If you're in charge of security in an organization, you know that one of your most important tasks is to make sure the systems are safe from attack. This task has become more demanding in the wake of heightened cyber threats, fast changing regulations, and the ever dreadful thought of the unknown. So when it comes to an exercise as important as penetration testing, you definitely want to know how much it would cost to perform the pen test on your network.
Well, the penetration testing cost is determined by a combination of essential factors. Let’s look at the most important ones then give the pricing based on these factors.
Factors that affect the penetration testing cost
1. The objective of penetration testing
When you're hiring a cybersecurity firm to conduct penetration testing, one of the first things you need to determine is what your objective is. Defining your objectives upfront will help you get the most out of the penetration test and make sure you're getting good value for your money.
There are a few common objectives for penetration testing:
- To identify weaknesses in the system that could be exploited by hackers.
- To test the defenses of the system and see how well they hold up against a real-world attack.
- To simulate a real-world attack in order to find out how much damage could be done if someone were to break into your system.
- To find out if any sensitive data has been compromised and identify the source of the intrusion.
The testing professionals will then use the outlined objectives to arrive at the most realistic penetration test quote.
2. Scope of the penetration test
The scope defines the boundaries of the penetration test and includes things like the systems that will be assessed and the time frame.
A narrow scope translates to a short-term test which might take a few days, while a wide scope translates to a long-term assessment which could take weeks or even months.
The more devices and systems that need to be pen tested, the more time it will take and the higher the cost of penetration test will be. There's also a higher penetration testing cost associated with more complex tests, such as trying to breach the internal network.
On the other hand, if the scope of penetration testing is limited to a specific area, such as the company's public website, then the penetration test cost will be lower.
3. Type of industry
Every industry has its own set of security risks. For example, if you're in the banking industry, then you're going to have to worry about things like hackers trying to hack into customer accounts and stealing money.
But if you're in the healthcare industry, then you'll need to worry about preventing cyber attacks that could potentially breach patient data which is extremely sensitive. The healthcare industry is particularly complex because of the intense regulations, meaning the penetration testing costs could go up significantly.
So the requirements and resources needed for penetration testing could easily vary from industry to industry. The pen testers might need to tailor the procedures to ensure they are specific to the security landscape of the industry.
4. Penetration testing method/approach
There are three main types of assessments: black box, white box, and gray box penetration testing. Black box testing is when the tester has no prior knowledge of the system, while white box testing is when they have full knowledge. Gray box testing is a mix of the black box and white box testing. .
Covert penetration testing is a type of PT in which the pen tester can use any of the above approaches but remains undetected by the system's defenders. The internal team is not aware of the penetration test. Not even the organization's security managers have a clue. Covert PT can also involve tactics such as tailgating, to gain physical access to a building or system.
Generally speaking, black box testing is the cheapest penetration testing option, because the tester doesn't need any special access or knowledge. But it's also less accurate, because they can't see what they're attacking. White box penetration testing is more accurate but also more expensive, because the tester has full knowledge of the system. Gray box penetration testing is a mix of the two and therefore somewhere in between in terms of accuracy and penetration testing cost.
So which approach should you choose? It depends on your budget and your needs. If you're looking for an accurate assessment, go for white box testing. But if you're on a tight budget, black box testing will get the job done. If you are somewhere in the middle, go for gray box testing. It's a good choice if you're looking for a more comprehensive assessment but don't have the time or resources to conduct a white box test. Covert is the best approach when you want to know how the people tasked with defending the network are performing, and most importantly how well they are prepared to respond to real-life attacks.
5. Pen tester skills and experience
The better the skills of the pen testers, the more expensive the penetration test will be. This is because a high level of skill is needed to carry out an accurate and effective penetration test. And it's not just about finding vulnerabilities — a good tester will also know how to exploit them and devise a plan to fix them.
There are a few key skills that are essential for a successful penetration test. First and foremost, the tester needs to be able to think like a hacker. They need to be able to find vulnerabilities and exploit them.
Secondly, they need to have strong technical expertise, sufficient enough to be able to understand complex technical systems and how to break into them.
Thirdly, they need good communication skills to be able to explain findings clearly and concisely to the IT managers.
Fourthly, they need good business acumen to understand the business context in which the systems they are testing operate. This enables them to also understand the business risks and benefits of tests.
Highly skilled penetration testers should possess high level, recognized certifications that validate their competencies. It’s also important that the testers you go for have some good experience in your niche.
6. Remediation and re-testing
In some cases, loopholes that are discovered during testing will require immediate attention in order to prevent an actual attack. The testers will usually ask whether you would like to include remediation and re-testing as part of the pen testing exercise.
Re-testing is important because when you implement a fix, you may need to retest to make sure the fix actually sealed the problem and that it didn't break anything else.
So what is the cost of penetration testing?
Having considered all the factors above, the cost of penetration testing ranges from $5000 for a small business to over $100,000 for a large organization. The size of the organization affects the degree of potential entry points for attackers. So a large organization is likely to have more entry points as a result of more complex networks, which can make it difficult to identify vulnerabilities. A large organization may also be a target for more sophisticated attacks, which may require more time and resources to defend against.
Recommended reading: How does penetration testing differ from vulnerability scanning?
The rise in cyber attacks means that penetration testing is becoming more of an obligation than an option. That's why more and more businesses are turning to penetration testing. The ultimate goal is to identify vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by real-world attackers. So it’s a worthwhile investment. After all, the cost of a successful cyberattack can be far greater than the cost of penetration testing.