Regular penetration testing is an important step in developing secure web applications. This process helps organizations discover and patch vulnerabilities before attackers can exploit them.
This proactive approach to security helps prevent breaches, data loss, and other application-related incidents—it’s also part of regulatory cybersecurity compliance for many industries and organizations.
There are two approaches to regular pen testing: performing the tests in-house or outsourcing the job to a specialized provider. You need to consider the pros and cons of each method carefully before deciding which one is right for your organization.
In-house Pen Testing
If your in-house team is up for the challenge, penetration testing can be performed on a regular basis as a part of security operations duties or with your in-house team of ethical hackers.
For smaller teams, in-house pen testing may mean DevOps will have to lend a hand at not only the remediation but the testing portion of the exercise, but if your web application infrastructure isn’t extensive it can be a good alternative to outsourcing the work.
Before you divvy up the workload and block off sprint schedules, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of in-house penetration testing.
In-house penetration testing pros
Understanding your environment: In-house teams have an intimate understanding of the organization’s IT environment and are already familiar with the application, the processes, the programming language, and the platform used, which can give them a leg up in uncovering vulnerabilities.
Control over scope, timeframes, and budget: You decide how much testing to do and when. With an in-house team, organizations can adjust their testing schedule and focus on more critical areas when needed.
Compliance and privacy: Because pen testers have access to sensitive data, it’s important for organizations to maintain control over the process. This ensures that the testing is done in an ethical and compliant manner.
Agility: Having a dedicated team makes it easier to develop custom tests and to quickly address issues as they arise. Organizations can utilize the existing relationships between pen testers and developers who built the applications to patch vulnerabilities quicker.
The cons of in-house penetration testing
Limited Capabilities: Your team may lack the specialized skills required for all aspects of pen testing.
Cost Factor: Hiring new internal staff for pen testing requires a significant investment. Hiring a dedicated pen tester is expensive, especially when you factor in benefits, equipment, and training costs, with the median salary for an ethical hacker reaching $94,294 in the United States.
Time-consuming: It takes a long time to properly train and equip an in-house team to carry out penetration tests; this increases the cost of setting up and maintaining an internal team and diverts attention from other company initiatives.
Compromised Objectivity: An internal team may not be as objective when testing their own web applications, especially if they’re the same teams that built them. If the pen testers are too familiar with your web apps, they may overlook potential vulnerabilities.
Outdated techniques: More than half (54%) of IT managers say cyberattacks have become too advanced for their teams to deal with. For in-house pen testing teams, the biggest challenge is staying up-to-date on emerging threats and attack techniques.
Compliance: Ensuring that you comply with industry regulations and certifications can be a challenge if you are only relying on in-house resources. Double check your compliance regulations before exclusively using an in-house team to pen test.
Perception: Internal findings are often perceived as less urgent and can be deprioritized by developers.
External Pen Testing
There’s something to be said for bringing in the professionals! Whether you’re new to pen testing or an old pro, hiring a team of experts can be a breath of fresh air that your organization needs. This new perspective is often more efficient than in-house testing but can have its drawbacks.
If you’re evaluating an external pen testing firm, here are some pros and cons to consider.
The pros of external pen testing
Cost Savings: Outsourcing penetration testing is almost always more cost-effective than hiring an in-house team. This is because you pay only for the services rendered, so there are no extra costs associated with setting up and running an internal team.
Specialized skills: According to NVD, there were 22709 new vulnerabilities discovered this year, so it may be difficult for a small internal team to keep up to date with the latest trends and techniques. External providers offer a wide range of services, from assessment to remediation advice, and provide access to narrow specialist expertise on an as-needed basis, usually included in the fee.
Zero False Positive Guarantee: Third-party pen testing providers guarantee zero false positives when it comes to vulnerability identification and can provide detailed reports of the tests performed.
Objectivity: An unbiased outsider is better equipped to uncover vulnerabilities without being influenced by internal politics or biases. External experts can bring an unbiased perspective to their assessments, making sure that there are no conflicts of interest.
Faster Results: Experienced third-party pen testing providers can usually complete tests faster due to their familiarity with the process and access to specialized tools. They’re also beholden to a contract, which generally helps speed things along.
Pre-defined scope: External providers can often complete tests more quickly due to working on a project-based structure with pre-defined scope, timeframes, and budgets.
