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Continuous Penetration Testing: Importance, Benefits, Best Practices

Ihor Sasovets
Lead Security Engineer at TechMagic, experienced SDET engineer. Eager about security and web penetration testing.
Continuous Penetration Testing: Importance, Benefits, Best Practices

Cyber ​​security threats are evolving in step with technology. It is obvious that any organization needs more secure code and dynamic protection solutions, and continuous penetration testing, or CPT, is about that.

In this article, we will talk about the role penetration testing services play in modern cybersecurity. We'll also explore why it is important to conduct continuous pentesting for maintaining a high level of system or application security and discuss its methodologies, benefits, and best practices for effective implementation.

Why Penetration Testing Is Important: Understanding the Concept

Penetration testing, also known as ethical hacking, is a critical security process aimed at checking applications, cloud environments, network infrastructure, etc., for potential vulnerabilities that can be exploited by malicious actors.

This approach's peculiarity and most value lie in simulating a real-world cyberattack to identify security holes and weaknesses that attackers can exploit. It lets you detect and fix vulnerabilities before cybercriminals exploit them.

Statistics prove the importance and demand of penetration testing. In 2024, the global penetration testing market will be worth  $1.7 billion. Experts claim it will reach $3.9 billion by 2029 (with a CAGR of 17.1%).

global penetration testing market overview

Pen Testing Methodologies

Now, let's take a look at the primary pentesting methodologies.

  • Black box testing. In this case, the tester works without prior knowledge of the target system. This approach accurately simulates cyberattacks. It is honed for vulnerability detection without any inside information.
  • White box testing. In this case, the tester has full access to all information related to the target system. This can include architecture, credentials, and even source code. Here, the main goal is to ensure full coverage of the system's security aspects.
  • Gray box testing. It is a middle ground between the previous two methodologies. Testers have limited information about the target system. Here, they simulate an attack scenario in which the criminals have some basic understanding of the system and its components.
penetration tetsing methodologies

Why Is It Important to Continuously Conduct Penetration Testing for a Strong Security System?

Let's explore five main reasons why continuous penetration testing services are crucial for a strong security posture.

why continuous penetration testing services are crucial

Identifying vulnerabilities

Another reason why penetration testing is important is the ability to detect vulnerabilities and respond to them immediately. By constantly monitoring your system and network, you can significantly reduce response time and quickly contain security incidents before they escalate.

How does it work? Identifying weaknesses using penetration testing services differs slightly from the vulnerability scanning and assessment approach. Automated tools can be a good fit to regularly scan your system for common vulnerabilities.

CPT, instead, aims to explore potential security flaws that are hard to detect by using automated tools and minimizing the number of false positives.

Mitigating risks

CPT enables you both to identify vulnerabilities and prioritize security risks effectively. Why does it matter so much? This way, you can optimize the allocation of resources and strengthen cybersecurity measures.

In fact, pen testing gives you an understanding of the financial consequences of a security breach, the risks your infrastructure faces, and how to manage them properly.

So, why is it important to continuously conduct penetration testing? Simulating real-world attack scenarios reveals critical vulnerabilities and flaws that might not otherwise be apparent. This way, you can prioritize security measures and adequately manage investment decisions regarding new security tools and protocols.

Enhancing incident response

This is another reason why penetration testing is important. Here are some key points:

  • Continuous penetration testing services identify threats before they cause damage and enable preventive action.
  • Penetration tests help respond proactively, reducing incident response time.
  • Preventive actions minimize the impact on organizational operations and reputation.
  • Combining continuous pen testing with continuous monitoring increases resilience to cyber threats.

Ensuring compliance

Why is it important to continuously conduct penetration testing for a strong security posture? Because CPT is a vital service for ensuring compliance. If you work in regulated sectors, you know very well that compliance with industry frameworks is of paramount importance. Pentesting is a proactive approach that provides a clear understanding of potential gaps in compliance.

