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Staying Ahead of the Curve with Blended Penetration Testing

In today’s hyper connected threat landscape, navigating the digital highways feels like racing through challenging terrain. Each day brings news about several new cyber security breaches, reminding us of the high stakes – scores of data and billions of dollars at risk. The race is on, and the stakes are high with scores of data and billions of dollars at risk, it’s crucial for organisations to invest more money and time in securing their digital controls and highways if they are to navigate towards the future with confidence and agility. 

In the digital, risk and compliance race, penetration testing isn’t just a precaution it’s a strategy for staying ahead of the curve. 

What is Penetration Testing

Penetration testing or ‘pen testing’ for an organisation is like an annual MOT checkup for a car. 

At Incursion Cyber Security, our ethical hackers, or ‘pen testers,’ play the role of malicious actors, diving under the cybersecurity hood to launch simulated attacks. Just as an MOT check uncovers potential issues with your car, penetration testing uncovers business-specific security gaps in controls, that attackers can exploit. These gaps could lead to stolen records, compromised credentials, intellectual property, personally identifiable information (PII) or other harmful business outcomes.  

Penetration testing is proactive, it’s about staying one step ahead of the growing risks and threats. By identifying these gaps and suggesting mitigation strategies, it helps to protect vital business assets from future cybersecurity attacks. 

Penetration testing can be approached in two ways, automated testing and manual testing. Which one might be the best suited for you? Let’s find out together!

Automated Penetration Testing, Speeding Along, Yet Falling Short

Much like a race car running on autopilot, automated penetration testing relies on programmed tools and scripts to navigation and organisations networks. These tools zoom through target applications and systems, swiftly detecting vulnerabilities and generated automated reports. Automated pen testing offers a quick and cost-effective solution, allowing organisations to schedule automated tests regularly for continuous monitoring, covering extensive networks and systems in minimal time.

The Importance of the Human Touch

However, despite its acceleration, automated penetration testing faces hurdles. Across the digital highways, sophisticated threats are evolving at lightening speeds, outpacing the capabilities of the automated tools. While these tools leverage AI, machine learning (ML) and standardised scripted approaches, they rely on predefined testing procedures and signatures, which may miss sophisticated threats, and zero-day exploits or social engineering tactics that demand human intuition for detection.  

Though AI-driven standardization is heralded across various sectors, in this arena, it falls short in creativity and adaptability. These tools struggle to grasp the subtleties of an organization’s unique environment, often generating false positives or missing critical vulnerabilities. Just as a skilled driver’s intuition is indispensable on the racetrack, human insight remains irreplaceable in navigating the ever-changing landscape of cybersecurity threats.

While automated tools have their place and can efficiently identify known vulnerabilities, they struggle to match the nuanced expertise that human testers bring to the race track. Human pen testers not only pinpoint technical vulnerabilities but also scrutinise human-centric behaviours within an organisation’s operations and infrastructure. 

Manual penetration testing delves deeper into potential weaknesses by considering factors like user behaviour, organisational culture, and system interconnections. This human touch in penetration testing adds a layer of creativity, insight, adaptability, and contextual understanding that automated tools alone cannot replicate, much like the intuitive nature of a seasoned F1driver on the race track.

Log4j Zero-Day RCE Vulnerability: Automated Penetration Testing Falling Short

The importance of manual penetration testing was highlighted by the Log4j Zero-Day RCE Vulnerability (2021). This flaw could be exploited by attackers to execute arbitrary code remotely. Malicious attackers could exploit this vulnerability by injecting malicious code into Java applications that relied on Log4j. The automated testing tools deployed by many organisations overlooked this particular vulnerability despite its existence in the system since 2013.  

After 8 years, Luca Carettoni, a cybersecurity researcher finally uncovered this during his routine security research and testing. He appraised Apache Software Foundation of the same, who promptly released a security advisory and patches to address the vulnerability.

