How to Determine Penetration Testing Costs in 2024

Penetration testing is a main means of combating advanced automated hacking systems today. As the level of attacks increases, the strictness of regulatory rules regarding data protection and user rights also increases. Staying compliant and protected isn’t the easiest task.

This applies to all areas and industries. While pentesting used to be more relevant for institutions dealing with finances and sensitive customer data, such as banks and government agencies, penetration testing is now necessary for companies of all sizes.

This change has forced many organizations to hire security professionals. Today, we will discuss how to accurately estimate the costs associated with penetration testing.

Where To Start?

There are many pentesting providers in the cybersecurity market. All of them certainly offer extensive services and incredible results. However, how can you assess their competence and quality? You will be surprised, but it directly depends on penetration testing pricing.

You can choose the best pen testing team and determine the budget for this process simultaneously. The main thing is to ask the right questions from the very beginning. You should pay attention to three main points – the cost of the penetration test itself, the experience and expertise of specialists, and professional certifications. So, let’s look at all this in more detail.

The General Pen Testing Cost Structure

Most security testing companies quote the cost of a standard penetration test. However, the cost may be different for each customer due to the different sizes and complexity of IT systems.

The cost will depend largely on the specifics of your system and the depth of the required testing. In addition, your industry may have specific risks and threats that will typically affect the scope and duration of the testing process at the standard cost.

Typically, penetration tests are paid off on a “day rate” basis. Companies generally pay from $1,000 to $3,000 per day. These rates may vary based on vendor reputation, certifications, and special tester experience requirements.

You can also get generous discounts for larger commitments, usually more than fifteen days. However, not all vendors practice this.

Daily rates are often multi-tiered depending on the consultant’s experience performing the test. More complex requirements require the expertise of senior security consultants, which naturally comes at a higher cost.

Type of the test

Specific types of penetration tests, such as network or application tests, do not come with different price tags. As mentioned earlier, pen testing vendors prefer to charge based on day rates, not the type of test. Therefore, the cost boils down mostly to the scope and the number of days required to complete the assessment.

However, there are many different testing companies and terms of cooperation. Sometimes, the rate can be changed due to certain circumstances and the unique specifics of the project. You should clarify this before signing the contract to avoid unexpected costs.

Scope of testing

The scope of a penetration test depends on several key factors, including the number of pages and features in the web application, the ease of access to the system, the history of previous breaches of the security perimeter, and the level of reliability required. To define a more specific scope, testers often need to analyze your product or gather detailed information about your environment.

The scope is also determined by the number of days required for the evaluation and the consultant’s experience, both in general and specific to your industry and product type. These factors, in turn, affect the price.

For example, testing a small, simple web application by a junior tester might take three days at $1,000 per day. Conversely, a large, complex application test by a senior tester can take 15 days for $1,500 per day.

Costs may also vary between providers due to differences in scoping practices. One organization may value work as three days of work, while another may value five days based on their perspective. These estimates are best guesses and the exact duration can only be known once the work has started.

Here, we can start to determine how professional your chosen vendors are. As a rule, the fewer questions they ask at the product analysis stage, the less accurate the scope will be and the less effective the testing will be.

Some vendors offer penetration tests with a “fixed fee,” but you have to be careful here. Especially if it is a fixed fee without analyzing the project and without fully understanding your requirements.

The price should reflect the quality of the penetration test, but in an industry where quality is difficult to judge, scammers can exist. Before choosing the vendor, it is important to do your due diligence and ask the right questions.

Certifications: Indicators of Quality

Certification is important in all areas, but in security it is a particularly critical aspect. Most often, you must pay attention to international certificates such as Offensive Security OSCP and OSCE, Penetration Testing Professional (PNPT), and SANS (542/560/588). These documents are indicators of the tester’s skills and their commitment to his tasks. Because they cover a wide range of issues such as network infrastructure, cloud systems, web application testing, etc., you can be sure of the vendor’s extensive expertise.

CREST (Council of Registered Ethical Security Testers) certification is highly valued in the UK. Such a document confirms that the tester follows the development of his field, adheres to best practices, and uses appropriate methodologies. In both this and the previous case, it is essential to make sure that the expert conducting your test has the appropriate certificates and not just the company.

Security certifications are not just documents, they are confirmation that specialists are constantly improving their skills and meet high standards of professionalism. This is probably one of the few ways to really assess the status and level of a security expert. Therefore, it is important to consider both the level of certification and its relevance to the type of penetration testing you need, as well as the relevance of the specialization to your industry.

The Importance of Expertise and Experience

Although vital, certifications have a rather limited and inflexible focus and cannot cover all possible scenarios. Technologies are diverse and constantly changing. Therefore, the more experience a tester has, the better he can identify a wide range of security threats.

However, sometimes, it is worth looking for highly specialized security experts who could know the smallest nuances of specific technologies and systems. So, make sure your provider has the right experience with the technology you’re using.

It turns out that you need to look for a broad and narrow spectrum specialist at the same time. How to solve this dilemma? Again, everything is determined at the stage of product analysis. Experienced experts will be able to find you a specialist with a perfect match.

Practical experience

In addition to technical knowledge, practical experience plays a crucial role in effective security testing. Testers who have worked on various projects are often able to recognize subtle vulnerabilities and unconventional attack vectors. Less experienced testers may simply not notice these nuances.

Additionally, hands-on experience allows testers to apply lessons learned from past engagements to current projects. This way, they are able to detect and mitigate potential security issues early.

And finally, professional testing is about the ability to adapt to new threats. Cybersecurity is an ever-changing field, with new vulnerabilities and attack methods emerging regularly. Testers with solid experience are more likely to stay on top of the latest trends and updates. Only in this way will they be able to provide comprehensive protection.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, penetration testing is a good investment in protecting your business, but you should find services that are worth the investment. An accurate estimate of penetration testing costs must take into account various, sometimes not obvious, factors, including the type of testing, the scope, and the experience of the testers involved.

Different penetration testing providers offer different levels of service quality and pricing structures. So you can choose the optimal match based on their certifications, experience, and specific needs of your technology.

Ultimately, while initial costs may vary, the investment in a well-executed penetration test pays off by detecting vulnerabilities before they can be exploited. Considering the overall cost structure, the amount of testing, and the importance of experience and certification, you will be able to make an informed decision and find a reliable security partner.