Cyberlogic Insights

The Power of Penetration Testing: Automated vs. Manual Approaches for Cyber Security

Let's explore the power of automated vs. manual penetration testing in cyber security.

The threat of cyber-attacks looms large over businesses, both large and small. The headlines are filled with stories of data breaches, ransomware attacks, and compromised systems. As organisations strive to fortify their cyber security defences, one crucial practice stands out: penetration testing – referred to across the industry as pen testing. In this article, we will explore the two main approaches to pen testing: automated and manual. 

Automated vs. Manual Pen Testing 

In the world of cyber security, the household security analogy is often used to provide a tangible example to unpack this complex domain. Think of basic security measures as the digital equivalent of a reliable alarm system. This fundamental layer includes essentials like antivirus software and firewalls, safeguarding your digital ‘home’ from common threats. Various tiers of cyber security build on that, providing more sophisticated defences. Network security acts as sturdy locks on doors and windows, preventing unauthorised access, application security stands as a vigilant security guard, ensuring individual software components remain resilient, and endpoint security mirrors a comprehensive surveillance system, safeguarding every device. 

To test the effectiveness of your alarm system, you would simulate a break-in to ensure all the various components are doing what they’re meant to do. Now, imagine two scenarios: in the first, the simulated ‘thief’ uses generic tools and predefined tactics, while in the second, they leverage experience, intuition, and creativity to get into your home and, in so doing, they test for every conceivable vulnerability, some of which might not have occurred to you before. This analogy helps illustrate the difference between automated and manual pen testing. 

1. Automated Pen Testing: The Quick Scan Approach 

Automated pen testing uses a set of pre-programmed tools to conduct a security scan on your digital infrastructure. Think of it as a high-speed scan that checks for known vulnerabilities and attempts basic exploits. While this method is efficient and cost-effective, it lacks the finesse of a human touch. Automated tests provide a broad overview of potential weaknesses but may miss intricate vulnerabilities that an experienced professional would detect. 

2. Manual Pen Testing: The Art of Intrusion 

Manual pen testing is like hiring a seasoned detective to meticulously inspect your premises. It involves human expertise, experience, and creativity to uncover vulnerabilities that automated tools might overlook. A manual approach can explore potential chains of vulnerabilities and simulate real-world attack scenarios. While manual pen testing takes more time and resources and, as such, is more expensive, it offers a deeper understanding of your security landscape and the vulnerabilities open to malicious actors. 

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Considering Cost, Time, and Results 

When deciding between automated and manual pen testing, several factors come into play, namely cost, time, and desired outcome. 

Cost Implications: Automated pen testing is an ‘off-the-shelf’ solution, offering standardised scans at a lower cost. Manual pen testing, on the other hand, involves skilled professionals who can explore vulnerabilities from multiple angles, potentially discovering critical exploits that automated tools might miss. These cyber security professionals are vastly experienced, have multiple certifications, and come at a premium price point in comparison with an automated scan. 

Time/Resource Implications: Automated tests are quicker, generating results faster than manual tests. However, manual tests offer the advantage of a human touch, enabling experts to identify complex vulnerabilities that could be exploited in ways that could be detrimental to your business. While they take longer, they are more thorough and provide a more in-depth view of vulnerabilities.  

Expected Outcome: The choice between automated and manual pen testing depends on your organisation's goals. Automated tests provide an overview of vulnerabilities, while manual tests dive deeper into intricate weaknesses. Regardless of the approach you opt for in your business, once you have a view of your vulnerabilities, remediating them is critical. Post-testing, it's essential to address and retest vulnerabilities to avoid inadvertently creating new security gaps in your effort to close others – something like accidentally bumping a window open while closing a door. 

Cyberlogic: Your Trusted Partner in Cyber Security

At Cyberlogic, we understand the evolving threat landscape and the importance of robust cyber security. Our approach combines the strengths of both automated and manual pen testing. Our experienced Red Team experts have a wealth of knowledge and multiple accreditations from respected industry bodies. Our approach ensures a comprehensive evaluation of your security posture. 

As David S. astutely noted, relying solely on automated tools may leave critical vulnerabilities undiscovered. We share his sentiment that a holistic approach, guided by human intuition and expertise, is paramount. Don't wait for a cyber security disaster to strike — take proactive measures to safeguard your digital assets. Reach out to us at to begin your journey towards a fortified cyber security posture. 

Read the previous post in the series.

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