What is Penetration Testing (Pen Testing)?

Penetration testing, also referred to as pen testing or ethical hacking, is a cybersecurity practice that simulates real-world cyberattacks on a computer system, network, or application to identify security vulnerabilities. By mimicking the techniques used by hackers, organizations can proactively strengthen their security measures, ensuring robust protection against potential breaches.

Penetration testing serves a dual purpose: it assesses your system vulnerabilities and evaluates your staff and procedures in the face of likely cyberattacks. By understanding the probable attackers and their methods, a penetration tester can replicate their specific tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) to gain a realistic idea of how a breach might occur. Penetration testing results provide valuable insights, allowing organizations to assess their susceptibility and identify weaknesses. These findings are crucial for making necessary improvements, ensuring a more robust and secure operational environment.

Importance of Conducting Pen Tests

Regular penetration testing stands as a crucial pillar within an organization’s cybersecurity practices. The significance is underscored by the fact that 85% of organizations are making plans to increase their penetration testing budgets.1 This commitment to allocating time and resources for pen testing is essential for several reasons:

  • Security assurance: Organizations invest in a breadth of security technologies and policies, so it’s important to ensure that these investments are providing the expected level of security. Regular pen tests help validate (or invalidate) the effectiveness of an organization’s existing security measures.
  • Risk management: Penetration testing provides valuable insights into your organization’s security stance. Armed with an understanding of potential risks, you can prioritize efforts and resources to mitigate the most critical security issues.
  • Compliance: Many regulatory standards, including the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), require that organizations conduct regular penetration tests. Adherence to these standards is imperative for legal and regulatory compliance.
  • Data breach prevention: Regular pen testing enables organizations to stay ahead of attackers by identifying new vulnerabilities that emerge due to changes in technology, processes, or personnel. This empowers organizations to prevent the damages from a successful incident, such as data breaches, financial losses, and diminished brand trust.
  • Continuous improvement: Cybersecurity is not a static field. When the mindset of continuous improvement is part of their cybersecurity vision and culture, it gives organizations the opportunity to enhance agility and achieve cyber resilience. Regular penetration tests are a fundamental part of this ongoing improvement practice, refining incident response plans and ensuring a swift and effective response in the event of a real attack.

Considerations for Selecting a Pen Testing Tool

When choosing a penetration testing tool, there are certain capabilities and requirements that organizations should consider. Here’s a detailed breakdown to guide your decision-making process:

Vulnerability scanningThe tool should be capable of scanning networks, systems, and applications to identify potential vulnerabilities.
Network mappingThe tool should offer the ability to map out network topology, discovering hosts, open ports, and services running on the network.
Payload generationYour tool should enable you to create various payloads and shellcodes for exploiting vulnerabilities in target systems.
ExploitationThe tool should offer support for various exploitation techniques, including known exploits and zero-day vulnerabilities, enabling testers to simulate advanced cyberattacks and real-world attack scenarios.
Post-exploitationYour tool should support post-exploitation activities, including privilege escalation, data exfiltration, and lateral movement.
AccuracyThe tool’s results and findings must be accurate and reliable, ensuring that identified vulnerabilities are genuine and exploitable in real-world scenarios.
CustomizationYour pen testers should have the ability to customize and configure the tool according to your specific needs and environment, including scripting and plugin support.
SpeedEfficient scanning and testing algorithms are necessary for quick identification of vulnerabilities and timely reporting, especially in large and complex environments.
AnonymityThe tool should give your pen testers the ability to perform tests covertly, avoiding detection by intrusion detection systems and maintaining anonymity to mimic real-world hacker tactics.
ReportingThe tool should provide comprehensive and customizable reporting capabilities, including detailed vulnerability descriptions, risk levels, and recommendations for remediation.
Compliance checksThe tool should empower you to assess your target system’s compliance with various security standards and regulations, supporting your efforts in meeting industry-specific requirements.

Best Pen Test Tools

There are a lot of pen test vendors out there. To simplify your search, here’s an overview of prominent vendors and their pen testing solutions:

PtaaS Platform by Cobalt

San Francisco, CA, U.S. | 2013 |

Cobalt infuses manual pen testing with speed, simplicity, and transparency. Cobalt’s platform, Pentest as a Service (PtaaS), empowers organizations to keep pace with modern software development life cycles in an agile world.

Cobalt’s PtaaS platform is paired with a community of testers to deliver the real-time insights for organizations to remediate risk and innovate securely. Pen test services include comprehensive pen testing as well as agile pen testing, which covers a smaller scope focused on a specific asset to be assessed.

Penetration Testing Services by CrowdStrike

Austin, TX, U.S. | 2011 |

CrowdStrike is a global cybersecurity technology firm pioneering cloud-delivered protection for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and enterprise-sized businesses. CrowdStrike offers a range of cybersecurity technologies and services to help companies protect their critical areas of cyber risk across endpoints, cloud workloads, identity, and data.

