An automated pentesting framework presents an efficient and robust solution to identify and mitigate any unforeseen cyberthreats. While the expertise and insight provided by a cybersecurity team conducting traditional penetration testing—or “pentesting”—is unmatched, automated solutions still provide organizations with significant benefits. From on-demand execution and fast turnarounds to insights that inform ongoing cybersecurity decisions and compliance efforts, your organization should consider implementing automated pentesting.
Benefits of an Automated Pentesting Framework
The primary goal of penetration testing is to identify exploitable vulnerabilities within an organization’s networks. Understanding these vulnerabilities informs your security team’s task execution and ongoing cyberdefense implementations. The strength of pentesting frameworks lies in simulating realistic, potential breach scenarios to gain insights on likely cyberthreats that guide security efforts.
Traditional pentesting frameworks rely on individuals or teams simulating attacks. In contrast, an automated pentesting framework relies upon software (e.g., a virtual machine or agent).
There are several benefits to this automated approach, including:
- Identifying exploitable vulnerabilities with increased efficiency
- Discovering compliance issues
- Enhancing traditional pentesting elements
- Optimizing overall security investment
Identifying Exploitable Vulnerabilities with an Automated Pentesting Framework
One of the top benefits of pentesting frameworks is identifying common vulnerabilities that present unforeseen cybersecurity risks—and doing so efficiently. A fast-evolving, globally-connected IT environment means that threat actors relentlessly find new ways to breach organizations’ networks. Thus, it’s necessary to identify vulnerabilities long before they materialize into attacks in order to keep pace with hackers.
An automated pentesting framework can help identify common vulnerabilities, including:
- Gaps in access controls – Poorly established authentication protocols for web applications risk security for your entire IT environment. Broken access control protocols and insufficient policies may include:
- Various, inconsistent, and incompatible access controls inserted throughout code
- Site administrators performing management over the internet with administrative interfaces
- Shared use of administrator user IDs or passwords
- Patch deployment gaps – Security patches significantly reduce the potential exploitation of flaws and vulnerabilities discovered in systems and software post-release; gaps in patch deployment present opportunities for threat actors to launch attacks.
- Patch management requires that organizations remain up-to-date on all available deployments, though doing so remains a time-consuming and laborious effort on its own. Efforts must navigate prompt deployment but only after running validation tests to minimize any risk of operational and service disruption.
- Unsecure applications – Data validation errors during input and exit from applications also pose a vulnerability risk to these applications. Threat actors can exploit these vulnerabilities to launch common vector attacks such as SQL injection, protocol response attacks such as HTTP splitting, and software vulnerability exploits such as buffer overflow attacks.
NIST’s National Vulnerability Database and the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) List compile extensive collections of publicly known vulnerabilities and associated cybersecurity risks. An automated pentesting framework can scan for these vulnerabilities rapidly and at regular intervals. Automated scan results inform your organization’s ongoing efforts regarding development, adjustment, and the deployment of appropriate mitigation strategies.
Addressing Compliance with an Automated Pentesting Framework
Besides identifying potential vulnerabilities within components of an organization’s IT infrastructure, pentesting frameworks can help address compliance with global regulations. In particular, an automated pentesting framework can identify any issues related to two of the most widely applicable compliance regulations: the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS).
Regardless of your organization’s industry, operational activity, or the location of your headquarters, these frameworks likely apply to you. The former regulation concerns the organizations that collect and process personal data belonging to EU citizens. The latter oversees any organization that collects, processes, stores, or transmits credit card and cardholder data (CHD).
Despite their different focuses, both frameworks require extensive implementations of processes and technologies. Results retrieved by automated pentesting frameworks will identify cybersecurity gaps pertaining to your organization’s data protection and overall compliance efforts.
