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Table of Contents

    Tim Mektrakarn

    November 21, 2023

    Penetration Testing Pricing: A Comprehensive Guide

    One of the key practices in testing an organization’s security posture is to perform regular penetration testing. But one question often arises: how much does penetration testing cost? This guide aims to demystify penetration testing pricing, offering insights into what factors into the cost and how to budget for it.

    Basics of Penetration Testing

    Penetration testing, commonly called pen testing, is a critical cybersecurity practice where a simulated cyberattack is conducted on a computer system, network, or web application to identify vulnerabilities and assess its security. This proactive approach mimics the tactics of real-world attackers, aiming to exploit security weaknesses before they can be leveraged by malicious actors. 

    By rigorously testing the system’s defenses, pen testing provides valuable insights into potential security gaps, helping organizations strengthen their protection against actual cyber threats. The process reveals technical flaws, such as unpatched vulnerabilities or insecure coding practices, and examines operational and procedural weaknesses, offering a comprehensive evaluation of an organization’s cybersecurity readiness.

    Pen tests often follow standardized procedures. OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project) and PTES (Penetration Testing Execution Standard) are common and well-established frameworks penetration testing companies use.

    Pen test pricing

    Factors Influencing the Cost of Penetration Testing

    Several key factors significantly influence the final pricing when considering the cost of a penetration test. Understanding these elements can help organizations better anticipate and budget for their cybersecurity needs.

    Scope and Complexity

    • The scope of penetration testing is a primary factor affecting its cost. This includes the number of systems, applications, and the overall size of the network to be tested.
    • A larger scope typically means more time and resources are required, leading to higher costs. For instance, testing a complex web application or a large corporate network will be more expensive than testing a single website.
    • The complexity of the IT environment is another crucial factor. Environments with diverse technologies, legacy systems, or intricate network architectures require more nuanced and thorough testing approaches.
    • Higher complexity often demands specialized skills and tools, which can increase the cost of the penetration test.

    Expertise and Qualifications of the Penetration Tester

    • The skill level and qualifications of the penetration testers play a significant role in determining the cost.
    • Highly experienced professionals with specialized certifications or expertise in particular areas (such as application security or network security) may command higher rates. Their expertise, however, can lead to more thorough and effective testing.

    Duration

    • The duration of the penetration test, which can range from a few days to several weeks, also impacts the price.
    • Longer testing periods are generally required for comprehensive assessments and are more costly, but they provide a more in-depth analysis of the security posture.

    Tools and Technology

    • The sophistication and type of tools required can affect pricing. Advanced tools may offer deeper insights but at a higher cost.
    • The use of specialized software for specific types of testing (e.g., web application, network analysis) can also influence the price.
    • Custom tool development or the need for unique testing solutions tailored to the organization’s specific infrastructure can significantly increase costs.

    Manual vs Automated Pen Test 

    • Penetration tests can be automated, manual, or a combination of both. Automated testing might be less costly but can miss subtleties that manual testing can catch.
    • Manual testing, requiring skilled testers to think creatively and adaptively, is typically more expensive but often more effective at identifying and exploiting complex vulnerabilities.
    • Adhering to legal and regulatory standards can add to the cost. Ensuring compliance with laws (like GDPR and HIPAA) requires additional expertise and time.
    • The need for thorough documentation and reporting to meet compliance standards can increase the workload and the overall cost.
    • Liability insurance and other legal safeguards that a penetration testing firm must maintain to protect itself and its clients can also be a factor in pricing.
    • In some cases, specific industry regulations may necessitate specialized testing protocols or certifications from the testers, which can elevate the penetration testing cost.
    Cost of penetration testing

    Understanding Different Penetration Testing Pricing Models

    Penetration testing services come with different pricing structures:

    • Per-Hour vs. Per-Project: Some providers charge an hourly rate. Typical hourly rates for qualified security experts in the United States range from $200 to $300 per hour.
    • Retainer-Based Models: A retainer model may be more economical for ongoing testing.
    • Value-Based Pricing: Some providers base their pricing on the value they bring to your organization.
    • Bounty-Based: Larger organizations offer bounty programs that pay security experts based on the reported bug severity. 

    Each model has its pros and cons, and the right choice depends on your organization’s specific needs and budget.

    Exploring the Various Types of Penetration Testing

    Penetration testing, often called pen testing, encompasses various types, each designed to evaluate different aspects of an organization’s security posture. The main types of penetration tests include:

    Internal Penetration Test

    Internal penetration testing, a crucial component of an organization’s cybersecurity strategy, focuses on evaluating the security of internal networks and systems from an insider’s perspective. This method simulates attacks that might occur if an attacker gains access through external means or from a malicious insider.

