Automated vs Manual Penetration Testing for Web Apps: Which is Right for You?

Automated vs Manual Penetration
In the digital landscape, the debate of automated vs. manual testing for cybersecurity testing never ends. While the number of applications is growing daily, the budget remains constrained for application security testing.

Be it automated penetration testing or manual penetration testing, each approach has benefits and drawbacks. This scenario certainly creates a significant challenge for organizations striving to enhance security. While automated penetration testing offers efficiency, manual penetration testing gives applications a human touch and adaptability.

After undergoing many scans, we have seen that automated penetration testing alone is insufficient for a thorough check. These tools are generally programmed to identify common flaws by following a set pattern. However, as the industry evolves, modern applications are more than just a common configuration that automated tools fail to comprehend fully.

Not only common vulnerabilities, automated scans often miss zero-day vulnerabilities and complex security flaws. Further, automated scans often rely on vulnerability databases through which they miss unknown threats.

Automated tools are also highly likely to generate false negatives and positives. False positives happen when automated tools identify vulnerabilities incorrectly. As for false negatives, tools fail to identify genuine vulnerabilities, leaving the application with potential risks.

What is Penetration Testing?

Before we discuss automated vs. manual testing in detail, let’s understand penetration testing. Often referred to as “pen testing” or “ethical hacking,” penetration testing is a method used by cybersecurity experts to find and exploit vulnerabilities in an application. This is done to identify weak and strong spots in the application for cyberattack prevention.

The primary goals of penetration testing are as follows:

  • Identifying vulnerabilities that could be exploited.
  • Improving security and offering actionable insights for cyberattack prevention.
  • Ensure security measures are in place as defenses.
  • Regularly meet requirements and standards of cybersecurity testing.

Challenges of Web Application Security Testing

We understand web application security testing is critical to ensuring usability, functionality, and security. However, application security testing often comes with problems. For instance, software developers face obstacles in their testing efforts. The most common challenges that often developers face in web application security testing are as follows:

Diverse Web Technologies

Developers often develop applications using various technologies, including frameworks, programs, and languages. This complexity makes it difficult to comprehensively check all the aspects.

Regular Changes

Applications require regular changes and updates with the evolving industry. This requires adding new features and fixing bugs and security vulnerabilities. This continuous cycle often leads to new vulnerabilities, resulting in regular application security testing.

Third-Party Integrations

Often, web applications integrate with third parties for services like plugins, APIs, VPNs, etc. Hence, such components can detect new vulnerabilities if they are not regularly updated.

Data Protection and Breach

Every application has some sensitivity data, which is crucial. Ensuring proper encryption is necessary to protect the data and avoid breaches.

Three Main Approaches to Application Security Testing

Everyone in this industry understands that automated scans are not sufficient for applications or networks. Relying on automated scanning can sometimes lead to underperformance. It can be a great start, but automated scans are not the only solution available.

To obtain accurate test results, there are three main approaches to security testing. The following approaches are used at different frequencies, and they provide proper answers to security testing.

Automated Scans

There are automated scans. Automated penetration testing is a method of scanning applications, systems, or networks without human intervention. Finding vulnerabilities through this can be quick, but it can produce false positives and false negatives. Moreover, automated scans can be integrated into various stages of the software lifecycle and maintain robust security.

Automated Scans + Manual Testing

This particular approach combines two approaches. It combines automated scanning with human analysis to interpret the vulnerabilities. Once an automated scan identifies potential threats, an expert will review and verify them.

Application Penetration Tests

This approach is one of the most thorough and effective methods. Also known as pen testing, it combines automated scans, manual validation, and extensive manual testing. It is a time-consuming process but uncovers complex and zero-day vulnerabilities.

Automated Scans: Pros and Cons


  • Automated penetration testing can identify vulnerabilities faster than manual penetration testing.
  • With automated penetration testing, many applications can be tested to secure web applications.
  • Automated penetration testing offers consistency in the approach and reduces the risk of human error.
  • It is one of the most cost-effective solutions for web application security testing.


  • Automated penetration testing follows a predefined set of steps as it has been programmed to test. Hence, the scope is limited.
  • Automated penetration testing can usually generate a high number of false positives and false negatives. Flagging non-existing complexities wastes the time and resources of the security teams.
  • Similar to AI, the generic nature of these automated penetration tests lacks attention to detail.
  • Automated penetration testing primarily focuses on complexities and may overlook human-centric threats like phishing and hacking.