Penetration Testing and GDPR Compliance
The EU GDPR protects the data about or belonging to citizens of EU Member States (with the additions of Iceland, Lichtenstein, and Norway). Specifically, Articles 28(3) (regarding data processing agreements) and 32 (“Security of processing”) of the GDPR require organizations to safeguard the processing of this data, ensuring its security, confidentiality, and integrity—regardless of their own locations.
An automated pentesting framework can help identify and address any EU GDPR compliance issues—as related to technology implementations—minimizing the risks of data breaches. It is much simpler and far less costly to mitigate possible personal data breaches by conducting penetration testing than reporting them independently.
Failure to comply with EU GDPR (regardless of data breach occurrence) carries serious financial, legal, and reputational consequences in both the short and long term. The discovery of EU GPDR non-compliance results in significant fines, as high as 4% of an organization’s global annual revenue or €20 million, whichever is higher. As such, pentesting frameworks serve as appropriate mitigation precautions.
Working with a trusted EU GDPR partner can help address these and any unidentified compliance issues within your organization’s IT infrastructure and processes.
Penetration Testing and PCI DSS Compliance
While the EU GDPR covers the data rights of citizens of EU Member States, PCI DSS regulations pertain to all companies worldwide that process payment via credit and debit cards and those that develop any form of software used for these transactions (i.e., PA-DSS). Based on the stipulations in the PCI DSS Requirement 11.3, organizations processing CHD can leverage pentesting frameworks to:
- Conduct internal and external, infrastructure-wide penetration testing periodically, at least annually, and following any crucial upgrades or modifications to infrastructure or applications, including but not limited to operating systems, networks, or servers.
- Correct any exploitable vulnerabilities identified during pentesting, and verify the application of these corrections.
- Evaluate implemented segmentation methods used to isolate CHD environments (CDE) from other networks.
- In such instances, pentesting should occur at least annually, and following any changes to segmentation methods or controls, to verify operationality and effectiveness and to separate out-of-scope systems from those in the CDE.
- Service providers using segmentation are required to confirm the scope of PCI DSS by conducting pen testing on segmentation controls on a six-month basis or after any changes to the segmentation controls and methods.
Organizations processing CHD can also use PCI DSS Requirement 11.3 stipulations to define a pentest methodology checklist and ensure:
- Industry-accepted standardization of pentesting frameworks per best practice recommendations, such as those provided in NIST SP 800-115
- Coverage for the CDE’s perimeter and any associated systems
- Internal and external testing, covering any vulnerabilities on both ends of the network
- Testing and validation of CDE segmentation or other PCI DSS scope-reduction controls
- Defined penetration testing of web and other such applications to include at least the vulnerabilities listed under PCI DSS Requirement 6.5
- Defined penetration testing of networks and their associated components and functions, including operating systems
- Systematic review and consideration of the threats and vulnerabilities experienced within 12 months from the time of testing
- Specified retention of results from penetration testing and remediation activities
The PCI SSC’s Guide to Penetration Testing
The PCI Security Standards Council (SSC), which oversees DSS compliance, also provides a comprehensive guide to penetration testing. Incorporating a pentest methodology checklist into your organization’s automated pentesting framework helps achieve PCI DSS compliance , improve pentesting efficiency, and significantly reduce CHD breach risks.
It is always best to obtain reliable PCI advisory services alongside automated pentesting or traditional options for your compliance efforts. Depending on your Merchant Level, your organization may require an annual, SSC-approved, third-party assessment of your implementation via Attestation of or Report on Compliance (AOC and ROC, respectively).
Improved Pentesting with an Automated Pentesting Framework
An automated pentesting framework is particularly beneficial for fast-growing companies with expanding digital assets. Alongside traditional pentesting frameworks, an automated pentesting framework offers several improvements regarding:
- Testing speed – An automated pentesting framework allows an organization’s IT security team to run penetration tests as often as needed. Increased frequency and faster total turnaround mean that, should they choose, an organization could run penetration tests daily to identify any potentially evolving threats.
