Automated Penetration Testing vs. Manual Penetration Testing

Many businesses are running remotely as a result of the latest COVID-19 pandemic. The 'new normal' has expanded the market for digital transformation initiatives and cloud migration strategies. However, according to Verizon's 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report, cybercriminals are taking advantage of enterprises' desperate digital transformation initiatives by developing new ways to target and exploit their web applications. As remote working takes over in the face of the global pandemic, end-to-end protection from the cloud to the employee laptop becomes paramount.

So, how do you go digital while prioritizing application security? The magical combination of Manual Penetration Testing (MPT) and Automation Penetration Testing (APT) can be used to discover all the underlying vulnerabilities.

Manual Penetration Testing is time-consuming and expensive, but if you rely solely on automated scans, you risk missing authorization issues and business logic flaws. So, both are accompanied by their set of pros and cons and are equally essential for adequately protecting enterprise applications.

The primary difference lies in the functionalities as in-house human penetration testers carry out manual penetration, whereas online automation tools run the APT. Businesses need to focus on their vulnerability assessment by conducting a comprehensive evaluation before choosing to invest in either/both of the technologies.    


What is Manual Penetration Testing and How Does it Work?

Manual penetration testing is the quintessential choice for deep app inspection as it detects bugs easily missed out by automated tests. MPT, carried out by a penetration tester or red team, highlights the most challenging authorization or business logic flaws that automated software might fail to identify. Leveraging advanced protection and evaluation methods allow manual penetration testers to validate the overall performance of the AppSec program.

However, MPT is time-consuming and is solely not adequate to conduct detailed research on the applications. It doesn't integrate well enough to satisfy the needs of developers, and it isn't cost-effective. So, businesses need to invest in a mix of MPT and APT to achieve the desired security levels.

Nowadays, pen testers rely on scanning tools like Burp Suite, Metasploit, and Wireshark to cut down on testing time. The scanning tools aid in the initial analysis by identifying possible vulnerabilities and allow testers to devise effective exploit techniques to validate security flaws and vulnerabilities. 


Manual Penetration Testing Tools

Manual Penetration Testing


  • Data Collection: Data collection forms the backbone of all research processes, including MPT. One can either collect data manually or use freely accessible online tool resources (such as the webpage source code analysis technique). These tools aid in gathering data such as table names, database versions, software, hardware, and even information about various third-party plugins. Or, the organization conducting the tests offers the penetration tester all general information about in-scope targets.
  • Vulnerability Assessment: Vulnerability assessment allows one to gain the initial knowledge required to identify the potential security loopholes that cybercriminals can exploit. This will enable enterprises to fix such loopholes promptly to curb business data losses.
  • Simulated Exploit: All action happens in this stage after the penetration testers react and combat to fix all discovered security vulnerabilities. They use all possible manual techniques, coupled with human intuition, to validate, attack, and exploit the discovered vulnerabilities.
  • Reporting: After the real action is over, the testers prepare a comprehensive report stating all narratives starting from vulnerability discovery to how it got fixed. The information includes the scope of security testing, its methodologies, finding, corrections, and recommendations.
  • Remediation: This is the final stage of the MPT process where the finding of the security testing is explored and analyzed to determine the potential impact with definite remediation strategies.


Pros and Cons of Manual Penetration Testing

Let us explore the advantage and disadvantages of MPT at a glance:

Pro's Con's

Offers in-depth testing of the application

It can be a bottleneck in the process and slow development down while they wait for the results

Uses multiple tools for in-depth application testing 

It can be cost-prohibitive to test the entire portfolio of applications

Generally accepted as a must-have compliance step for robust security review

Results are not standard, they can vary between penetration testers

Provides an elaborate snapshot of all security flaws in the application

Occasionally leaves security gaps in between testing


What is Automated Penetration Testing, and How Does it Work?

Automated penetration testing is the most apt strategy to take an overall snapshot of the enterprise security posture at a point in time, but are they adequate to tackle the newly discovered system vulnerabilities?

