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Average Cost of a Penetration Test in the United States

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What is the average cost of a penetration test in the United States, and what are the factors that contribute to it?

In today's blog, our team of ethical hackers explores the components that impact pentesting cost, as well as the quality, depth, testing coverage, and scope of assessments as they relate to price.

Lastly, we’ll provide an overview of common types of pentesting (alongside underlining the average costs associated with each of them to help you and your team make informed decisions when hiring a penetration testing firm.

Let's begin:

To Start, What is the Definition of Pentesting?

Before we explain the average cost breakdown of a penetration test, let's first outline what a pentest is.

Pentesting (short for "penetration testing") is an authorized simulated cyberattack on an organization's internal systems; it is performed in order for a pentesting firm to evaluate the security of the system at hand. It commonly incorporates the probing of external and internal networks, web applications, cloud systems, and more to provide a robust analysis.

Pentesting is commonly confused for vulnerability scanning, although the two differ significantly: where a vulnerability scan is conducted via an automated tool that may scan ports, networks, and applications for vulnerabilities, a manual penetration test will utilize a vulnerability scan as part of its larger scope; the work (and results) of a pentest stretch far beyond the depth and comprehension of what an automated scanner can provide.

Once a VA scan has been conducted, to highlight potential vulnerabilities, a hired pentester will then follow their assigned methodology to exploit all the attack vectors a real threat actor may utilize to hijack an organization's systems.

Why Penetration Testing is Mandatory for Cyber Insurance in 2024

With over 33 billion records being the targets of theft in 2023 alone, service providers, now more than ever before, require full-coverage cyber insurance to safeguard against the ever-growing liability of cyberattacks.

Cybersecurity insurance works to assist with the following common cyber scenarios:

  • Helping to restore breached or stolen employee, client, or customer identities

  • Restore compromised data

  • Repair damaged business-related devices

  • Reporting to the SEC in the wake of an attack, which is legally required

Across the United States, this type of cyber liability insurance, on average, covers IT forensic investigation, credit monitoring for security-breached individuals, regulatory fines, and lawsuits that may stem from a breach.

Alongside organizations exposing themselves to potentially significant financial losses by not proactively investing in cybersecurity insurance, those without it also risk losses in public trust and damaged brand authority when a cyberattack goes public.

To be eligible for robust cyber insurance, organizations must meet specific cyber-related requirements. These requirements include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Multi-factor authentication across all insured resources is required in order to lower the risk of stolen or breached credentials

  • Ongoing Stress-Testing of Systems: The majority of insurers mandate that an organization continuously tests their systems

  • Cybersecurity Awareness Training: Ongoing, up-to-date cybersecurity awareness training is crucial, as it acts as the first line of defence against frequently-utilized cybercrime techniques

  • Data Backups: Backups of vital data need to be proven to show that an organization can successfully recover from a ransomware attack in a timely manner

  • Usage of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks): VPNs oftentimes need to be installed on all remote desktop services, which guarantees that an IT infrastructure is encrypted

  • Third-Party Vendor Audits: Audits of third-party vendors are often mandated to determine the level of access they may have to important systems, data, and related assets

  • Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) Antivirus Software: EDR antivirus software is a frequent cyber insurance requirement and should be installed on all of an organization's devices

Benefits of 95% Manual Penetration Testing vs. Standard Vulnerability Scans

Alongside employing a team of OSCP-minimum certified ethical hackers, the Packetlabs difference boils down to our 95% manual penetration testing.

Instead of outsourcing our work or relying on automated VA scans, we guarantee zero false positives via our in-depth approach and passion for innovation: our security testing methodology is derived from the SANS Pentest Methodology, the MITRE ATT&CK framework for enterprises, and NIST SP800-115 to ensure compliance with the majority of common regulatory requirements. 

