Cybersecurity techniques compared: Pentesting vs. breach and attack simulation

Out of all forms of cybercrime, those directed at small and medium businesses are often the most concentrated. While large-scale corporations will have active networks of security experts that are there to defend the company, small and medium businesses are typically not as technologically advanced, leaving them wide-open to attacks.

In fact, cybercrime has become so rampant post-pandemic that over 75% of small and medium businesses experienced some form of ransomware scandal in 2021, a significant increase from 61% in 2020. Two of the most accessible forms of cybersecurity techniques and protection for businesses are breach and attack simulation and penetration testing.

What is Penetration Testing?

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Penetration testing is a technique that’s been used for decades, with this human-lead approach allowing absolutely any business to begin this the moment they hire a cybersecurity expert. Considering it is a human-run method of managing and testing security, it doesn’t require any additional tools, making this a cost-friendly approach to cybersecurity testing and training.

The main goal of penetration testing is for a cybersecurity expert, or teams of experts, to run a range of tactics to find weaknesses in a company’s defenses. Typically, they will consult the MITRE Attack Framework, a compendium of all the main cyberattack tactics that hackers commonly use. If a business can ensure they are correctly defended against the majority of these, then it’s on the right track toward total safety.

Penetration testing is often run with a singular goal in mind, hitting a certain database or gaining access to a key bit of information. For example, an extreme example would be directly targeting user financial information or something similar as dramatic.

What is Breach and Attack Simulation?

Breach and attack simulation, often known only by its acronym BAS, is where a company will use a specific cybersecurity tool in order to simulate a threat. Typically, BAS will launch a range of different attacks on a business, rapidly testing the overall defenses of a business.

The main objectives of Breach and Attack Simulation are to better understand how effective current security controls and programs are when protecting against the most common cyber threats. Once again, the MITRE Attack Framework comes into play, with the vast majority of BAS platforms using this as a basis for their own attack methods.

BAS can also be launched to help a cybersecurity team train its defense techniques. How rapidly they find and neutralize a threat provides them a great basis of practice without the pressure of a real cybersecurity incident.

Finally, as BAS is automatic, it will meticulously comb through all areas of the attack surface, looking for weaknesses. If any are found by the BAS platform, this will provide an area that your security team can work on patching.

Often seen as a progressive step forward from manual penetration testing, BAS is typically considered the superior of these two technologies. That said, both do have their unique advantages.

What are the advantages of Breach and Attack Simulation Vs. the advantages of Pentesting?

While both of these cybersecurity techniques certainly have their place in the world of advanced security, they don’t cover exactly the same benefits. In fact, each of them actually has specific conditions that help businesses to develop a holistic security defense system.

Let’s delve into the benefits of each of these tools.

Breach and Attack Simulation Benefits:

  • Automatic – Without the need for human management, BAS can automatically generate data that your team can then work on during office hours.
  • Continual – Run automatically; BAS is a 24/7 approach to cybersecurity and can keep your business safe around the clock.
  • Expansive – The automatic nature of this tool allows you to cover your entire attack surface, which would be practically impossible when only using manual tools. With the increasing complexity of small and medium companies’ attack surfaces, automatic is the only realistic approach to cover absolutely everything.

Penetration Testing Benefits:

  • Specific – With penetration testing, you’re able to specifically target a feature of your defenses. With this, you can assure your business that the defenses you have in place can withstand a specific form of attack.
  • Defense Capabilities – You can continually test different attack formats on one defense to ensure that it is fully secure against the most recent methods used by hackers within cyberattacks.
  • Risk assessment – If there is a particular area you’re worried about, then penetration testing can help you conduct a risk assessment of core vulnerabilities and weaknesses.

These technologies have distinct advantages, with a healthy balance of both being a wonderful approach to security. Typically, you should run BAS to get an expansive view and then manual penetration testing to further drill down into specific security features and their potential weaknesses.

Wrap Up

Although breach and attack simulation is a more advanced cybersecurity tool, especially considering that it can be completed automatically, it is not completely the superior option. In fact, while BAS is great for continuous monitoring and training exercises, penetration testing is a solid option when looking for specific vulnerabilities.

For example, if you wanted to create continual upkeep and ensure all of your cybersecurity tools were working effectively, then BAS would be the better option for you. That said, if you had just launched a new feature and needed to ensure it was properly defended, then manual penetration testing around this feature would provide a much faster and more specific result.

While you can place breach and attack simulation VS. penetration testing in many contexts, it’s important to remember that both of these tools are vital for a complete and near-impermeable defense system.

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