Around 50 new vulnerabilities get discovered every day, out of which many technologies sit on the perimeter systems - under high internet exposure. Modern cyber attackers don't wait to attack in such golden opportunities. To bridge such gaps left by MPT, it is a must for businesses to invest in Automated Penetration testing. 

APT eliminates all threats promptly by running regular vulnerability scans to discover even the slightest holes in the enterprise systems.

As digital transformation is taking over, businesses are now preferring fully automated solutions for penetration testing. Mechanical penetration testing methods are consistently selected as they do not require manual work during the testing process. Furthermore, instead of relying on different tools, a single automated testing tool handles the entire test. 

In other words, AI capabilities allow these tools to search for possible vulnerabilities and simulate exploits autonomously. All of the results are automatically collected to produce a report after the scanning process is completed.


Pro's and Con's of Automated Penetration Testing 



Less expensive per scan

Not perfect to be considered an independent attestation, especially if done with an on-premises tool

Scans on-demand throughout the multiple stages of security and development review

Can only scan for the test cases given by the security vendors

Benchmarks to showcase improvement over the selected time period

Higher chances of false positives and negatives



Manual vs. Automated Penetration Testing

Automated Penetration Testing vs. Manual Penetration Testing


Now that the concept of both MPT and APT is clear, let's deep-dive into the list of differences between them:

Manual Penetration Testing

Automated Penetration Testing

An experienced engineer must carry out the test.

The test is automated, so even an amateur user can conduct it

It necessitates the use of various testing instruments.

It has built-in software and does not need any external assistance.

The results of this form of testing will differ from one test to the next.

It has a predetermined outcome. 

The tester must remember to clean up his or her memory for this test.

No, it doesn't.

It's exhausting and time-consuming.

It is more effective and successful.

It has additional benefits; for example, if an expert does a pen test, he will be able to analyze better, think like a hacker, and know where he can strike. As a result, he may put protection in place as required.

It is unable to assess the situation.

An expert can perform multiple tests based on the requirements.

The options are limited in this case

It is more dependable in sensitive situations.

Automated technologies lack human expertise and intuition in case of sensitive situations.


Best Manual Penetration Testing Solutions

Manual Penetration Testing Solutions


With the reliability of technologies increasing, the market for penetration testing is booming exponentially. Every day the market is flooding with new vendors offering innovative APT and MPT solutions at competitive prices. But, businesses need to choose wisely and only trust the market leaders with their business security. So, let's list down the top three players in the industry:


Penetration Testing with Rapid7

Penetration Testing with Rapid7

Rapid7 believes in simplifying complex issues by bringing teams together around cybersecurity issues and milestones through mutual visibility, analytics, and automation. They are experts in creating a robust security platform for evaluating and better comprehending the enterprise security posture or any related issues.


Penetration Testing with Veracode

Penetration Testing with Veracode

Veracode Manual Penetration Testing (MPT) combines Veracode's automated scanning technologies with best-in-class penetration testing services to uncover business logic and other dynamic vulnerabilities in the network, mobile, desktop, back-end, and Internet of Things (IoT) applications. Veracode MPT uses a validated method to ensure high customer satisfaction. The Veracode Application Security Platform offers detailed outcomes, including attack simulations, where both manual and automated testing results are tested against the corporate policy. Developers should discuss the results with Veracode application security consultants and retest discovered vulnerabilities to ensure success.


Penetration Testing with Appknox

Penetration Testing with Appknox


Appknox is the industry's most trusted and reliable solution for penetration testing, with an advanced mechanism for threat detection. Appknox helps to detect insecure business logic, security setting flaws, or other weaknesses that a threat actor might exploit. With  Appknox's innovative penetration testing solutions, businesses can promptly eliminate all commonly missed threats such as unencrypted password transmission and password reuse. Trust the security researchers at Appknox to detect all the hidden security threats across your business applications.


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Published on Jun 2, 2021
Subho Halder
Written by Subho Halder
Subho Halder is the CISO and Co-Founder of Appknox. He started his career researching Mobile Security. Currently, he helps businesses to detect and fix security vulnerabilities. He has also detected critical loopholes in companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, and others


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