Security Audit

Penetration Testing for Startups – A Guide for Founders

Updated on: April 4, 2024

Penetration Testing for Startups – A Guide for Founders

Penetration testing for startups is a proactive security measure that mimics real-world cyberattacks. It helps identify weaknesses in your systems before malicious actors can exploit them, allowing you to roll out patches and strengthen your overall security posture.

With constant cybersecurity scares, a shocking 78% of startup founders are experiencing attacks (according to Insurance Business). Resource constraints, limited security staff, and rapid development cycles only fuel the fire, making cybersecurity and VAPT a challenge to sustain.

Why Do Startups Need Penetration Testing?

Why Do Startups Need Penetration Testing

1. Pentest Reports Help Win Customers

Startups dealing in security-sensitive industries, such as those offering AI integration, handling PII (Personally Identifiable Information), or catering to healthcare, BFSI, and government entities, can leverage penetration testing to gain a competitive edge.

Continuous vulnerability scanning for OWASP 10 and SANS 25 and regular pentesting help demonstrate a proactive “security-first” approach by identifying critical vulnerabilities. It builds trust and positions you as a reliable partner, ultimately helping you win and retain customers.

2. Delayed Pentests Mean More Vulnerabilities

Startups in constant product development and regular updating stages risk accumulating vulnerabilities due to frequent updates. Delaying pentests in such a dynamic environment exposes them to greater risk.

For example, patching a global vulnerability such as Server-Side Request Forgery (SSRF) across all your assets – a delayed pentest would require retesting everything, tripling the workload.

3. Compliance Focused Approach

While annual penetration tests are often mandatory for industry regulations (HIPAA, PCI-DSS, SOC 2, etc.), Platform-as-a-Service or PTaaS solutions offer a distinct advantage: continuous monitoring.

This real-time visibility goes beyond annual checks, helping you identify and address vulnerabilities throughout the year. This proactive approach minimizes the risk of non-compliance fines and data breaches.

4. Sets a Culture of Security Early On

By regularly uncovering and fixing vulnerabilities, penetration testing in startups can ingrain a cybersecurity culture from the get-go. This builds awareness among developers and fosters a proactive approach to security throughout the SDLC. 

As a result, not only does your startup build a more secure foundation and avoid costly breaches down the line, but makes the jump from DevOps to DevSecOps with secure coding practices.

Why Astra is the best in pentesting?

  • We’re the only company that combines automated & manual pentest to create a one-of-a-kind pentest platform
  • Our automated scanner scans for 9300+ vulnerabilities
  • Vetted scans ensure zero false positives
  • Our intelligent vulnerability scanner emulates hacker behavior & evolves with every pentest
  • Astra’s scanner helps you shift left by integrating with your CI/CD
  • Our platform helps you uncover, manage & fix vulnerabilities in one place
  • Trusted by the brands you trust like Agora, Spicejet, Muthoot, Dream11, etc.

Which Type of Pentest is Recommended for Startups?

1. Black Box Penetration Testing

Black box pentesting, also known as external penetration testing or trial and error testing, simulates a real-world attacker’s approach. The attacker has limited to no knowledge about your systems and approaches from the outside in.

Black box testers use hacking techniques, such as SQL injection, social engineering attempts, brute-force password attacks, and vulnerability scanners, to identify and exploit weaknesses.

2. White Box Penetration Testing

White box pentesting, known as clear or internal penetration testing, offers a complete inside-out view of your security posture. Unlike black box testing, white box assumes the tester has full access to your systems, just like a trusted security expert within your organization.

The tester is granted full access to your systems’ architecture, codebase, internal documentation, and network configurations, allowing for a meticulous analysis of your security posture.

3. Grey Box Penetration Testing (Recommended for Startups)

Grey box pentesting for startups, also known as translucent box testing, strikes a balance between the complete transparency of the white box and the limited knowledge of the black box. Compared to either, it provides a more targeted and realistic assessment of your security posture.

Security experts usually test inside out using mature vulnerability scanners such as Astra’s to identify known weaknesses, exploit publicly documented vulnerabilities, and perform manual testing focused on specific functionalities.

This allows for a more in-depth analysis of your digital assets, and early identification forms the foundation for an innate security-first approach. This approach translates to more secure coding practices and faster VAPT and remediation cycles.

How Does a Penetration Test Work for Startups?

How Does a Penetration Test for Startups Work

Step 1: Planning and Reconnaissance (Scoping):

Define the pentest’s boundaries, including systems, scope, budgets, timelines, and acceptable testing methods. 

Our experts then use an automated engine to map out and gather information about the target systems through publicly available sources (OSINT) and from the client, depending on the agreed-upon scope.  

Step 2: Scanning:

In this step, the penetration testing team aims to leverage mature vulnerability scans to identify existing CVEs and emerging bugs in your target systems, such as weak passwords, misconfigured security settings, and outdated software.

Pro Tip: In case of a gray box, they also use the information provided from internal resources to generate AI test cases to identify attack vectors and zero-days specific to your application/ model/ industry.

Step 3: Exploitation and Gaining Access:

Armed with the above knowledge, the tester attempts to exploit them using various hacking techniques such as SQL injections, spoofing, user manipulation, or privilege escalation attacks. 

This step helps establish the persistence, severity, impact, and potential movement of attackers during and post-exploitation.

Step 4: Reporting :

Upon completing the pentest, the tester generates a comprehensive report detailing the identified vulnerabilities, exploited weaknesses, and potential impact. This report also includes recommendations for remediation steps to address the discovered vulnerabilities.

