5 Factors That Influence the Cost of Penetration Testing


If you’re in charge of information security for your company, then you know that penetration testing is a critical part of keeping your data safe. But how much does penetration testing cost? And what influences its cost? In this blog article, we’ll address those concerns as well as others. We’ll also offer some pointers on how to get the most out of your money.

Understanding penetration testing:

What is it and why do you need it?

Penetration testing is the act of attacking a system in order to discover its security flaws. Pen testers are security experts who use their technical expertise to identify weaknesses in software applications and operating systems. If they can access a system without authorization, then an attacker probably can too!

Penetration testing is a critical part of every organization’s security strategy because it allows you to identify and remediate threats before they become costly breaches. The average cost per record lost in the event of a data breach is $161, according to IBM and Ponemon Institute in 2021. If your company processes credit cards or other personally identifiable information (PII), then you are required to undergo annual penetration tests by the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) or other compliance standards like HIPAA.

What does pen testing involve?

The typical penetration testing process includes the six following steps:

  1. Planning and scoping: In this step, the pen tester determines the scope of the test and identifies the systems that will be tested.
  2. Reconnaissance: The pen tester gathers information about the target systems, such as what software is running on them and what ports are open.
  3. Attack: The pen tester attempts to exploit the vulnerabilities that were identified in the reconnaissance step.
  4. Reporting: The pen tester produces a report documenting the findings of the test and provides recommendations for remediating any discovered vulnerabilities.
  5. Follow-up: In this step, the organization implements the recommendations from the report and closes any security holes that were found during the penetration test.

Benefits of penetration testing

Penetration testing is a great way to improve the security posture of your organization. Here are some benefits:

  • Reduced organizational risk: Penetration testing can help you identify and remediate security vulnerabilities before they become costly data breaches.
  • Compliance with industry regulations: Some compliance standards, such as PCI DSS and HIPAA, require periodic penetration testing if you process credit card or personally identifiable information.
  • Insurance premiums: Insurance companies often offer discounts to organizations that undergo regular pen testing and implement the recommendations from their reports.
  • Improved security posture: Penetration testing can help you improve your organization’s overall security posture by identifying and remediating weaknesses in your security infrastructure.

The price of a penetration test:

So how much does pen testing cost? Depending on the scope and intricacy of the evaluation, costs may range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. However, you can anticipate paying anything from $500 to $15,000 for a single test.

5 factors that influence the price of penetration testing

1. The complexity of the target environment:

For penetration testing larger networks and organizations, it can take up to months. This increases with the complexity of the environment such as having multiple operating systems, a large array of devices, web applications and databases.  The more complex your environment, the more time and effort it will take to assess all of the potential vulnerabilities and the more it can cost. In addition, bigger companies are more likely to have data breaches, so they are more likely to need penetration testing services on an ongoing basis.

2. Scope of the assessment:

The scope of a penetration test can vary greatly, from a cursory review of your systems to a deep-dive examination that includes trying to hack into every system and database. The more comprehensive the test, the higher the price tag will be.

3. Skills and experience of the testers:

You’ll get what you pay for when it comes to penetration testers. If you want experienced and certified professionals who are well-versed in the latest hacking techniques, then be prepared to pay more. Similarly hiring individuals versus hiring a team of professionals from top pentesting companies will cost you less.

4. Timeframe and number of testers involved:

Like most things in life, the sooner you want something done, the more you’ll pay for it. The higher the number of individuals participating in a penetration test, the more it costs. This is due to the necessity of compensating each individual for their time.

5. Type of penetration test and resources used:

  • Black-box testing: This is the most expensive and entails giving the testers no information about the target environment other than what they can glean from publicly available sources. Testers have to put significantly more effort and time into gathering information first. While this is the most expensive it is also the most effective as it approaches testing like a real-world hacker.
  • White-box testing: This costs the least as testers are given access to all of the relevant information about the systems being tested, including passwords, user names, and network layouts. While this is the cheapest it is also least effective as a real-world attacker would not have access to such information but it is good for testing how ex-employees may try to hack into the systems.
  • Grey-box testing: This falls in between white and black box testing, where testers are given partial information about the systems being tested but still need some of their own data collection efforts. The grey-box test can be more expensive than the white-box test if the testers have to spend a significant amount of time gathering information but it won’t ever be as expensive as a black-box test. It’s a good balance between price and effectiveness.
  • Automated penetration testing: This is a newer and growing field that uses automated tools to try and find vulnerabilities in systems. While it is not as comprehensive as manual testing, it can be a good option for organizations on a tight budget.
  • Manual penetration testing: This is more thorough and results in fewer false positives as compared to automated tools. Since It does not rely on automated tools to do the job as it won’t miss some critical threats or report back false positives. Instead, a tester manually does all the work monitoring every step, but it also takes up the most time.

Many factors go into the cost of penetration testing, so it’s important to understand what you’re getting for your money.

Getting the best value for your money

To make an accurate estimate, your penetration testing provider will need to know some specifics about your environment and business processes. So before you contact a provider, take some time to answer the following questions:

  • What systems do you want tested (e.g., networks, web applications, databases)?
  • What is the estimated complexity of your target environment?
  • What will be the scope of the evaluation?
  • Are there any specific compliance requirements that need to be met?
  • Who are your primary users/customers?
  • Do you have an in-house IT security team or do you need the penetration tester to provide remediation guidance?
  • What is the maximum budget you have for testing?
  • How quickly do you need the test completed?

Understanding these ideas will assist you in gaining a deeper insight into the pricing and what is included inside a penetration testing examination.

Reducing the cost

As with anything, there are always ways to reduce the cost of penetration testing without compromising on quality. Here are a few tips:

Use automated testing tools

While they may not be as comprehensive as manual testing, automated tools can be a good option for organizations on a tight budget.

Restrict the scope of the assessment

If you don’t need all systems tested, consider restricting the scope of the assessment to save money.

Use in-house staff

They can help prepare for and assist with the penetration test. This will reduce the testing time and therefore cost.

Do it yourself

You could always consider doing penetration testing in-house. If you have a skilled IT team or an experienced IT security consultant, this may be an option for you. Just make sure that they are trained and certified to do so. For example, if you’re testing for PCI DSS compliance, your internal team will need to be certified in the PCI-certified penetration testing program.

How do you determine whether the cost is worth it?

The most important question when considering a penetration test is, “How much would it cost us if we were hacked?” If this isn’t enough to convince your boss or client that security is important then try asking what their current level of risk tolerance is. For example, a small business may be willing to accept a higher level of risk than a large enterprise.

The final decision on whether or not to invest in penetration testing will come down to risk analysis and cost-benefit analysis. But remember, the cost of penetration testing is always going to be less than the cost of repairing the damage done by a hacker.

The bottom line

The cost of not running a penetration test is far greater than the price you pay for one, so it’s important to make sure your network and systems are as secure as possible. By being aware of the factors that influence pricing, you’ll be able to better judge whether or not a quote from a provider is reasonable and accurate.

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