Navigating Security: A Guide to Penetration Testing as a Service

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Penetration Testing as a Service

Penetration Testing as a Service (PTaaS) represents a service delivery model that provides more regular and cost-efficient opportunities for conducting penetration tests, along with a platform that enhances collaboration between service providers and their clients. Through PTaaS, organizations can consistently identify and address security vulnerabilities.

Cybersecurity testing methodologies typically encompass three progressive defense stages: vulnerability scanning, penetration testing (pen testing), and red-teaming.

The initial stage, vulnerability scanning, serves as a passive defense mechanism. It involves automated systems periodically scanning for known vulnerabilities, subsequently producing comprehensive reports on these findings.

The second stage, penetration testing services, introduces an active, human-centric approach. This phase involves cybersecurity professionals employing a broad spectrum of tools and techniques to actively identify and exploit system weaknesses. Their role is crucial in uncovering vulnerabilities, enabling system administrators to address and fortify these weak points, thereby enhancing long-term security against potential breaches.

Red-teaming, the final stage, further escalates the active human involvement in security assessments. This proactive strategy aims to emulate a dynamic cyberattack on a network or a group of systems. It’s typically conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of long-term security strategies, often implemented following successful penetration testing. Organizations still in the midst of penetration testing or contemplating their response to such assessments might not yet engage in red-teaming.

PTaaS: Enhancing the Traditional Framework

The conventional three-tier security model is evolving. Within the realm of penetration testing, Penetration Testing as a Service (PTaaS) has emerged as a flexible alternative. Echoing the Software as a Service (SaaS) model, PTaaS offers on-demand, agile penetration testing. This approach has rapidly gained traction, particularly in the computer software industry, offering a dynamic addition to standard cybersecurity practices.

PTaaS is like having a personal cybersecurity guard who’s always on duty, ensuring your digital fortress remains impregnable. As someone who’s navigated the choppy waters of IT security for years, I’ve witnessed firsthand the transformation from traditional penetration testing to the dynamic, service-oriented approach that PTaaS offers. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dive deep into what PTaaS is, its key components, and why it’s becoming an indispensable part of modern cybersecurity strategies. Grab some popcorn and lets dive in.

Penetration testing is growing so much that it is estimated that by 2025, it will be a $4.5 billion industry (Gartner).

What is Pentesting as a Service or SaaS Penetration Testing?

Pentesting as a service, also known as SaaS penetration testing, is a more recent approach to cybersecurity.
It offers organizations a comprehensive and dynamic method of assessing their network security. Unlike traditional penetration testing methods, which are often conducted as one-time engagements, pentesting as a service provides continuous and ongoing testing to safeguard against emerging threats.

With pentesting as a service, businesses can leverage the expertise of skilled cybersecurity professionals who employ ethical hacking techniques to identify vulnerabilities in their systems. These professionals work closely with organizations to simulate real-world cyberattacks and exploit weaknesses in their networks, applications, and infrastructure. By doing so, they can evaluate the effectiveness of existing security measures and make recommendations for improvement.

At its core, PTaaS is not just a one-off test; it’s a continuous cycle of assessment, improvement, and reassessment. It’s like having a personal trainer for your network, constantly pushing it to be stronger and more resilient. The main elements include automated scanning, real-time monitoring, and regular vulnerability assessments, all tailored to the unique needs of each business.

Why do a penetration test? 70% of companies do penetration tests for vulnerability management program support, 69% for assessing security posture, and 67% for achieving compliance revealed in the CoreSecurity Penetration Testing Report.

Benefits of PTaaS Over Traditional Penetration Testing

There are several compelling benefits that Penetration Testing as a Service (PTaaS) offers over traditional penetration testing methods. Let’s explore these advantages in more detail:

1. Continuous Testing:

Unlike traditional penetration testing, which is often conducted as a one-time engagement, PTaaS provides continuous and ongoing testing. This means that organizations can benefit from regular assessments of their network security, ensuring that any emerging threats or vulnerabilities are identified and addressed promptly.

2. Cost-Effectiveness:

PTaaS offers a more cost-effective solution compared to traditional penetration testing. With PTaaS, organizations can leverage the expertise of skilled cybersecurity professionals without the need to hire and maintain an in-house team. Additionally, PTaaS providers typically offer flexible pricing models, allowing organizations to choose the services that best align with their budget and needs.

3. On-Demand Testing with a Hacker’s Perspective:

A penetration test is essentially a simulated cyber attack, where vulnerabilities are exploited to mimic the actions of real-world hackers. This approach allows organizations to understand how a potential threat actor might view their security defenses and how well these measures stand up to an actual cyber assault. PTaaS offers the flexibility of initiating these tests as needed, providing real-time insights into vulnerabilities as they are discovered and reported by the penetration testers.