    The process typically begins with a phase of planning and reconnaissance, where the scope and goals of the test are defined, and information about the internal network structure, systems, and applications is gathered. Testers then attempt to exploit potential vulnerabilities within the network, such as weak passwords, unpatched software, or misconfigured servers.

    Techniques like privilege escalation, lateral movement, and access to sensitive data are employed to assess the extent of potential internal damage. The test concludes with a thorough analysis and a detailed report, documenting the vulnerabilities found, the level of access that could be achieved, and recommendations for strengthening the internal security posture. This proactive approach helps organizations fortify their defenses against internal threats, an overlooked aspect of cybersecurity.

    Internal penetration testing costs between $7,000 and $35,000.

    Penetration test quote

    External Penetration Test

    External penetration testing is critical to an organization’s cybersecurity defense, focusing on identifying and exploiting vulnerabilities in its external-facing assets, such as websites, external network services, and email servers. This form of testing simulates attacks that a malicious actor from outside the organization could launch.

    Penetration testing companies will define the scope and objectives, ensuring a clear understanding of which systems and assets must be tested. Acting like external attackers with no prior internal knowledge, testers engage in reconnaissance to gather publicly available information about the target organization. They use this information to identify potential entry points and vulnerabilities, such as exposed services, weaknesses in web applications, or unsecured ports.

    The core phase involves actively exploiting these identified vulnerabilities to assess the potential for unauthorized access or data breach. Techniques like SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and exploiting outdated software are commonly employed. Unlike internal testing, external penetration testing focuses on breaching the perimeter defenses, evaluating the effectiveness of firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and other boundary security measures.

    The test culminates with a detailed report outlining the discovered vulnerabilities, the extent of potential external threats, and tailored recommendations for remediation. By mimicking the actions of external cyber attackers, external penetration testing provides valuable insights into an organization’s security posture from an outsider’s perspective, highlighting areas where defenses can be bolstered to prevent real-world cyber attacks.

    External penetration test cost ranges are between $5,000 and $20,000.

    Price for Pen Test

    White Box Penetration Testing 

    White box pen testing offers the penetration testing team full knowledge and access to all internal data, including source code, network information, and credentials. This approach is akin to an internal audit, thoroughly examining the system for vulnerabilities that might be overlooked from an external viewpoint. 

    A White box test tends to be the most expensive. It requires a comprehensive system examination, including access to source codes, network diagrams, and other internal information. This deep dive demands high expertise and time as testers scrutinize every aspect of the system to identify potential security issues. The detailed and thorough nature of this testing often results in higher costs.

    White box penetration testing cost ranges between $500 and $2,000 per scan.

    Black Box Penetration Testing

    A Black box test simulates an external hacking or cyber attack scenario where the pen tester has no prior knowledge of the internal systems, mimicking the perspective of an external hacker and revealing how vulnerable the system is to external threats. 

    Generally, black box testing is less expensive compared to the other types. It requires less preparation since the testers are not given prior information about the system. The testers mimic the approach of an uninformed attacker, probing the system to find vulnerabilities from the outside. The time investment and depth of analysis are typically less extensive than in white or grey box testing, which can make it a more cost-effective option.

    Black box pen testing costs between $10,000 and $50,000 per scan.

    Pen Test Quote

    Grey Box Penetration Testing

    Grey box (or gray box) testing is a hybrid approach that provides partial knowledge to the testers, striking a balance between black and white box testing. It gives an insight into the system akin to that of a privileged user, not entirely external nor fully internal. 

    Grey box testing falls somewhere in the middle in terms of cost. It provides the testers with partial knowledge of the system, which requires more effort than black box testing but less than white box testing. This approach strikes a balance, offering a more in-depth analysis than black box testing without the extensive resource requirements of white box testing.

    Each testing method offers unique insights, with a black box identifying surface-level vulnerabilities, a white box providing a deep dive into internal weaknesses, and a grey box offering a balanced perspective.

    Grey box penetration testing cost varies widely but can cost as little as $500 per scan and as much as $50,000.

    Cloud pen test

    Web Application Penetration Testing

    Web application penetration testing is a specialized form of security assessment focused exclusively on evaluating the security of web applications. This process is essential in identifying vulnerabilities that could be exploited by cyber attackers, including issues with web app design, coding, and implementation. The procedure typically begins with defining the scope, which encompasses the web applications to be tested and the methods to employ.

    The initial phase involves reconnaissance or information gathering, where testers collect data about the application, such as the technologies used, application behavior, and potential entry points. This phase often includes automated scanning tools to identify common vulnerabilities like SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), etc.

