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Penetration Testing Vs Bug Bounty Programs Explained

As the number of businesses operating online increases, data breaches have grown in intensity and frequency – meaning it’s never been more critical for organisations to strengthen their defence systems. Intigriti dives into the key differences between two commonly used security testing methods for businesses: Penetration testing vs bug bounty programs. By the end of this article, you’ll have a clear indication of what model is most suitable for your business needs.  

What is penetration testing?  

Penetration testing is typically performed by an external provider. The purpose of the test is to understand how easily a hacker could penetrate a company’s digital assets and systems. To reduce the risk of malicious hackers carrying out a cyberattack, companies hire ethical hackers instead. They’ll test specific applications, features and systems following a pre-defined methodology.   

At the end of the test, the company will receive a report. Whether or not any vulnerabilities are found, the company is invoiced for the time spent performing the test rather than the number of bugs the ethical hacker discloses. For this reason, a time limit is agreed upon before the tests begin. Since this testing model charges by the day or hour, companies tend to execute pentests once a year.    

Penetration tests are important because they show the strength of a company’s existing cybersecurity strategy. Similarly, they expose potential hacking opportunities for cybercriminals, giving companies the chance to fix them.  

What is a bug bounty program?  

A bug bounty program is a continuous security testing model whereby ethical hackers attempt to find undiscovered ways to penetrate a company’s cybersecurity systems. Bug bounty programs draw from a diverse range of skillsets, meaning companies can cover more scope through a single network. Businesses only pay an ethical hacker if they identify valid security vulnerabilities (otherwise known as bugs.)   

Some companies publish a bug bounty program on their website and manage the process themselves. However, many businesses choose to publish their program on a bug bounty platform instead. 

How does a bug bounty platform work?

When security researchers participate in a program and find a bug, they submit a report via a bug bounty platform (rather than directly to the company.) This allows the report to go through a process of quality control, known as triage. The triage team checks if the report is valid, unique, and in scope and they’ll also act as the middleman between the companies and researchers. 

Thousands of researchers hunt for bugs via a platform because they offer a clear and managed way for them to submit reports and receive a bounty. In other words, it provides the best infrastructure and legal framework for them to be successful. 

Companies also find bug bounty platforms to be one of the most reliable and stable ways to set up programs. As well as having access to a triage team, a customer success manager will work with the business to define a clear scope and advise on aspects like budget management. These additional steps significantly reduce time wastage due to poor quality or irrelevant vulnerability reports and allow internal teams to focus on business-as-usual tasks.

Pentesting vs bug bounty programs 

Bug bounty programs and pentests both aim to identify vulnerabilities that could be exploited by hackers. However, there are some key differences. Pentests focus on one moment in time, whereas bug bounty programs are continuous. Whilst you’ll receive a certificate to say you’re secure at the end of a penetration test, it won’t necessarily mean that’s still the case the next time you make an update. This is where bug bounty programs work well as a follow-up.  

penetration testing vs bug bounty programs
Penetration testing vs bug bounty programs

Another big difference between pentests and bug bounty programs is the pricing model. With a bug bounty platform, the security researcher gets a fee if they discover and report a previously undetected bug. What you pay also depends on how critical the vulnerability is — you pay according to impact. Pentesting, on the other hand, pays for the service delivered by the ethical hacker.  

Unlike pentesting, a bug bounty program doesn’t follow a specific methodology. Businesses that opt into Intigriti’s ethical hacking platform, for example, will pay a subscription fee to list their program in a controlled environment. This allows a community of ethical hackers to assess the security of their digital assets by taking a more creative approach.  

Programs can be open to the entire community or they can be set to private. A private program means security researchers may only contribute to a company’s program if they’re invited.  

Which model is best for your business?  

When comparing penetration tests vs bug bounty programs there are a couple of important business factors to consider. Bug bounties suit those who follow a responsible disclosure policy as the concept provides an incentive for researchers to report vulnerabilities. It also publicly announces to stakeholders that you take security testing seriously. 

Pentests work well for businesses that require a more traditional security test to assess the general strength of their cybersecurity. However, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Many companies apply both methods in unison. In terms of value, it’s a different itch that you’re scratching.  

Ready to streamline your vulnerability disclosure process? Speak to a member of the Intigriti team today to request a demo

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