How Breach and Attack Surface Simulation (BAS) Complements Human-led PTaaS

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  • BAS and PTaaS are components of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy, with BAS simulating real-world cyber attacks and pentesting providing manual exploration for critical vulnerabilities, using various tactics, techniques and procedures.
  • BAS and PTaaS have many differences but can be used simultaneously as part of a comprehensive cybersecurity program.
  • Together, BAS and PTaaS provide a more complete security assessment, enhancing an organization’s security posture.

Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS) solutions and penetration testing (pentesting) are both critical components of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy, but they differ in methodology, scope and frequency. Understanding the differences between breach and attack surface stimulation and PTaaS is crucial for implementing a robust cybersecurity strategy.

Penetration Testing as a Service (PTaaS) Explained

Penetration testing is a process conducted by human security specialists who attempt to emulate the tactics and techniques of attackers. The objective of penetration testing is to identify vulnerabilities or weaknesses within a network, process or application. The testing team is given a set scope and uses various methods and techniques to simulate how an attacker may behave in order to reach those goals. Unlike other security solutions, the ultimate goal of a penetration test is to discover vulnerabilities through the use of human intelligence and tactics and bring them to attention for remediation. A secondary goal, but an important one, is to understand vulnerability trends and identify the root cause. For example, if a development team needs a training on secure coding to help mitigate SQLi vulnerabilities.

The Advantages of PTaaS

PTaaS takes penetration testing a step further by offering results on a platform that can be integrated with other security tools. This means that organizations can outsource their penetration testing needs to a specialized provider, such as Synack. PTaaS providers typically have a team of skilled, ethical hackers who perform the testing and provide detailed reports on vulnerabilities and recommended remediation steps through the platform. These security researchers use real-world attack methods to test the hardness of attack surfaces.

Automated Penetration Testing, a subset of PTaaS, performs contextual attacks specific to the organization to reveal actual risks. It offers continuous testing for external, internal, supply chain and DevOps applications with minimal setup and quick deployment. However, automated pentesting lacks human ingenuity.

PTaaS is not yet a monolith in the industry; each PTaaS vendor varies in features. For example, Synack’s PTaaS platform combines the best of human intelligence and automation, allowing organizations the ability to quickly start up a pentest and scale efficiently through the use of the Synack Red Team (SRT).

Understanding Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS)

Breach and Attack Simulation is an approach to cybersecurity that allows organizations to assess their security posture by simulating, not performing, real-world cyber attacks. By mimicking the known tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) employed by actual cybercriminals, BAS helps organizations identify potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses in their systems. BAS solutions simulate various attack vectors, including network and email infiltration attacks, lateral movement and data exfiltration. However, they are limited on their targets and cannot test web applications.

Nevertheless, these security efforts, combined with other security solutions, can help organizations better understand their attack surface and focus on remediation efforts. BAS is a great tool that can elevate your cybersecurity program and ensure the effectiveness of other solutions.

Continuous, Automated Validation with BAS

One of the standout features of BAS is its ability to validate the effectiveness of security controls. This is a departure from traditional penetration testing, which is typically conducted periodically. With BAS, ongoing assessment and monitoring of security measures are possible. This continuous testing approach ensures that security controls remain effective in the face of evolving threats, giving organizations an edge over attackers.

When selecting a BAS vendor, it’s important to prioritize platforms with automation capabilities. However, be mindful of accuracy issues such as false positives and false negatives.

Understanding the Limitations of BAS Platforms in Cybersecurity Testing

BAS platforms are designed to simulate various types of attacks, including email infiltration, ransomware and advanced persistent threats (APTs). These platforms provide organizations with a way to test their security defenses and identify vulnerabilities in their systems.

However, BAS technologies have certain limitations. One limitation is that they do not perform real attacks like ethical hacking does through security researchers and exploit vulnerabilities to verify their authenticity. As previously stated, BAS technologies do not assess web applications, leaving critical areas of a business untested. This can open the door for potential malicious activity.

Another limitation of BAS platforms is their inability to effectively test internet-based attacks and monitor leaked passwords. Approximately 80% of all security breaches originate from leaked passwords from third-party security breaches, which BAS technologies do not monitor or test for.

While BAS platforms offer valuable insights into an organization’s security posture, it is important to recognize their limitations. Organizations should consider supplementing BAS with other security measures to ensure comprehensive protection against all types of threats.

BAS vs PTaaS: Key Differences

The main difference between BAS and PTaaS lies in their objectives and methodologies. Penetration testing aims to answer the question, “Can they get in?” It focuses on identifying vulnerabilities and weaknesses that could potentially be exploited by attackers. On the other hand, BAS tools help organizations answer the question, “Do my security tools work?” BAS evaluates the effectiveness of security controls in protecting against various cyber threats and provides insights into the organization’s ability to detect and respond to attacks.

Another difference is the level of automation involved. BAS tools leverage automation to simulate threat actor behaviors and validate security controls. This automation allows for continuous testing and monitoring of security measures. In contrast, PTaaS involves human security specialists who manually conduct the testing and provide personalized insights and recommendations. Security tests can be periodic or continuous, and these security researchers offer various perspectives that can’t be found through automated testing.

A Complimentary Relationship Between BAS and PTaaS

While BAS is a powerful tool for identifying vulnerabilities, assessing security posture and the attack surface, it’s not a standalone solution. It complements other security practices such as PTaaS.

PTaaS provides a snapshot of an organization’s security defenses at a specific moment. It involves ethical hackers or security researchers attempting to breach an organization’s security systems to identify vulnerabilities. It can be continuous or point-in-time, depending on the provider.

BAS automates and continuously tests the security measures in place. It runs simulations 24/7, allowing organizations to uncover vulnerabilities compared to traditional vulnerability assessment tools.

While BAS is a powerful tool in its own right, it’s most effective when used in conjunction with other offensive security testing methods. BAS solutions and PTaaS serve different but complementary roles in cybersecurity. BAS provides automated testing to identify and address some vulnerabilities in real-time, while PTaaS solutions offer deep analysis of critical vulnerabilities discovered by specialized security researchers. Together, they provide a robust approach to maintaining and improving an organization’s security posture.

Augment with the Synack Platform

While automated security solutions like BAS have their advantages, they are most useful and impactful when paired with penetration testing. No automated tool could ever compete with human intelligence and skill. The Synack Platform provides on-demand and continuous security testing with attack surface discovery and vulnerability management capabilities, all in one platform. Organizations can receive real-time data and analytics into their attack surface with detailed reporting on exploitable vulnerabilities that automated solutions can’t detect.

If you’re interested in learning how the Synack Platform can compliment your automated solutions and further strengthen your organization’s security posture, request a demo today.


What is the difference between breach and attack simulation and pentesting?

Breach and attack simulation involves simulating cyber attacks to test an organization’s security defenses, while pentesting is an actual attack conducted by a cybersecurity expert to uncover vulnerabilities. In essence, breach and attack simulation is a simulated scenario, whereas pentesting involves a real-world attempt to breach defenses.

What is the difference between red teaming and attack simulation?

Red Teaming involves using human expertise to simulate complex, real-world attack scenarios, providing strategic insights beyond just vulnerability analysis. On the other hand, attack simulation by BAS focuses on automated, wide-ranging simulations for continuous security assessment.

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