Can automated penetration testing replace humans? - Help Net Security

Can automated penetration testing replace humans? - Help Net Security

In the past few years, the use of automation in many spheres of cybersecurity has increased dramatically, but penetration testing has remained stubbornly immune to it.



While crowdsourced security has evolved as an alternative to penetration testing in the past 10 years, it’s not based on automation but simply throwing more humans at a problem (and in the process, creating its own set of weaknesses). Recently though, tools that can be used to automate penetration testing under certain conditions have surfaced – but can they replace human penetration testers?


How do automated penetration testing tools work?


To answer this question, we need to understand how they work, and crucially, what they can’t do. While I’ve spent a great deal of the past year testing these tools and comparing them in like-for-like tests against a human pentester, the big caveat here is that these automation tools are improving at a phenomenal rate, so depending on when you read this, it may already be out of date.


First of all, the “delivery” of the pen test is done by either an agent or a VM, which effectively simulates the pentester’s laptop and/or attack proxy plugging into your network. So far, so normal. The pentesting bot will then perform reconnaissance on its environment by performing scans a human would do – so where you often have human pentesters perform a vulnerability scan with their tool of choice or just a ports and services sweep with Nmap or Masscan. Once they’ve established where they sit within the environment, they will filter through what they’ve found, and this is where their simil ..