CrowdStrike® Penetration Testing Services simulate real-world attacks on different components of an organization’s IT environment to expose weaknesses in a controlled environment. The comprehensive service tests the detection and response capabilities across the organization’s people, processes and technology and identifies where vulnerabilities exist within the environment.

Pen Testing Services by Intruder

London, England, U.K. | 2015 |

Intruder is a high-tech company that provides a security monitoring platform for internet-facing systems.

The company offers a cloud-based vulnerability scanner that finds cybersecurity weaknesses in an organization’s digital infrastructure.

The company’s pen testing services, called Intruder Vanguard, help organizations close the gap between automated scanning and point-in-time penetration testing by providing skilled security professionals to identify, analyze, and remediate critical vulnerabilities.

Pen Test Platform by

Bucharest, Romania | 2013 |

Since its start, has evolved into a fully fledged penetration testing and vulnerability assessment platform with nearly two million users per year. With, organizations get reports that include only relevant security issues along with actionable results, so customers can immediately start improving their security posture. offers a cloud-based platform for organizations to perform their own tests and a range of pen test services. Organizations receive a visual summary of the results and details about vulnerabilities found, including description, evidence, risk, and recommendations for fixing them.

Burp Suite by PortSwigger

Knutsford, Cheshire, U.K. | 2008 |

PortSwigger is a technology company that creates software tools for security testing of web applications. The company’s software has become an established toolkit utilized by web security professionals worldwide.

The company’s product, Burp Suite,  is an integrated platform for performing security testing for web applications. Its various tools work seamlessly together to support the entire testing process, from initial mapping and analysis of an application’s attack surface to finding and exploiting security vulnerabilities.

Kali Linux by Kali

NY, NY, U.S. | 2013 |

Kali Linux is an open-source project that serves as an advanced penetration testing platform. Kali Linux is maintained and funded by Offensive Security, a provider of information security training and penetration testing services.

Built on Debian, Kali Linux is tailored for advanced penetration testing and security auditing use cases and streamlines the process by offering a range of standard tools, configurations, and automations. This user-friendly approach allows individuals to concentrate on their tasks, eliminating unnecessary distractions. The open-source solution comes in 32-bit, 64-bit, and ARM versions alongside specialized builds for various hardware platforms.

Metasploit by Rapid7

Boston, MA, U.S. | 2000 |

Rapid7 helps organizations implement an active approach to cybersecurity. The company’s IT security solutions deliver visibility and insight that help organizations make informed decisions, create credible action plans, and monitor progress.

Rapid7’s pen test solution, Metasploit, enables users to simulate real-world attacks to identify vulnerabilities. Metasploit seamlessly integrates with the open-source Metasploit Framework, providing access to exploitation and reconnaissance modules. Users can employ attacker techniques to evade antivirus software, uncover weak credentials, and pivot throughout the network.

vPenTest by Vonahi Security

Atlanta, GA, U.S. | 2018 |

Vonahi Security is a cybersecurity software as a service (SaaS) company that specializes in automated network penetration testing. Their solution is designed for managed service provider (MSP) partners to offer their SMB clients.

Vonahi’s pen test solution, vPenTest, is a full-scale penetration testing platform that incorporates the latest knowledge, methodologies, techniques, and commonly used tools into a single platform. vPenTest is designed to make network penetration testing affordable, accurate, fast, consistent, and not prone to human error. 

Pen Test Services by Vumetric

Montréal, Québec, Canada | 2007 |

Vumetric is a global security company offering penetration testing, IT security audits, and specialized cybersecurity services for SMBs and enterprise-sized businesses.

The company offers a range of pen test services, from external and internal pen tests to application security testing. All engagements are performed internally by Vumetric’s team of vetted specialists to ensure the consistency of the quality of their deliverables and the confidentiality of the customer’s information.

Pentera Platform by Pentera

Burlington, MA, U.S. | 2015 |

Pentera is a global security company that enables organizations to evaluate the integrity of all cybersecurity layers, unfolding true, current security exposures at any moment and at any scale.

The Pentera platform continuously discovers enterprises’ internal and external attack surfaces and safely validates their readiness against the latest advanced threats. The platform shows the potential impact of exploiting each security gap and helps organizations prioritize remediation accordingly.

Prelude Detect by Prelude

San Francisco, CA, U.S. | 2017 |

Prelude is a technology company that helps organizations proactively ask questions of their security systems to advance their defenses. Built around the notion of visibility, Prelude’s products conduct continuous probing across all environments. This elicits answers to questions that range from basic health checks to vulnerability to the latest threats.

The company’s pen test solution, Prelude Detect, allows organizations to run continuous security tests, at scale, on production machines. Prelude Detect has the ability to test all of an organization’s defenses, including cloud, servers, workstations, and endpoints, looking for vulnerabilities and exploits against them. The test results are provided in reports that help security teams decide what to prioritize.