Pen testing is mostly a manual effort. Pen testers do use automated scanning and testing tools in the process. But they also go beyond the tools and think their way through security barriers using their knowledge of the latest attack techniques to provide more in-depth testing than a vulnerability assessment (i.e., automated testing) can provide. Here are a few comparative advantages of manual pen testing and automated testing:
Manual pen testing
Pen testing uncovers vulnerabilities and weaknesses not found in popular lists (e.g., OWASP Top 10) and tests business logic that automated testing can overlook (e.g., data validation, integrity checks). Also, a manual pen testing review can help identify false positives reported by automated testing. Overall, manual pen testers are experts who “think” like adversaries and can analyze data to target their attacks and test systems and websites in ways automated testing solutions following a scripted routine cannot.
Automated testing generates results faster, and needs fewer specialized professionals, than a fully manual pen testing process. Automated testing tools track results automatically and can sometimes export them to a centralized reporting platform. Also, while the results of manual pen tests might vary from test to test, running automated testing repeatedly on the same system will produce the same results.