If you’re considering options for pen-testing tools, open-source and managed solutions are probably amongst your top choices. Of course, there are numerous pros and cons for each, and, in some cases, there are instances that are better suited for one or the other. However, most organizations will derive more substantial benefits from using professional, managed solutions.
The Most Common Pen Testing Methods
Penetration testing, also known as pen-testing, comes in a variety of forms. Some are highly targeted and specific to one security feature or another, like testing your firewall’s effectiveness against external threats, but others are more general. Since it’s crucial that you test as many different facets of your IT security as possible—and often—you need to understand the myriad of available options.
To help understand the nuances of application security tools like pen testing, including how such tools can help secure your digital assets now and into the future, you need to be able to answer the following questions:
- What is open-source software?
- What is a managed solution?
- How do these application security tools compare?
What is Open Source Software?
If you’re on the search for the perfect pen-testing software, open-source solutions are probably on your shortlist of potential candidates. The fact that open source software is free is a huge plus. Additionally, the source code itself is available for anyone to distribute or modify. If you already have software programmers staffing your internal IT department, you can easily customize open-source software to meet your exact needs.
Improvements and upgrades may be necessary for open-source application security tools, whether provided by the original developer, other community members, or your in-house security team. In many cases, you can also receive tech support from these same individuals if the community remains active. However, this requires diligence and, as time goes on, keeping up-to-date on the latest updates and patches becomes increasingly critical.
Unfortunately, there is a downside to open-source software. Since hackers can also view and modify the source code, some see open-source platforms as an invitation to ply their trade. Further, open-source tools may not provide some of the advanced features your organization is looking to use.
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What is a Managed Solution?
Although professional, managed solutions require investment, the amount of time and frustration they can save is priceless. With a highly skilled team of experts working on your side and looking after your IT needs, managed solutions are ideal for companies that don’t have the time or resources to manage their own IT infrastructure or network.
Sometimes it may come down to deciding where internal staff are best positioned and evaluating the remaining responsibilities and tasks to see which can be outsourced.
When applied to penetration testing and other application security tools, this means you’ll never have to worry about upgrading your software, installing new hardware, or monitoring the latest trends. You also won’t have trouble interpreting your testing results or improving your system for future tests, either. Instead, all of these needs are met by your managed security services provider (MSSP).
Pen Testing Tools: Open-Source or Managed Solutions?
Pen-testing tools—open-source and managed—both have advantages and disadvantages to consider. Comparing the benefits and drawbacks of each will help you narrow down the field and make your decision a little easier.
Benefits of Open Source Penetration Testing
There are some obvious benefits to open-source application security tools that make them attractive solutions to many organizations. Some of these benefits include:
- Software is freely available, modifiable, and distributable
- Communities are often highly supportive
- Skilled programmers can add features and customize software as needed
Benefits like this make it an easy choice for some companies. With no initial overhead costs, highly accessible community support (in some cases), and customizability, it seems like open-source pen-testing is the clear choice. However, there are some disadvantages to consider, too.
Drawbacks of Open-Source Penetration Testing
Before settling on open-source pen-testing software, it’s important to consider the drawbacks, too. Some of these apply to open-source application security tools in general, while others pertain specifically to penetration testing.
- The initial acquisition may not have any costs, but long-term software deployment, integration, and maintenance fees might apply.
- You can’t depend on the community to operate your software, so you still need some staff who are familiar with IT and software in general.
- Updates and additions are often made by amateur programmers who might accidentally introduce new security vulnerabilities, bugs, or other issues.
- The continued development of many open-source projects tends to slow down and even fade out completely over time, leaving you without an essential support resource.
- Since hackers and other malicious actors also have access to the source code, widespread and large-scale attacks can occur.
In some cases, open-source software can be a security issue in itself. For example, malicious programmers might modify code to open up new security vulnerabilities or give themselves unauthorized access to a system. In theory, community testing and verification should prevent these issues, but it’s always possible for something to slip through the cracks and go unnoticed until it’s too late.
Benefits of Managed Penetration Testing Solutions
As many open-source benefits revolve around minimal investment, the benefits of managed penetration testing solutions and application security tools reflect the result of paying for quality goods and services. Some of these benefits are:
- Since you don’t have to handle training or orientation on your end, you can get started right away.
- Your service provider will help you perform tests, interpret the results, and build your defenses once testing is complete.
- Software upgrades are developed, tested, and implemented by professional computer programmers.
- Remote tech support isn’t limited to your normal operating hours, so you can receive support whenever it’s needed—though this may require an elevated Service Level Agreement (SLA).
- Your service provider handles updates and maintenance.
- The service provider easily customizes most tests to meet your exact needs and concerns.
- Penetration testing can usually be bundled with other services and solutions to achieve increased ROI.
- Managed solutions let you redirect and reallocate your resources elsewhere in your organization.
Some of these points are likely more advantageous to your organization than others. Others could mean the difference between organizational success and failure. For example, freeing up your resources and allocating them to other areas of your company, like development or complex support services, could give you the extra edge needed to succeed in a highly competitive industry.
Drawbacks of Managed Penetration Testing Solutions
While there are many advantages to managed penetration testing solutions, there are some disadvantages to consider, too. Some of the drawbacks include:
- Suppose your organization intends to partner with numerous service providers or at periodic intervals. In that case, you’ll likely be working with various experts at different times, making it challenging to build a dedicated team of IT experts.
- Managed solutions may be limited to specific software or application security tools that might not match your preferences.
- Most providers don’t maintain an active, on-site presence.
Some of these drawbacks are more impactful than others. For example, if you’re used to working in remote environments, the lack of an on-site presence might not matter. Conversely, if you require face-to-face interaction, either for training, general leadership, or some other purpose.
Finding a managed solution that’s right for your organization requires thorough evaluation.
Choosing Managed or Open-Source Pen-Testing
When it comes to pen-testing tools, open-source and managed solutions are often placed in direct competition with one another.
Although they both have benefits and drawbacks to consider, most organizations prefer the service they receive from professional, managed solutions. Additionally, your security program may benefit from a combination of managed and open-source tools.
For more information on penetration testing or to find out which solution is perfect for your organization, contact RSI Security today.