Automated penetration testing is the process of identifying vulnerabilities in a security system using automated pentest tools to exploit and detect the levels of the threat posed by vulnerabilities present and to understand their impact. It checks your organization’s internet-facing assets like websites, applications, and networks.
Nearly 91% of web applications are prone to breaches of sensitive data where user ids are disclosed in almost 84% of the cases.
Security measures are at their best when and if employed properly. But when there are gaps within the measures, a proactive approach should be taken to identify, fix, and perfect the measures. This is where penetration testing comes in.
This article talks all about automated penetration testing, the differences between automatic and manual pentesting, the checks performed by a pentest, and even mentions the top automated penetration testing tools to make your decision easy. So let’s dive in.
What Is Penetration Testing?
Penetration testing is the process of identifying vulnerabilities within a security system and exploiting them to understand the level of threat they pose and the damages that would be caused by an attack.
Penetration testing checks your organization’s web-facing assets like websites, subdomains, etc for security vulnerabilities.
A successful pentest does not only identify the vulnerabilities but also finds different ways to exploit them and anticipates the impact on the tested application.
Penetration testing is a complex & time-taking process. Nevertheless, extremely important. Here is why:
- Pentesting helps identify critical vulnerabilities
- Helps improve security posture.
- Increases reliability and trustworthiness of the provider.
There are two common ways in which penetration tests are performed.
Penetration testing has largely been a manual process with the occasional use of automated tools. This is because the key objective of a penetration test is to think like a hacker and go far into the system with little effort, i.e. by circumventing major security protocols.
However, manual pentest is a complex process that can take days of planning & execution. Automated penetration testing, on the other hand, helps keep track of the vulnerabilities with ongoing vulnerability scanning, while you wait for your next manual pentest.
What Is Automated Penetration Testing?
Automated penetration testing (also called Vulnerability Scanning) is a process of evaluating security risks in a system with the help of automated security tools.
Performing penetration tests and security audits using automated methods is much faster than manual penetration testing which requires a lot of manpower and expense. You can expect automated penetration testing to render results within just a few seconds to a couple of minutes.
Astra Security’s Automated Pentest Solution
The Astra Security vulnerability scanner is an on-demand vulnerability scanner that can be used to conduct automated penetration testing. It detects over 3000 vulnerabilities and provides you with instant results, CVSS score, bug-bounty loss, and so on. The vulnerability database receives regular updates to include the latest vulnerabilities.
Some other features of Astra’s Pentest Scanner include:
- Authenticated Scanning: We support authenticated scanning, which means that we can scan the user/admin dashboard behind a login.
- Real-Time Reporting: All alerts are raised in real time during testing. This means that we display the found vulnerabilities the moment they are found, unlike specific other tools which only display the results after the scan has concluded.
- Manual Verification: Our security researchers manually verify the reported issues for relevance & instances of repeated alerts.
- Scoring System: We have a scoring system for each issue, which helps the developer in prioritizing what needs to be done at the earliest and not miss out on critical things in pursuit of other issues.
- Grading System: We have a grading system for your website, which gives you more idea about how your site is performing compared to the multitude of websites or applications tested by the scanner.
- Compliance: Astra’s automated pentest help achieve compliance through compliance-specific scans that can detect any areas of non-compliance which can be remediated with help of the thorough compliance reports.
- Pentest Certificate: Upon completion of the automated pentest, the remediation and the rescan which is provided by Astra, an Astra pentest certificate is issued to the customer to mark their newly enhanced and improved security.
Also Read: Astra Pentest Certificate
Automated scan by Astra’s Pentest scanner
Here’s an example of automated penetration testing done by Astra Security scanner:
Step 1. Login to your Astra Pentest dashboard and navigate to the website or project you want to scan.
Step 2. Click on ‘Start an Audit’.
Step 3. Select ‘Automated Scan’. Fill in the details like the tech, URL, etc. Hit ‘Save and go back.’
Step 4. Once everything is optimized, click on ‘Start an Audit’.
This is what the results of an automated penetration with Astra look like:
Results of an automated penetration test by Astra Security
Differences between automatic & manual penetration testing
Both manual & automated penetration testing have their own significance.