Penetration testing is a crucial component of any mature organization’s cybersecurity strategy, and it’s getting more traction and popularity as companies are more aware of direct and third-party cyber risks, requiring pentesting as part of vendor cybersecurity assessments before signing contracts with suppliers; it's partly why the conversation around the average cost of a pentest in Canada in 2023 is something our team fields so frequently. Our comprehensive methodology has been broken up based on which areas can be tested with automation and those which require extensive manual testing.

Common Types of Penetration Testing

As listed in the MITRE cybersecurity framework, there are numerous variations of pentesting, all of which can be tailored to an organization's timeline, expected outcomes, and cyber insurance requirements.

Here at Packetlabs, we execute penetration tests via the following:

  • DevSecOps: DevSecOps is integrated early in an organization's development cycle and acts as an extension of its development team to flag vulnerabilities within pre-existing detected management systems

  • Red Teaming: Red Teaming is a full-scope simulated attack designed to get a holistic review of the level of risk and vulnerabilities across people, processes, and tech in an organization

  • Purple Teaming: Purple Teaming is our collaborative testing exercise where the Packetlabs red team works with a company's internal security operations team (or blue team) to bridge the gap between offensive techniques and response efforts

  • Cyber Maturity Assessments: A Cyber Maturity Assessment supports the tactical direction of an organization's cybersecurity strategy. As the first step in strengthening its security posture, this assessment generates the roadmap to strengthen its overarching security program

  • OT Assessments: OT Cybersecurity Assessments simulate the likelihood of an attacker reaching the control centre from an external and internal perspective with production-safe testing

  • Ransomware Penetration Testing: A Ransomware Penetration Test evaluates the preparedness and risk of a ransomware attack and identifies gaps in people, processes, and technology, to determine the likelihood and readiness for a ransomware attack

  • Cloud Penetration Testing: Multiple perspectives help with strengthening security posture. These include Cloud Penetration Testing, which simulates an attacker in the environment, and a Cloud Penetration Review, which provides insights into cloud-specific vulnerabilities originating from an insecure configuration. Each of these services can be conducted separately or, for maximum effectiveness, combined as an enhanced cloud security bundle

  • Objective-based Penetration Testing: Following a preliminary penetration test, objective-based testing conducts a more advanced simulated cybersecurity attack. The test is conducted by persistent ethical hackers who deploy multiphase attacks to gain access to your organization's data so that a company can discover gaps and vulnerabilities unique to their organization (alongside testing their ability to detect and respond to threat actors)

  • Application Security Testing: More targeted in scope than a regular pentest, Application Security Testing uncovers vulnerabilities residing in web and mobile apps by actively exploring applications from an attacker’s perspective

  • Infrastructure Penetration Testing: Infrastructure Penetration Testing uncovers vulnerabilities in IT and network systems to provide a tailored approach for each environment

These are all in addition to the Packetlabs Portal, which enables teams to quickly view Packetlabs' findings, prioritize efforts, request retests after remediation, and monitor progress.

Each type of penetration test or assessment can be tailored to a company's specific cybersecurity wants, needs, goals, and pre-existing vulnerabilities. Each also has a different average pentest cost.

The Average Cost of a Penetration Test in the United States in 2024

Generally speaking, the average cost of a penetration test in the United States in 2024 ranges from $5,000 to over $150,000; numerous components, such as the scope of the given project, the size of the company and IT, and pentester experience all contribute to the final expense.

Below are the key aspects that influence pricing in order to help your team know what to expect when requesting pentesting quotes from firms.

Factor #1: The Team's Experience and Reputation

The reputation of the penetration testing company (and the skills, qualifications, and collective years of experience of the team conducting the penetration test) are one of the top determining factors for cost.

Senior penetration testers with robust industry certifications, such as CRESTOffSec‘s Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP), OSCE, OSWE, and SANs, result in higher fees; however, they also result in more in-depth findings, enhanced cross-team communication, and longer-term cyber hygiene benefits.

At Packetlabs, we take cybersecurity beyond the checkbox. As a SOC 2 Type II accredited cybersecurity firm specializing in penetration testing services, we strengthen your security posture by ensuring that our pentesters meet a wide scope of minimum qualification requirements.