    Following this, testers move to the exploitation phase, actively trying to exploit identified vulnerabilities. This hands-on approach aims to understand the depth of each vulnerability, assessing what type of data could be accessed or manipulated and the potential impact of such exploits. Testers may attempt attacks, such as injecting malicious scripts, bypassing authentication mechanisms, or testing for input validation issues.

    Throughout the test, careful attention is paid to avoid any disruption to the normal functionality of web apps. The final phase involves compiling the findings into a comprehensive report that outlines the vulnerabilities discovered, their severity, and potential impact. This report also provides detailed recommendations for remediation, prioritizing fixes based on the risk level associated with each vulnerability.

    Web application penetration testing is crucial in a world where web applications are frequently targeted by cybercriminals. It helps organizations to proactively identify and address security weaknesses, thereby protecting sensitive data and maintaining customer trust.

    The average penetration testing cost for web apps ranges between between $5,000 and $30,000.

    Vulnerability scan pricing

    Other Types of Pen Tests

    Social Engineering Test

    Focuses on the human element of security, testing the organization’s personnel for susceptibility to social engineering tactics like phishing, pretexting, baiting, and tailgating.

    Physical Penetration Test

    Involves testing physical security controls like locks, sensors, cameras, and access control systems to assess the effectiveness of physical barriers in preventing unauthorized access. This manual penetration testing methodology involves someone trying to physically gain access to your facility.

    Wireless Penetration Test

    Focuses on wireless devices like wireless networks, Bluetooth, NFC, and other wireless communication systems to identify vulnerabilities like weak encryption and insecure protocols.

    Cloud Penetration Testing

    Cloud pentesting concentrates on cloud infrastructure assets, assessing vulnerabilities in configuration and service models like SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS.

    Penetration test cost

    Differences Between Penetration Testing and Vulnerability Scans

    Understanding the differences between a penetration test and a vulnerability scan is crucial, especially when considering penetration testing costs and the overall cybersecurity strategy of an organization.

    Scope and Depth

    Most penetration tests are comprehensive and simulate real-world attacks to exploit system weaknesses. They involve a series of controlled hacking attempts to test the resilience of the security infrastructure against data breaches. In contrast, a vulnerability scan is more automated and surface-level, primarily designed to identify known vulnerabilities in systems and software.

    Methodology

    Penetration tests are often manual and require a skilled tester to think creatively, mimicking the actions of a potential attacker. This includes exploiting vulnerabilities, bypassing security features, and gaining unauthorized access. Vulnerability scans, however, are mostly automated, relying on software to scan systems and networks for known vulnerabilities.

    Cost Implications

    Penetration testing costs are generally higher than vulnerability scans due to the in-depth nature, expertise required, and time investment. Pen tests provide a more thorough assessment of security weaknesses, while vulnerability scans are a cost-effective way to identify and remediate known vulnerabilities.

    Frequency and Use

    Vulnerability scans are typically performed more frequently, often as part of regular security maintenance. Penetration tests, on the other hand, are conducted less frequently, usually as part of a comprehensive security audit or when significant changes occur in the IT environment.

    Outcome and Reporting

    Penetration tests result in detailed reports outlining exploited vulnerabilities, the potential impact of a data breach, and recommendations for remediation. Vulnerability scans generate a list of known vulnerabilities, often ranked by severity, but without the detailed exploitation and impact analysis found in most penetration tests.

    In summary, while both penetration tests and vulnerability scans are important for cybersecurity, they serve different purposes. Penetration tests offer a deep, manual examination of potential security weaknesses, justifying their higher cost, whereas vulnerability scans provide a quicker, automated overview of known system vulnerabilities.

    Penetration test price quote

    Estimating Your Penetration Testing Budget

    Budgeting for pen testing varies. Small businesses might spend a few thousand dollars, while larger corporations could see costs in the tens of thousands. It’s essential to assess your needs carefully and prepare for potential additional costs that might arise during the testing process.

    Here are some key cost drivers:

    • Type of testing being performed, internal, external, or web application as described above
    • Number of assets being tested, such as IPv4/IPv6 subnets
    • Testing methodology: white box (testers receive full access, time-consuming), grey box, black box (testers receive no info or access, quicker due to limited knowledge)

    Focusing in Web Application Pen Testing Pricing

    Key cost drivers in Web Application penetrating testing include:

    • Number of web applications
    • Number of user roles being tested
    • Number of unique pages such as app.domain.com/* → all pages under the root app domain
    • API testing

    Tips for Choosing a Penetration Testing Service

    When selecting a pen testing service, consider:

    • Provider’s Expertise and Reputation: Look for providers with proven experience and positive client testimonials. Some key accreditations include:
      • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
      • Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP)
      • CREST Certifications (including CRT, CCT, and CSA)
      • GIAC Penetration Tester (GPEN)
      • Licensed Penetration Tester (LPT)
      • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
      • TigerScheme Certifications
      • CompTIA PenTest+
    • Deliverables and Reports: Ensure the provider offers detailed reports that help you understand and address vulnerabilities.
    • ROI of Services: Evaluate the cost versus the potential benefits to your organization’s security posture.
    Pen test pricing

    The Role of Penetration Testing in Compliance

    Penetration testing is crucial in ensuring compliance with various cybersecurity frameworks and standards. It is an essential component in demonstrating an organization’s adherence to best practices in cybersecurity and in identifying potential vulnerabilities that malicious actors could exploit.

