How much does a penetration test cost?

The cost of a penetration test varies widely based on the scope, complexity of the environment, type of test, and the expertise of the testers.

Penetration testing costs can range from a few thousand dollars for small systems to tens of thousands for large, complex networks. Factors that influence pricing include the size of the system being tested, the depth of the testing required, whether it is a Blackbox, Greybox, or Whitebox test, and the specific security expertise required. Additional costs may arise from the need to test custom applications or to perform repeated tests to validate security measures after fixes have been applied, making budgeting for pentests a critical consideration for effective cybersecurity strategy planning.

Penetration testing

Cost factor: Duration of the penetration test

In IT security, it is generally the case that the more time an attacker has to achieve a specific goal (for example, finding a critical issue), the more likely it becomes that the goal will be achieved within that time. Conversely, a penetration test that is allowed to last twice as long will deliver more and, above all, more solid results.

More time allows the pentesters to better understand the systems being attacked and thus often discover more subtle vulnerabilities.

Pentest Costs: Duration of the penetration test
Pentest Costs: Complexity of the target system

Cost factor: Complexity of the target system

A target system can be a simple webapplication with only a few functions. However, it can also be a complex Software-as-a-Service platform that has various interfaces, APIs and user groups. Testing the latter simply takes longer and is more complex.

This statement can be generalized and applied to mobile applications, networks, buildings and other digital or physical systems. The more complex the system is in structure, size and range of functions, as well as existing security measures, the more time is required.

Cost factor: Depth and type of testing

Penetration tests are generally conducted as black box, grey box, or white box tests. The level of knowledge with which a pentest provider enters the project also influences the costs of the test; the time needed to familiarize oneself with, for example, existing source code, documentation, and similar should not be neglected.

In general, there are various nuances between a strictly manual and a fully automated penetration test that influence the costs. A fully automated test is usually cheaper, but also less meaningful.

Pentest Costs: Depth and type of testing
Pentest Costs: Report and meetings

Cost factor: Report and meetings

It is often overlooked how much time writing a meaningful report can take. Depending on the type of penetration test, the reporting alone can consume up to 15% of the entire budget.

The same applies to meetings during the penetration test as well as after the test. Systems that were not well prepared for a test by the client often require additional avoidable communication with technicians. On-site appointments also cost more than online meetings.

Penetration test costs of example projects

The examples shown here are real examples - it should be noted that in each case the complexity and scope can be smaller or larger. The prices are only meant to provide a guideline and can vary greatly.

Einsatzgebiete

CMS with custom components

A classic example of this would be a WordPress/WooCommerce shop with custom plugins and a custom theme. The software quality in this area often leaves much to be desired. Testing the entire CMS doesn't make sense, nor does a black box approach. It would make more sense to go through and examine the source code of the truly relevant components.

Budget: 1000.00 to 3000.00 USD

Einsatzgebiete

SaaS platforms with user groups

The case here would be, for example, a Software-as-a-Service platform developed in .NET or Java, which has 2-3 different user groups. Generally, the complexity is in the middle range, there is little data processing. Data is not made available to other services via an API. The client desires a black box approach and provides test accounts for each user group.

Budget: 4000.00 to 8000.00 USD

Einsatzgebiete

Multi-tenant SaaS platform with API

A complex platform with various user roles, user rights management, and multi-tenant capability. The platform offers functions for uploading and processing various file types. Login via SSO/MFA. There is a complex API that can be used by third-party providers. The grey box approach is chosen. The source code of the app is not available, but documentation of all functions as well as the API is provided. See SaaS Penetration Testing.

Budget: 7500.00 to 20000.00 USD

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How can you reduce the costs for a penetration test?

So far, we have been able to find a suitable solution for every budget and every project. However, there are things you as a client can do to reduce the costs of a penetration test or rather to optimize the results.

Proper preparation

We often find that systems are not prepared for a penetration test. There may be no demo/test system available, or it may be empty and lack relevant data to thoroughly and correctly test certain functions. The penetration tester should not have to ensure that all necessary and correct data is available.

Prioritization

Especially when the budget is smaller, it is worth considering which functions might be problematic and to prioritize testing these, thereby focusing on severe and critical vulnerabilities. For projects with large infrastructure, it is also important to know in advance where an attack could cause the most damage.

Report and Meeting

Is a summary for management important? Wouldn't a brief list of all findings—briefly explained and with proof of concept—suffice? The time we spend writing the report could also be spent conducting a more thorough and in-depth penetration test.

Regularity

During the first penetration test, the contractor and client need to get to know each other. We need to familiarize ourselves and get to know all the systems. With regular repetition of penetration tests by the same team, this part can often be skipped, allowing for more efficient and focused work.

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