simple process of verifying domain ownership for specific WAF sites. The automated platform does not only identify potential issues but also shows the way to address them.
Screenshot of Cymulate’s interface for web application firewall resource issues
Automation facilitates immediate and extensive security visibility by enabling organizations to be fully aware of their current exposure, exploitable vulnerabilities, security gaps, and improper configurations. Additionally, it enables security gauging and tracking, which in the case of Cymulate, is presented through risk scores based on proven methodologies such as Microsoft DREAD, NIST, and CVSS v3.
This immediate security visibility generates actionable insights that can help fortify an organization’s security posture. The security assessments provide reliable guidance on how to prioritize resources as well as optimize remediation efforts to ensure that the most urgent threats are addressed first and that exposure to risks is minimized.
Better penetration testing in virtually all aspects
There is just no argument to support going back to manual security testing. While it may not be possible to automate everything in security penetration testing, a good portion of it can use automation to significantly improve efficiency.
Ultimately, automation makes security testing faster and less costly for organizations. It brings about a considerable efficiency boost that entails rapidly generated reports and more extensive testing coverage since there are no limits on the attack entry points. With these benefits, organizations can run repeated and continuous testing, in contrast to limiting the testing frequency periodically or occasionally to save on resources.