Where automated tests are quick and easy to use and work wonders when coupled with manual insight. Manual penetration testing is ideal for gauging the impact of a vulnerability exploit.
|Automated Penetration Testing||Manual Penetration Testing|
|Automated penetration testing or Vulnerability Scanning is an automated process of detecting vulnerabilities performed with penetration testing tools.||Manual penetration testing or simply penetration testing is a meticulous assessment of your security infrastructure, performed by competent security researchers.|
|It is quick to execute and saves a ton of time.||Manual pentests can take days on end to complete.|
|It is a low-effort & efficient method of scanning your networks for vulnerabilities.||It requires proper planning and preparation to conduct a full-blown manual penetration test.|
|It does not provide deeper insights into the vulnerabilities.||It provides detailed & deeper insights into the vulnerabilities.|
|It discovers common security misses like a lacking update, flawed permission rules, configuration flaws, with amazing efficiency.||It detects acute flaws that are often missed by a scanner like business logic errors, loopholes, coding flaws, etc. It also involves exploiting these vulnerabilities to gauge the impact on the system.|
|It can be done frequently without much preparation & planning.||It requires effort & time, thus can't be done frequently.|
Checks Performed By Automated Penetration Testing
A vulnerability scanner can test your application for the following (and more) tests:
- SQL injection vulnerability
- Cross-Site Scripting vulnerability
- Cross-Site Request Forgery
- Information Disclosure – Sensitive Information in URL, HTTP Referrer Header, Error Messages
- Weak Authentication
- Checks for missing security headers
- PII disclosure
- Publicly accessible files
- Unauthorized access
Type of Bugs
- Absence of Anti-CSRF Tokens
- Missing SSL
- Reverse Tabnabbing
- Insecure cookies
- Cookie poisoning
- .htaccess information leak
- Proxy disclosure
- Outdated version and so on.
Is Automated Penetration Testing Enough?
Automated penetration tests have solved the problem of spaced & sporadic vulnerability testing. However,
- Since automated penetration testing works on algorithms, it throws similar results in similar conditions.
- In any case, an automated pentest does not show the complete picture.
A manual penetration test done by a human can detect business logic errors, coding flaws, and loopholes that automated scanners are not quite capable of detecting yet. Therefore, manual penetration testing cannot be completely ruled out.
The right approach is to get regular Automated Penetration Testing combined with Periodic Manual Pentesting for maximum security.
Check out Astra’s Pentest suite which provides both – on-demand automated vulnerability scanning and periodic pentests.
Tools for Automated Penetration Testing
Even with the limitations, it can not be denied that automated penetration testing helps you find the easily exploitable (and sometimes silly) vulnerabilities in your system.
Here are some tools you can use to conduct penetration testing on your own:
- Astra Security: Astra provides world-class automated penetration testing services with zero false positive assurance through thorough vetting.
- Nessus: A great commercial tool provided by Tenable for scanning systems.
- Metasploit: This is an easy-to-use tool for large penetration tests.
- OpenVAS: A freely available tool that provides advanced scans and a framework for them.
- BurpSuite: This tool provides an open-source version as well as a paid version with more features.
- Nikto: This is an open-source automated pentesting tool.
- Nmap: This helps in the discovery of network ports and assets to scan for them.
- SQLmap: This tool is great for detecting injection attacks.
and so on.
To explain the working of these tools is beyond the scope of this article.
This article has detailed the definition of automated penetration testing, the steps for it, the differences between manual and automated penetration tests, mention the types of tests performed, and importantly, mentioned some of the best-automated penetration testing tools that help you out with a quick n easy pentest and identification of vulnerabilities. So make your choice wisely today for improved safety and security!
1. What type of penetration testing should I perform?
Go for a combination of automated & manual penetration testing. An automated scan makes a speedy detection of vulnerabilities but you need manual pentesting to ensure zero false positives, get actionable steps to fix the issues, & prioritize the right fixes.
2. Does your vulnerability scanner include authenticated areas of a web app?
Yes, a vulnerability scanner like Astra’s can scan authenticated areas, i.e., the user/admin dashboard behind a login.
3. How long does an automated vulnerability scan take?
It takes a couple of seconds to a few minutes for an automated vulnerability scan to complete. Astra’s Pentest Scanner, in fact, reports vulnerabilities in real-time as the scan proceeds.
4. Who needs automated penetration testing?
Anyone who has a web-facing application & network needs automated penetration testing.
5. Can automated penetration testing replace humans?
No. Automated tools merely scratch the surface and do not provide a complete picture of the system’s security.