What is Penetration Testing? Debunking the Myths Surrounding It


Penetration testing, often referred to as pen testing or ethical hacking, is a proactive and authorised simulation of a cyber-attack on a computer system, network, cloud infrastructure, mobile application, or web application. The primary objective is to identify security weaknesses that could be exploited by attackers. Through this process, organisations gain a clearer understanding of their attack surface—the potential entry points a malicious actor might attempt to exploit.

Despite its crucial role in enhancing cyber security, several myths and misconceptions about penetration testing persist. Let’s debunk some of these common myths and shed light on the true nature and benefits of pen testing.

Myth 1: Penetration Testing is Only for Large Corporations

One prevalent myth is that penetration testing is only necessary for large corporations or organisations with valuable data. The reality is that businesses of all sizes can benefit from penetration testing. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are just as vulnerable to cyber threats as larger corporations. Cyber criminals often target SMEs because they may have weaker security measures in place. Penetration testing is essential for organisations of all sizes to ensure the security of their systems and sensitive information.


Myth 2: Penetration Testing is a One-Time Activity

Another common misconception is that penetration testing is a one-time activity. In truth, cyber security threats are constantly evolving, and new vulnerabilities are discovered regularly. Conducting penetration testing on a regular and ongoing basis is crucial to keep up with these changes and ensure that systems remain secure over time. A one-off test may provide a snapshot of security at a given moment, but regular testing is necessary to maintain a robust security posture.


Myth 3: Automated Scanning Tools are Sufficient

Some believe that automated scanning tools are sufficient for identifying security vulnerabilities, rendering manual testing unnecessary. While automated tools are valuable for their speed and ability to cover broad areas quickly, they often lack the depth and creativity needed to uncover complex vulnerabilities. Automated tools can also generate false positives, reporting vulnerabilities that do not actually exist. Manual penetration testing, conducted by skilled cyber security professionals, involves in-depth analysis and can identify subtle security weaknesses that automated tools might miss. Manual testing provides the confidence that reported vulnerabilities are indeed present and need to be addressed.


Myth 4: Penetration Testing Guarantees 100% Security

A significant misconception is that penetration testing guarantees 100% security. While it is an essential component of a comprehensive cyber security strategy, it is not a silver bullet that can completely eliminate all security risks. Penetration testing is one piece of the puzzle that, when combined with other security measures—such as efficient patch management, 24 x 7 monitoring, and employee training on phishing, and password security—can significantly improve an organisation’s security posture. It is important to remember that most breaches occur due to the exploitation of human elements, and therefore a holistic approach to security is necessary.


Penetration testing plays a critical role in helping organisations identify and address security vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by malicious actors. By debunking common myths and understanding the importance of regular, manual testing, businesses can better protect their systems and data in an increasingly complex and dangerous threat landscape. Investing in penetration testing, alongside other cyber security measures, empowers organisations to proactively defend against potential attacks and maintain a strong security posture.

As a CREST-certified penetration testing provider, Norm offers penetration testing services that benefit a wide variety of organisations regardless of size or industry. Visit our penetration testing page for more information.


Written by Simon Cundy

Simon Cundy serves as the Red Team Leader at norm., spearheading efforts to fortify cyber security resilience. His extensive expertise is highlighted by a impressive collection of accreditations, notably as a distinguished member of the CyberScheme Team. Simon’s credentials further showcase certifications as a Certified Red Team Operator and a Certified Azure Red Team Professional. As a versatile and multi-disciplinary tester, he specialises in Web Application, infrastructure, mobile application, and Red Teaming.