How does it work? Testers regularly assess the level of security and identify points that need improvement. This, in turn, allows you to maintain compliance with regulations such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, GDPR, and NIST 800-53.

pen testong for HIPAA, PCI DSS, GDPR, and NIST 800-53

Penetration testing for Coach Solutions web application

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Why Is Penetration Testing Important for Cost Savings and ROI

Here are some vital statistics to help you understand how CPT can save you money.

total cost of damages caused by cybercrime

Pentesting has a complex character. It actively uses vulnerabilities to evaluate the effectiveness of security measures and identify potential entry points that an attacker can use to break into the system.

This involves a deeper assessment and diving into vulnerabilities. In the process, pentesters try to gain access to confidential information, compromise the system, etc. All of this together allows you to assess the potential impact of an attack, improve your security measures, and avoid the costs of dealing with the consequences. It also minimizes the risk of costly security incidents, improves security posture, and reduces operational costs.

Traditional testing does not always capture current security risks. The CPT, on the other hand, provides a continuous understanding of security performance through regular indicators and reporting. Based on the data you receive, you can optimize the allocation of resources and quantify the value of your security investments for long-term success.

Read more: Penetration Testing Cost in 2024. What Affects the Price

Best Practices

Let's take a closer look at CPT best practices.

pen testing best practices

Penetration testing + vulnerability assessment

Penetration testing involves simulating cyber attacks to assess information security. This approach uses automated tools and manual techniques to attempt to hack critical systems.

Conversely, to a penetration test, a vulnerability assessment identifies and measures common security vulnerabilities in an environment and focuses on a high-level assessment of your security posture. It is a part of the vulnerability management program.

Also, continuous security testing actively exploits vulnerabilities to assess the effectiveness of defenses. Vulnerability assessment, on the other hand, focuses on using predefined payloads to check for the presence of vulnerabilities without exploiting them.

penetration testing vs. vulnerability assessment

Why is it important to use both? Because both methods complement each other. Experts recommend combining them for robust security management systems and implementing them continuously.

Automated + manual processes

Combining automation with manual testing methods is good practice to provide comprehensive security coverage. Automated tools such as vulnerability scanners and network monitoring systems provide real-time insights into threats. They increase efficiency by continuously scanning for vulnerabilities and generating alerts when potential security issues are detected.

However, manual processes remain no less important. They are necessary for in-depth analysis, interpretation of results, and formulation of mitigation strategies. Qualified security professionals must verify findings, identify areas for improvement, properly prioritize remediation, and implement security practices.

Clear flow + frequency

A well-defined testing flow is critical to gathering, analyzing, and responding to security threats in real time. Your testers must be able to control and customize it, taking into account even the smallest nuances of your business.

General flow

In general, the flow looks like this:

  1. Enumeration: gathering data and information on the target system.
  2. Vulnerability assessment.
  3. Exploitation: real-world attack on the identified vulnerabilities (crafted precisely based on the results of enumeration).
  4. Post-exploitation:  Deeper penetration into a compromised system, access support, simulated theft of confidential data, etc.
  5. Lateral movement: a technique that attackers use to spread across a compromised network in order to gain access to other systems. Pentesters go through this process step by step in order to deeply investigate the “infected” network, find vulnerabilities, increase access privileges, etc.
  6. Proof of concept. At this stage, penetration testers record all discovered flaws and vulnerabilities and create reports based on their work.
pentesting flow

It is also worth deciding on the frequency of pentests. A good practice is to tie this indicator to how often you develop and implement new features or how often your development team makes significant changes to the codebase, network, or infrastructure. When choosing the frequency of pentesting, you should focus on the worst-case scenarios.

How Often Do You Need to Perform CPT?

It all depends very much on the scale of your company, its unique requirements, and the industry's requirements. Remember that the system becomes more vulnerable whenever development teams implement major changes in the application.

Therefore, perform pentests continuously. The annual penetration tests are a bare minimum.

How to Use Continuous Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing is a systematic and, just as importantly, controlled method of assessing the security of your applications, networks, and infrastructure. As a result, you should receive a detailed report on detected vulnerabilities, their features, attack vectors, etc. You also get accurate information about the impact of successful attacks on your system and recommendations for fixing flaws and improving security.