4. Access to Experts:

PTaaS providers are staffed with highly skilled cybersecurity professionals who specialize in hacking and security testing. These experts have extensive knowledge and experience in identifying vulnerabilities and simulating real-world cyberattacks. By leveraging their expertise, organizations can gain valuable insights into their security gaps and receive recommendations for improvement.

Challenges of Penetration Testing as a Service

The PTaaS approach may not be suitable in every scenario. For environments with intricate architectures requiring deep, specialized knowledge in specific technologies, engaging a specialized consultant might be more beneficial. Another limitation of PTaaS is its lack of customization for individual users or organizations. For example, PTaaS might not be the ideal solution for assessing the complexities of advanced industrial control systems.

Further, continuous penetration testing isn’t always an option with external vendors. Many necessitate that their clients schedule tests beforehand. Take Amazon Web Services (AWS) as an instance; it mandates pre-approval for testing, with a maximum duration of 12 weeks. Consequently, to conduct regular PTaaS within AWS, organizations need to seek approval approximately 4-5 times annually.

What are the 5 Stages of Penetration Testing?

CISO’s often say that embarking on a PTaaS journey is a structured yet flexible process. It begins with an initial consultation to understand the specific needs and goals of a business. This is followed by a detailed planning phase, execution of the test, and a thorough analysis of the findings. The final step is a comprehensive report that not only highlights vulnerabilities but also recommends actionable steps for remediation.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the 5 stages:

1. Planning and Reconnaissance:

This initial phase involves gathering information about the target organization’s systems, networks, and applications. Penetration testers perform reconnaissance to understand the organization’s infrastructure, identify potential vulnerabilities, and analyze potential attack vectors.

2. Scanning:

In this phase, penetration testers use various scanning tools and techniques to identify open ports, services, and potential vulnerabilities within the target systems. This stage helps assess the network’s overall security posture and identifies potential entry points for attackers.

3. Vulnerability Assessment:

Once vulnerabilities have been identified, penetration testers attempt to exploit them to gain unauthorized access to the target systems. This phase involves various techniques, including password cracking, privilege escalation, and exploiting software vulnerabilities.

4. Taking Advantage of the Access:

After gaining initial access, penetration testers aim to maintain persistence within the target systems. This involves creating backdoors or installing malware to ensure continued access even after the testing phase is complete. The goal is to simulate a real-world scenario where an attacker remains undetected within the network.

5. Analysis and Reporting:

The final phase focuses on analyzing the findings, documenting the vulnerabilities discovered, and providing actionable recommendations for improving the organization’s security posture. A comprehensive report is generated, which includes an executive summary, detailed technical findings, and prioritized recommendations for remediation.

5 stages of penetration testing

Choosing the Right PTaaS Provider: Factors to Consider

Selecting the right PTaaS provider is crucial. It’s like choosing a partner for a tandem skydive – you want someone experienced, reliable, and with a proven track record. Factors to consider include the provider’s expertise, the technology they use, their approach to customer support, and the ability to customize services to fit specific needs.

Here are some key factors to keep in mind:

  1. Expertise and Experience: Look for a PTaaS provider that has a team of highly skilled cybersecurity professionals with a proven track record in penetration testing. Check their credentials, certifications, and experience in working with organizations similar to yours. A provider with extensive expertise will be better equipped to identify vulnerabilities and offer recommendations tailored to your specific industry and technology stack.
    2. Results Driven by Human Expertise and AI Assistance: Opt for a blended strategy that combines human oversight with AI-driven processes and automation for thorough outcomes. An experienced ethical hacker skillfully carries out the penetration test, employing specialized tools and established industry practices to evaluate the targeted system. They confirm the accuracy of results, eliminate any false positives, and offer preliminary remediation advice, culminating in a detailed final report.
    3. Reporting and Documentation: Assess the quality and depth of the reports and documentation provided by the PTaaS provider. The reports should be clear, concise, and actionable, providing detailed findings and prioritized recommendations for remediation. Look for providers that offer customizable reports that align with your organization’s reporting requirements.
    4. Compliance and Regulation: If your organization operates in a regulated industry, such as healthcare or finance, ensure that the PTaaS provider has experience in working within the regulatory framework. They should be familiar with compliance requirements and be able to provide guidance on meeting industry-specific security standards.

Top Penetration Testing as a Service Providers

1. Breachlock – BreachLock’s online presence highlights their cloud platform’s capability to facilitate automated scans and enable users to easily request manual testing and retests.

2. Cloud9Data Solutions – Cloud9 data offers a choice of both traditional and automated penetration testing services. They have 22 years’ experience with customers ranging from startups to large-scale enterprises.

3. Praetorian – Praetorian’s website details their commitment to assisting clients in identifying, resolving, halting, and addressing cybersecurity challenges across their enterprises or product ranges.



  • Dee Begly

    Dee Begley is an internationally recognized expert on business communications, cybersecurity technologies, and compliance. She has two decades experience with cybersecurity strategy, compliance, and technologies.