Step 5: Remediation and Follow-up: 

Following the release of security patches, a rescan is performed to validate their efficacy. This rescan also acts as a regression test to identify new vulnerabilities that may have unintentionally emerged during the patching process.

How to Choose a Penetration Testing Platform?

1. Put Yourself First

Choked with technical jargon such as security postures, continuous scanners, and end-to-end vulnerability managers, cybersecurity can feel overwhelming. Our tip, before starting, write down these 3 essentials such as: 

  • Why do I need a penetration test for my startup?
  • What’s my financial budget and timeline cutoff?
  • Are there any specific compliances I need to test for mandatorily?

Answering these questions will give you a clear roadmap. This roadmap will help outline your non-negotiables, ideal partner, and flexibility, especially as a startup navigating budget and timeline constraints.

2. Leverage Continuous Pentesting

While a manual pentest may prevent legal fines for non-compliance, continuous penetration testing helps secure the frequent structural and enables regression penetration testing for startups in the early stages.

Pro Tip: Find providers with experience in your asset type and industry. Compare the number of tests, identified CVEs, and reviews to understand the efficacy and ability of various tools.

3. Cultivate Shared Responsibility Models

Look for penetration testing tools that provide integrated reports, real-time testing for staging environments, and automated workflows. This helps you cultivate a shared model of responsibility for security, bridging the gap between your engineering and development teams.

Pro Tip: An active customer support and pentesting team can also help minimize procedural and remediation planning bottlenecks.

Astra Pentest is built by the team of experts that has helped secure Microsoft, Adobe, Facebook, and Buffer

What are Some Common Challenges of Pentesting for Startups?

Challenge 1: Budget Constraints:  

Startups often operate under tighter budgetary constraints and penetration testing costs usually require a significant upfront payment. Deciding between features, marketing, and security can be a zero-sum game.

Pro Tip: Explore alternative solutions. Consider open-source pentesting tools, or just start small. Negotiate phased penetration testing for your small business or startup, or focus on critical areas first.

Challenge 2: Limited Security Expertise

Many startups need more in-house security expertise to correctly manage and interpret pentest results. Such a limitation can make it challenging to understand pentesting reports, prioritize vulnerabilities, and implement remediation efforts effectively.

Pro Tip: Look for PTaaS platforms with experience working with startups who can tailor their services to your specific needs and handhold your team through the process.

Challenge 3: Rapid Development Cycles

Startups often prioritize speed to market and agility in their development process. Integrating pentesting into a fast-paced development cycle can be challenging, leading to potential delays or hindering innovation.

Pro Tip: Integrate security testing early and often throughout the SDLC. Adopt a “shift left” approach with automated vulnerability scanning tools and secure coding practices to catch vulnerabilities early and minimize rework.

Challenge 4: Scope Creep

The sheer number of vulnerabilities discovered during a pentest for a startup can be daunting. The pressure to fix everything can lead to “scope creep,” where the pentest expands beyond its initial boundaries, causing delays and exceeding budget constraints.

Pro Tip: Clearly define the scope of the pentest upfront.  Focus on critical systems and functionalities first, then consider expanding the same in future pentests as your resources allow.

How Astra Can Help?

Astra’s unique PTaaS platform simplifies traditional, chaotic penetration testing for startups. Our continuous vulnerability scanner mimics real-world hacker tactics to run 9,300+ security tests on your applications.

With zero false positives, seamless tech stack integrations, and real-time expert support, we make pentests simple, effective, and hassle-free. With intuitive CI/CD integrations, Astra empowers you to transition from DevOps to DevSecOps effortlessly.

Why Astra is The Best Choice For Pentesting Your Startup

Still don’t believe us? Take a look at what some of our 650+ customers have to say! 

Final Thoughts

Due to rapid development and potentially limited resources, startups are prime cyberattack targets. Pentesting helps break the cycle by uncovering vulnerabilities early on, building trust with customers, and fostering a culture of security within the organization.

Moreover, while annual pentests meet compliance requirements, continuous testing with tools like Astra helps address CVEs throughout the development lifecycle, ultimately leading to a more secure product.

This is especially true for gray box testing for startups, which offers a sweet spot, offering a more targeted and mature assessment. Thus, while proactiveness comes at a cost, the benefits far outweigh the cons for startup penetration testing.


How much time does penetration testing for startups take?

Typically, a pentest for startups takes 5-10 business days. However, the time taken for penetration testing for startups and small businesses can vary significantly based on the scope of the test, complexity, and number of assets.

How much does penetration testing cost for small businesses?

The cost of penetration testing for small business assets like web & mobile apps ranges between $1,500 to $5,000, and for websites run by small businesses and start-ups, it starts at $2,500.

How often should a company undergo pentesting?

Annual pentesting is recommended for any organization, but the answer varies with the type of organization. However, quarterly pentesting is ideal for a company handling a lot of sensitive data with internet-facing assets.

Ananda Krishna

Ananda Krishna is the co-founder & CTO of Astra Security, a SaaS suite that secures businesses from cyber threats. He has been acknowledged by the Indian Navy, Microsoft, United Airlines, etc. for finding critical security vulnerabilities in their systems. Winner of the Best Security Product at Global Conference on Cyberspace 2017 (awarded by Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India) & French Tech Ticket, Paris (awarded by François Hollande, former President of France). At Astra he's building an intelligent security ecosystem - web application firewall (WAF), malware detection & analysis, large scale SaaS applications, APIs & more. He's actively involved in the cybersecurity community and shared his knowledge at various forums & invited talks.
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