    • SOC 2 and ISO 27001: Helps validate security controls and information security management systems, essential for protecting customer and company data.
    • CMMC and NIST: It is crucial for contractors, especially in defense, to demonstrate adherence to cybersecurity practices and processes.
    • HIPAA: Identifies security gaps in protecting patient health information, a core requirement for healthcare providers.

    Continuous compliance is a modern necessity. Regular penetration testing is integral, offering ongoing assessments to meet evolving threats and regulatory demands, thereby supporting an organization’s commitment to robust cybersecurity.

    Conclusion

    Understanding the pricing of penetration testing is crucial in making informed decisions for your cybersecurity needs. It’s a balance of cost and quality, ensuring your business is protected without overspending. Remember, the cheapest option may not always be the most effective, and the most expensive one may not be necessary for your specific needs.

    Pen test pricing

    Penetration Testing from Bright Defense!

    If you are interested in penetration test for your organization, Bright Defense can help. Bright Defense offers penetration testing and vulnerability scanning services through our partnership with Red Sentry and Breachlock. Both firms offer comprehensive services and exceptional support, and 5 star ratings on G2.

    Bright Defense mission is to protect our clients from cybersecurity threats through continuous compliance. Additionally, we offer services including continuous cybersecurity compliance, managed security awareness training, AI-enable phishing, and virual CISO (vCISO) services. We understand that penetration testing is a key component to meeting compliance standards

    If you are interested in a penetration test quote, contact our security team today.

    FAQ: Understanding Penetration Testing Pricing

    1. What is Penetration Testing?

    Penetration testing, or pen testing, is a simulated cyberattack against your computer system, network, or web application to identify vulnerabilities and security issues.

    2. What Factors Affect Penetration Testing Pricing?

    The cost of penetration testing can vary based on several factors, including the scope and complexity of the project, the expertise required, duration, tools and technology used, and legal and compliance considerations.

    3. What Are the Different Types of Penetration Tests?

    There are mainly three types:

    • Internal Pen Testing: Focuses on evaluating the security of internal networks and systems.
    • External Pen Testing: Concentrates on identifying and exploiting vulnerabilities in external-facing assets.
    • Web Application Pen Testing: Exclusively assesses the security of web applications.

    4. What Are the Different Pricing Models for Penetration Testing?

    Penetration testing services may offer various pricing models, such as per-hour or per-project rates, retainer-based models, value-based pricing, and bounty-based programs.

    5. How Much Should I Budget for Penetration Testing?

    The cost can range from a few thousand dollars for small businesses to tens of thousands for larger corporations. It depends on the type of testing, number of assets, and testing methodology.

    7. Can Penetration Testing Prevent Cybersecurity Breaches?

    Yes, by identifying and addressing vulnerabilities proactively, penetration testing can prevent security breaches that might lead to significant financial and reputational damages.

    8. Is There a Difference Between Manual and Automated Penetration Testing?

    Yes. Automated scans can identify common vulnerabilities, but manual testing by expert pen testers is critical for a more thorough and insightful assessment.

    9. How Long Does Penetration Testing Take?

    The duration varies based on the scope and complexity of the project. It can range from a few days to several weeks.

    Yes, ensuring that penetration testing complies with relevant laws and regulations is crucial, as it can add layers of complexity and cost to the process.

    11. How Often Should Penetration Testing Be Conducted?

    Regular testing is recommended, especially when significant changes are made to your systems or applications, or at least annually.

    12. Can Penetration Testing Disrupt My Business Operations?

    Professional penetration testers typically conduct tests in a manner that minimizes disruption to normal business operations.

    13. How Do I Know if the Penetration Test Was Successful?

    Success is measured by the thorough identification of vulnerabilities and the provision of actionable recommendations for strengthening your cybersecurity defenses.

    14. Can Small Businesses Afford Penetration Testing?

    Yes, there are cost-effective options available for small businesses, and considering the potential costs of a breach, it’s a worthwhile investment.

    15. Where Can I Learn More About Bright Defense’s Penetration Testing Services?

    For more information about our services, visit our partnership pages with Red Sentry and Breachlock, which offer comprehensive services and exceptional support.

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