Penetration Testing Frequency

How Often Should You Schedule A Penetration Test?

A penetration test, also known as a pen test, is a simulated cyber attack on an IT system, performed by a professional without malicious intent. The objective of these tests is to detect vulnerabilities that can be exploited before bad actors can identify and access them. Conducting penetration tests is one of the most effective ways to identify security risks in your company’s IT environment and address them before cyber attackers can take advantage of them. These risks could include exploitable vulnerabilities in web applications, excessive access permissions, or misconfigurations because of changes made by system administrators or users. One of the key questions around pen testing is how often to conduct tests to make sure you’re as secure as possible. Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. This article gives you all the information you need to decide the right frequency of pen testing for your organisation.



Why Perform a Pen Test In The First Place?


Automated tools are useful in finding vulnerabilities in your IT environment, but they cannot replicate how real-world cyber-attacks work. CREST-accredited ethical hackers and cybersecurity experts from OmniCyber Security use the latest tools and techniques the real cyber criminals are using to give you the most accurate simulation of a real cyber attack.  


There are several reasons why penetration testing should be an integral part of your cybersecurity strategy:

  • Identify the weaknesses and vulnerabilities with the potential to cause data breaches. Evaluate whether your current cyber defences are effective and address any gaps that could invite an attack.


It is important to think like a hacker and understand how to protect your systems and assets to improve security resiliency, regardless of the size of your company. Penetration testing is not just for high-profile companies, but also for small and medium-sized businesses. In today’s threat landscape, companies of all sizes have a network presence, and the internet has made it easy for attackers to engage with companies around the world. The spread of hacking knowledge over the internet has also led to an increase in the number of opportunistic cyber criminals who can create vast automated attacks targeting many companies at once. This means that small businesses are at risk of cyber attacks more than ever before. A successful cyber attack can have not only economic impacts, but also damage a company’s reputation, brand, and intellectual property.


How Often Should You Perform a Penetration Test?


Regular penetration tests are essential, and it is not enough to perform a penetration test just once and consider it done. Even if you consider pen tests as just a checkbox item as part of compliance requirements rather than a central part of your security strategy, many regulations call for regular testing.


One survey found that 85% of respondents pen test at least once per year while 39% test one to two times each year. If you test less regularly than that, or even not at all, you are falling dangerously behind the cyber security norm. This frequency balances the need for regular updates to report s on your security with the needs of your budget. We recommend that testing annually is a minimum for all organisations, however, more high-risk companies, like larger businesses or organisations whose attack surface changes often, might consider a quarterly testing schedule, or even more frequent.


Cyber security compliance schemes agree with this recommendation. PCI DSS, which applies to any organisation that handles cardholder data, mandates that companies must conduct penetration testing at least once a year and after any significant changes. A significant change could be any upgrade to infrastructure or applications that impacts the security of the cardholder data environment or access to it. The scope of these tests should cover public-facing attack surfaces and internal cardholder data environments.



Arranging Extra Tests


It’s always a good idea to schedule regular penetration tests to ensure your business is secure. However, sticking to a fixed schedule can put you at risk if you ignore changes that occur in your company’s infrastructure over time. New software, changes in hardware, and other modifications can affect your cyber security posture and potentially introduce new vulnerabilities. If you make a major change a week after your annual penetration test, you can’t afford to wait a year to see if it has left you vulnerable.


Some instances where you could need an ad-hoc penetration test include:


  • Sudden company growth: If your company grows significantly between tests, you will need to check for new vulnerabilities and consider changing your testing frequency.
  • Infrastructure changes: If you make important changes to your underlying infrastructure, such as moving to the cloud or switching vendors, you should conduct a new test.
  • Network infrastructure changes: Adding new network infrastructure or switching to different hardware vendors can also introduce new vulnerabilities.
  • Changes to end-user policies: Any changes to end-user policies that impact IT system security should be tested.
  • Strategic business adjustments: If your company undergoes a major strategic change, such as adding a new office or merging with another company, you should also consider conducting a new penetration test.


Regular penetration tests are essential for identifying vulnerabilities and addressing them proactively. While annual testing is a common benchmark, more frequent testing may be necessary for organizations with dynamic IT environments or heightened risk profiles. By adhering to a regular testing schedule and conducting ad-hoc tests in response to significant changes, you can enhance your cybersecurity resilience and mitigate emerging threats effectively.


At OmniCyber Security, our world-class team of CREST-accredited pen testers are dedicated to helping organisations of all sizes strengthen their cybersecurity posture through comprehensive penetration testing services. Contact us today to schedule your next penetration test and safeguard your organisation against evolving cyber threats.

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