Greater Reach & Depth of Testing: External providers have the most up-to-date skills and knowledge of the latest threats and have greater exposure to the latest attack methods, tools, and trends than an internal team. 60% of large businesses outsource their cyber security to an external supplier citing access to greater expertise, resources, and standard for cyber security as the main reasons.
Compliance/Certifications: Certain compliance standards may require organizations to outsource tests to external sources, be sure to check the regulation-specifics if you’re getting a pen test for compliance reasons.
Third-party Assurance: Obtaining a third-party assessment of your web application security can provide an extra layer of assurance to customers, business partners, and investors. If this is a reason for your pen test motivation, be sure to ask if there is a website badge or program you can highlight for your stakeholders.
Perception: For better or worse, external findings tend to be taken more seriously and are given higher priority by developers.
The cons of external pen testing to consider
An outsider perspective: One potential downside to working with an external provider is that they may not be as familiar with the intricate details of your business or the custom applications you have created in-house. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but can slow down the investigative workflow for familiarity—of course, you should be adding that time into the contract scope.
Lack of control: Using an external provider means you have to relinquish some control over the project, which can expose you to additional risk. For example, providers can subcontract the work to third parties without your knowledge.
Working with third parties may also raise privacy concerns, and providers must handle confidential data carefully and comply with regulations, such as the newly introduced NIS2 in the EU. If there are certain security priorities for you, be sure to raise them in negotiations.
Communication issues: Working with third parties often involves communication hurdles that can introduce project delays. Often, there is a very limited interface with your dev team, where the findings are provided without ongoing communication and support.
Limited Flexibility: With an external provider, you may have to limit the scope of your pen tests or rely on them to only test certain areas. The project-based and time-boxed approach might also mean that some areas don’t get tested as thoroughly as needed. Be sure your scoping documents include all the must-test portions of your infrastructure.
Lack of Knowledge Transfer: When working with external providers, there is often a lack of knowledge transfer. They may provide the findings but may not be able to explain why and how they found them today, leaving your team without the skills to handle any similar issues that arise tomorrow.
Cost Overruns: If the scope or complexity of the test changes during its execution, you may incur additional and unexpected costs.
Both in-house and external approaches have their valid pros and cons. It’s difficult to hire specialists for web application security and maintain your own in-house pen testing team—however, it is also challenging to trust an external provider to make sure you’re getting the most from your pen tests.
Penetration Testing as a Service
To bridge the gap between these two pen test approaches, many agile organizations are turning to Penetration Testing as a Service (PTaaS) solutions.
Outpost24 PTaaS solution is an on-demand, pay-as-you-go service that provides access to specialist external pen testers and tools that work as extensions of your in-house SecOps team, closely collaborating with development to get the best results for your organization.
Outpost24’s PTaaS goes beyond traditional pen testing to include tools, services, and resources to help organizations improve their security posture.
Continuous pen testing: Outpost24 combines automated scans and manual pen tests to keep applications secure and up-to-date within a contract period—continuously. Which means there’s no hard stop, organizations can continually re-test their web applications, and there is no time-boxed deadline for remediations.
Ongoing communication: Organizations are provided with a secure online portal that enables collaboration between your internal and pen testing teams by acting as an interface for real-time communication with pen testers.
Knowledge transfer: To fix any potential vulnerabilities, the Outpost24 team of in-house pen testers provides remediation solutions for your DevOps team. With PTaaS you can also re-test your fixes to ensure they’re done right.
Zero false positives: Outpost24 has a “six eyes rule,” which means at least three pen testers manually verify each vulnerability found to rule out any potential errors.
Vetted provider: Outpost24 never subcontracts the work, and the teams consists of fully vetted and certified professionals who work closely with your in-house team with real-time portal communications.
When searching for a penetration testing provider, find one that will be an extension of your SecOps team. The ongoing collaboration between pen testers and internal teams is key to ensuring that the findings are properly communicated and remediated.
By combining automated and manual techniques with the expertise of our pen testers, Outpost24’s PTaaS solution provides an effective, secure, and cost-efficient way to drive continuous improvement in your application security. It’s the best of both the external and in-house pen testing without the “cons” of traditional, time-boxed pen tests.
Sponsored and written by Outpost24