Alongside recently celebrating our twelfth year in business in 2023, our team's experience and 95% manual penetration testing yielded a partnership with the SickKids Foundation, which was another one of last year's highlights: the SickKids Foundation is a fundraising organization based in Toronto that supports the Hospital with sick children. With over 1.5 million active donors, the foundation collects and manages sensitive information, which could result in reputational damage and loss of donors if breached.

Factor #2: Complexity and Timeline

When it comes to determining the average cost of a penetration test, the scope and complexity of any given project must be considered.

For example, projects with larger scope or higher complexity generally require more time and resources to assess, resulting in increased costs. This could include:

  • The presence of custom codes and legacy systems

  • Unique integrations within a company's networks

  • More than one type of penetration testing being performed in a bundle

  • Ongoing consultation with an organization's IT team

  • In-depth remediation efforts

Factor #3: Industry-Specific Compliance and Insurance Requirements

Some industries, like healthcare and finance, have specific regulatory requirements or standards that must be met during a penetration test.

Adhering to these requirements can complicate the testing process and subsequently result in higher costs... but is also necessary: as just one example, with healthcare data breaches having had the highest security breach costs for over twelve consecutive years in 2023, focusing on cybersecurity-related compliance is a must to protect both staff and patient confidentiality.

Compliance with regulations and frameworks such as HIPAAPCI DSSTIBER EU, CBEST, SOC 2, or ISO 27001 may require additional steps or specialized knowledge, increasing the cost of penetration testing. However, long term, organizations in the United States will save millions of dollars by proactively investing against reputational and financial losses.

Factor #4: A Variety of Consulting, Retesting, Rotation, and Remediation Support Options

Some penetration testing firms offer additional support services, such as remediation testing or the periodic rotation of pentesting teams, in order to better help clients in implementing recommended security posture improvements.

These services can be essential for organizations looking to enhance their security posture, but can also contribute to higher upfront costs. One way we offer this at Packetlabs is via our MSP Partner Program: through a Partnership, Managed IT Services Providers can leverage our specialized cybersecurity skills and knowledge to provide even more comprehensive solutions to clients.

Conclusion

Knowing the factors that determine the average cost of a pentest in the United States in 2024 is critical for organizations looking to invest in their cybersecurity.

The cost of a penetration test can range anywhere from $5K-$150K depending on several factors.

The most significant factors that can affect the cost of a pentest include the following:

  • Scope: The more comprehensive the pentest (and the longer a project is scheduled for), the higher the average cost

  • Type of testing: As just one example, a black box test is more expensive than a white box test because it is more time-consuming

  • Methodology: Penetration testing should be conducted using globally accepted and industry-standard frameworks

  • Automated vs manual: Manual penetration testing is more costly but more effective in identifying vulnerabilities. At Packetlabs, automated testing accounts for only 5% of the testing. The other 95% consists of manually simulated real-life attacks 

  • Complexity of target environment: The more complex the environment, the more time and effort it will take to identify and assess potential vulnerabilities

  • Tester qualifications: Experienced and certified ethical hackers will provide organizations with a more thorough pentest, which, in turn, will save a company time and money

By considering the needs of their systems, pre-existing vulnerabilities, and mandated compliance, organizations can select the most suitable type of pentesting for them. Investing in a thorough manual penetration test can be the difference between being saved from what Packetlabs clients have aptly nicknamed "company-killing asteroids" and suffering reputational or financial losses.

If you're reading this, you are already in the market for a pentest. Contact our team today for your free, zero-obligation quote or download our Buyer's Guide below to take the next step towards a strengthened security posture.

Download our Free Buyer's Guide

Whether you are looking to complete Penetration Testing to manage risk, protect your data, comply with regulatory compliance standards or as a requirement for cyber insurance, selecting the right company is crucial.

Download our buyer’s guide to learn everything you need to know to successfully plan, scope and execute your penetration testing projects.