While organizations invest significantly and rely heavily on penetration testing for security, the widely used approach doesn’t accurately measure their overall security posture or breach readiness — the top two stated goals among security and IT professionals.
Performing penetration testing
The research, conducted by Informa Tech, surveyed enterprises with 3,000 or more employees and found that 70 percent of organizations perform penetration tests as a way to measure their security posture and 69 percent to prevent breaches, yet only 38 percent test more than half of their attack surface annually.
Many organizations are conducting penetration tests to detect and mitigate threats yet remain dangerously vulnerable. The research shows that when using penetration testing as a security practice organizations lack visibility over their internet-exposed assets, resulting in blind spots that are vulnerable to exploits and compromise.
Just as locking the front door of a house but leaving the back door and windows unlocked creates an attractive target, attackers will naturally focus on those IT assets organizations leave untested.
Penetration testing and blind spots
- It’s common for organizations with 3,000 employees or more to have upwards of 10,000 internet-connected assets, however 36 percent of survey respondents said that only 100 or fewer assets are covered by pen tests; 58 percent said 1,000 or fewer assets are covered by pen tests.
- 60 percent report that they are concerned pen testing gives them limited coverage or leaves them with too many blind spots.
- 47 percent say that pen testing detects only known assets and not new or unknown ones.
- 45 percent of respondents conduct pen tests only once or twice per year and 27 percent do it once per quarter, which is woefully inadequate given the fast pace of threat evolution and how quickly infrastructure/applications change.
- 79 percent believe that pen tests are costly. 78 percent would utilize pen tests on more apps if the costs were lower.
- It takes 71 percent of respondents anywhere from one week to one month to conduct a penetration test. Then, more than 26 percent have to wait between one to two weeks to get test results, and 13 percent wait even longer than that.
“Security tests should tell organizations what attackers are able to see and exploit so that defenders can prevent breaches. But when companies are only able to see assets they already know about, test just a portion of their attack surface, and do that only a few times per year, preventing breaches isn’t possible. So, the biggest takeaway from this report is that what organizations want or are hoping to achieve through pen testing versus what they actually are accomplishing are two very different things,” said Rob Gurzeev, CEO of CyCognito.
“There is very limited value in testing only a portion of your attack surface periodically. Unless you are continuously discovering and testing your entire external attack surface, you don’t have an overall understanding of how secure your organization is. If there is a path of least resistance, attackers will find it, and find a way to exploit it.”