- Network coverage – Automated pentests can also concurrently run multiple penetration tests, extending testing over a broader area of your organization’s network infrastructure and providing more opportunities to identify critical threats and vulnerabilities.
- Personnel flexibility – There is less hands-on time spent conducting tests. Also, unlike traditional penetration testing, automated penetration testing does not require significant expert knowledge.
- Reporting turnaround time – Automation reduces the overall time spent compiling test reports. A shorter turnaround time for vulnerability reports reduces the chances of fast-evolving threats from materializing into concrete and potentially compromising threats.
Optimized Security Spend with an Automated Pentesting Framework
Given the faster speed provided by automated pentesting frameworks, an organization can gain ongoing insight on cyberthreats and vulnerabilities, enabling real-time reaction. Testing results guide the optimization of all cyber defense mechanisms, enabling your organization to determine critical efforts and priorities better.
The data collected by an automated pentesting framework can inform:
- Further penetration testing – Discoveries made by automated pentesting may demonstrate the need for more focused, traditional penetration testing services to investigate findings. Additional penetration testing benefits include:
- Potential breach points in firewalls and malicious traffic flowing through networks
- Data vulnerabilities within cloud computing infrastructure, both internal and external (business associates or third-party vendors)
- Cryptographic and access control vulnerabilities in web and mobile applications
- Incident response planning – Developing incident response models leverages the data obtained from automated penetration tests to inform the development or implementation of appropriate diagnostic tools and design lower-stakes training exercises to optimize response decision-making protocols.
- Managed detection and response – The rapid escalation of cyberthreats calls for matching detection processes to mitigate threat actualization. Using the reports frequently generated by an automated pentesting framework, your company can gain real-time insight into evolving threats, providing round-the-clock cybersecurity.
- Threat and vulnerability management – By identifying potential and likely attack targets, an automated pentesting framework can guide threat modeling to define and classify risk levels for digital assets. Continuous penetration testing also shapes patch management, threat assessment for critical networks and applications, and the management of other crucial digital assets.
- Compliance assistance – Penetration testing assists ongoing compliance efforts and validation. Regulation complexity—based on the jurisdiction of the company in question, industry, or type of data processed—requires advisory to guide any remediation informed by penetration testing reports. Beyond EU GDPR and PCI, addressed above, your team could benefit from compliance advisory for widely applicable regulations, including:
- HITRUST – The HITRUST CSF primarily covers standards to protect patient information processed by healthcare providers but extends to numerous other frameworks with assistive mapping. It includes standards such as HIPAA and PCI DSS.
- HIPAA – The Health Insurance Portability and Availability Act of 1996 applies to all covered healthcare entities processing protected health information and their business associates.
- CMMC – Relatively new, the Cybersecurity Model Maturity Certification covers compliance for Department of Defense (DoD) contractors. Throughout the CMMC rollout, NIST SP 800-171 (which informs much of the CMMC) remains relevant.
- SOC 2 – SOC 2 reporting is required for companies that outsource data services. It contains two variants, Type 1 and Type 2, which pertain to the assessment period’s length, that help ensure confidential and secure data processing.
- CCPA – Covers protections of California citizens’ rights to control the use or sale of their personal data. Similar to the GDPR in scope, CCPA applies to for-profit businesses operating in California that meet certain revenue thresholds.
Faster Penetration Testing, Improved Risk Mitigation
An automated pentesting framework dramatically improves the detection of vulnerabilities in your company’s IT infrastructure, helping to mitigate any potential attacks and enhancing your cyberdefenses. Combined with traditional penetration testing also has versatile applications in boosting the protection of your digital assets.
One aspect of pentesting that should never be overlooked is safeguarding your company’s reputation. Besides the punitive costs of data breaches, affected companies risk losing customer trust and patronage—long-term opportunity cost factors. A successful record protecting against data breaches also protects your reputation.
If your team is looking to optimize its automated pentesting frameworks, contact RSI Security today to learn more about pentesting with a quick consultation.