Here are just a few real-life examples of pentesting usage.

examples of pentesting usage

eCommerce platforms

Most of the leading platforms in this industry have already implemented continuous penetration testing as part of their security strategy. By continuously testing for vulnerabilities and threats in both web and mobile applications, they were able to identify and mitigate potential security risks in real time.

Financial institution

In this case, continuous security testing allows you to protect confidential financial information from cyber threats. By integrating security testing into their CI/CD pipeline, financial institutions can ensure that every code update undergoes rigorous security testing before deployment.

This allows vulnerabilities to be identified and addressed early in the development process, reducing the risk of financial fraud and regulatory non-compliance.

Healthcare organizations

Such businesses store vast amounts of sensitive patient data, including medical records and personal health information. Continuous penetration testing helps healthcare providers identify and mitigate security risks to protect patient privacy, comply with regulatory requirements such as HIPAA, and prevent data breaches. It is essential for any healthcare software.

Cloud service providers

Cloud service providers often hire security teams to perform penetration tests. They offer infrastructure and platform services to companies, storing vast amounts of data in the cloud.

Continuous penetration testing helps them secure their platforms by protecting customer data from unauthorized access, data leakage, and other security incidents.

Wrapping Up

Cybercrime is becoming more and more developed. You can run, but you can't hide. Either way, you'll definitely need an advanced penetration testing strategy to stay ahead of threats.

Data privacy regulations are becoming increasingly strict, and CPT is also indispensable here. Such testing significantly improves cybersecurity and helps others achieve compliance requirements.

Statistics show that the penetration testing market continues its upward trajectory. This is because of the growing complexity of cybercrime, increased regulatory pressure, and the need for more robust security measures. It appears that continuous penetration testing services remain a vital component in protecting businesses from emerging cyber threats in the future.

So, why is it important to continuously conduct penetration testing for a strong security system?

All this means only one thing: we all need constant security testing, and СPT is the solution for today. Simulating real cyberattacks allows you to discover details that are invisible during one-time testing. This helps not only protect your business but also significantly save money on intrusion protection.

The cybersecurity workforce gap reached 4 million in 2023, and this number continues to grow.  The field of CPT, in particular, has a great talent shortage, so finding a reliable vendor is not easy.

cybersecurity talent shortage

With our experience and advanced security skills, we offer comprehensive testing services to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities before attackers exploit them. We will be happy to develop a custom testing system based on your business needs to improve the robustness of your defenses and protect them from potential risks.

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  1. How does continuous penetration testing differ from one-time testing?

    First, a pen test is all about continuous assessment of the organization's security posture, while one-time testing is limited to specific events or requirements.

    Second, continuous pen testing provides real-time information on new security threats and vulnerabilities. One-time testing provides a snapshot of the state of security at a specific point in time.

  2. What are the benefits of continuously conducting penetration testing?

    These are only the main advantages of CPT:

    • Early vulnerability detection.
    • Improved security posture.
    • Reduced risk of security incidents.
    • Compliance adherence.
    • Enhanced incident response capabilities.

  3. How does penetration testing contribute to incident response preparedness?

    By performing penetration testing on an ongoing basis, you gain the ability to identify vulnerabilities before attackers exploit them, identify weaknesses in incident response protocols, and improve overall preparedness. This proactive approach to vulnerability management also helps to comply with regulatory requirements and industry standards.

  4. What role does continuous penetration testing play in ensuring compliance with regulations and standards?

    Continuous assessment of the security posture helps identify and eliminate vulnerabilities to meet regulatory requirements and standards effectively. Thanks to regular testing and validation of security controls, CPT is essential in maintaining a robust security infrastructure that meets regulatory requirements and industry best practices.

  5. How can organizations implement a successful continuous penetration testing program?

    It all depends on the goals and characteristics of your business. You'll need to choose tools and technologies to streamline testing processes, regularly perform penetration tests to quickly identify and remediate vulnerabilities, and ensure continuous protection against cyber threats.

    In addition to continuous assessments, you need to develop comprehensive remediation plans to effectively address identified vulnerabilities, prioritizing fixes based on risk severity and impact.

    In other words, the process is not easy but necessary. We have enough experience and skills to implement it according to your business's specific requirements.

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Ross Kurhanskyi
Head of partner engagement