If not for Luca Carettoni’s preemptive discovery, the Log4j zero-day vulnerability could have eventually led to considerable financial and reputational damage to organizations worldwide. According to estimates, the Log4j vulnerability affected over millions of applications and devices globally, including critical infrastructure, financial institutions, government agencies, and healthcare providers. Had this vulnerability been exploited, it would have been responsible for data breaches affecting both individuals and businesses across the world, with the estimated cost of recovery being up to $4.25 million.  

The Log4j zero-day vulnerability incident highlights the critical role of proactive security research in safeguarding organizations against emerging cyber threats. It not only exposed the gaps left by automated penetration testing but also highlighted why human involvement is required for successful mitigation.

Manual Penetration Testing: Navigating the Cybersecurity Circuit

Manual penetration testing, with human testers at the wheel, incorporates the technical and the human-centric approach to identifying vulnerabilities and interprets the findings within the context of the organisations’ unique infrastructure, operations, processes, and industry needs.  

They stay informed and up to date on evolving cybersecurity threats. This enables them to identify intricate and emerging threats that can often slip through the cracks of automated testing. Furthermore, they deliver detailed reports tailored to your organisations specific risks and challenges complete with practical recommendation for mitigation. 

The Blended Approach the Best of Both Worlds

While there is no denying the increasing traction AI and automated testing tools are gaining, that’s exactly what they need to be looked at as – tools! They are not a one-stop solution for your cybersecurity needs. Let’s imagine your cybersecurity needs are like ensuring the safety of your vehicle. A vulnerability scan is like running a diagnostic check on your car’s engine. It might identify some issues like low oil levels or a loose bolt here and there. However, just because your engine passes the diagnostic doesn’t mean your Ferrari is ready for a race around the Nuremberg. 

However, winning the race requires must more than a well-tuned engine, you also need the expertise and intuition of a skilled driver who can navigate the twists, turns, and unexpected obstacles on the track. Similarly in cybersecurity, when organisations blend the strengths of both automation and human-led testing it provides the opportunity to win the race. 

By blending the strengths of both automated tools and human testers, you’re not just fine tuning the engine of your cyber defences, you’re also training an expert driver to handle any challenges that come your way. This blended approach maximises efficiency, depth, and coverage, ensuring an organisation has a robust strategy and solution to identify and mitigate security risks effectively, just like a finely tuned Ferrari dominating the racetrack.

Comprehensive testing is the need of the hour, and the unique understanding that human experts bring to the table is invaluable. We at Incursion Cyber Security (ICS) can help you identify vulnerabilities and provide a penetration-testing strategy catering to your organisation’s specific needs, with our highly trained and skilled testers leading the charge.

Contact us today for a tailored and comprehensive penetration testing solution to meet your businesses unique cybersecurity needs 

What our clients say

Incursion are professional with their approach whether this be within the internal team or external stakeholders. They are responsive which makes the engagement flow really well throughout the project, communication is great; attending daily stand up call, responding to WhatsApp messages quickly as well as reaching out to the wider team if needed. The level of work produced is to a high standard and follows industry best practices, Incursion make sure they thoroughly cover everything on the agreed scope. This has led to us receiving further work from the customer and an extension in our engagement. Incursion have no issues with working collaboratively within a team which has really helped with working in an agile environment. Overall, Incursion are a pleasure to work with.

Chloe – Leonardo

Our audit was very useful – written in a non-technical manner, enabling us to understand cyber threats and also provided a series of recommendations for each one. Can’t recommend highly enough.

Incursion are professional with their approach whether this be within the internal team or external stakeholders. They are responsive which makes the engagement flow really well throughout the project, communication is great; attending daily stand up call, responding to WhatsApp messages quickly as well as reaching out to the wider team if needed. The level of work produced is to a high standard and follows industry best practices, Incursion make sure they thoroughly cover everything on the agreed scope. This has led to us receiving further work from the customer and an extension in our engagement. Incursion have no issues with working collaboratively within a team which has really helped with working in an agile environment. Overall, Incursion are a pleasure to work with.

Chloe – Leonardo