Risks of Relying Solely on Automated Scans?

Relying solely on automated scans carries several risks. Automated testing is an important aspect of the security industry, but it should not be the only option. Let’s understand why the right balance between manual and automated scans is necessary.

Automated scans offer all the right advantages, like being less time-consuming and cost-effective. However, relying solely on automated scans leads to a false sense of security and leaves critical vulnerabilities unaddressed. This happens because automated scans follow a predefined pattern and instructions to identify vulnerabilities. With no human insight, potential issues are overlooked.

Further, automated tools cannot replicate manual techniques like human psychology, social engineering, and others. The validations performed by automated scanners cannot identify technical vulnerabilities such as authentication bypasses, access control weaknesses, and more. Such vulnerabilities have potential risks and can lead to serious consequences and potential cyberattacks.

For instance, a company that uses only automated scans often fails to identify zero-day vulnerabilities. This can exploit the application and lead to a data breach, where customers’ sensitive information can be stolen before any further action can be taken if there is an e-commerce platform with a complex interaction. Automated scans often fail to detect complex flaws, which can lead to exploiting transaction records and financial losses.

Risk-Based Approach to Prioritization

Since we know why relying on automated scans is not enough, the question arises: Which option would be right for you? To determine which is the best approach, it is always better to prioritize based on risk.

The risk-based approach to prioritization simply helps you assess which testing method is required for which application. This approach depends on various factors, such as data sensitivity, third-party integrations, new amendments, assessment performance, size, and more.

After assessing these factors, you can opt for an automated scan or a manual test for your application. This way, you can test your application effectively and efficiently. A risk-based approach is effective, but regular manual penetration tests are as important as automated scans.

What is Manual Penetration Testing & its Necessity?

In contrast to automated penetration testing, manual penetration testing is a process through which human beings or teams develop vulnerabilities in an application. Being one of the crucial aspects, humans with expertise in hacking systems discover any vulnerabilities.

Necessity of Manual Penetration Testing

In the world of cyber security, manual penetration testing is a significant step to reducing potential attacks on applications. Not only does manual testing reduce attacks, but it also identifies possible vulnerabilities through which necessary steps can be taken. Moreover, with manual testing, you can identify complex vulnerabilities, reduce false negatives and positives, and assess the impact accurately. This also enhances the security posture and protects critical assets effectively.

Manual Penetration Tests: Pros and Cons


  • Manual penetration testing can stimulate real hacker behavior.
  • With manual penetration testing, there is no chance of finding false positives.
  • This approach offers a comprehensive report on all vulnerabilities.
  • Think out of the box and can reveal unexpected application vulnerabilities.


  • Testing all systems can be cost-prohibitive and time-consuming
  • Manual penetration testing requires high-level specialists, which leads to higher costs.
  • Results can vary from specialist to specialist.
  • There is a chance of human errors and omissions, leaving many application vulnerabilities intact.

When to Prioritize Manual Penetration Testing

In this industry, major organizations have started relying on automated penetration testing. Properly using these automated penetration tests may expose companies to higher-level cyberattacks.

Now, the question comes when to prioritize manual penetration. Or which application should undergo manual testing or the frequency of manual tests? With the fast-evolving cyber world, testing your applications at least once a year is necessary, according to the experts. This way, you can stay ahead of the latest technology and security measures you might have to take. Besides this, there are other times when manual penetration should be prioritized.

Every application requires major system changes after a certain time. Hence, manual penetration is necessary when you launch new features or networks in your application. With manual penetration testing, you can ensure no vulnerabilities or security flaws before the launch of new features.

Combining Automated and Manual Testing for Optimal Security

One of the major shortcomings of automated penetration testing is the false positives and negatives. However, relying 100% on manual penetration testing is not the best option. Combining automated scans with manual testing will give you an edge in fixing vulnerabilities with almost no risks for your application.

A manual testing method can validate automated scans and lower your application’s risk ratings. Further, it is important to note that manual testing doesn’t improve the depth of the analysis, but it is more reliable for securing critical risks.

Case Studies: When to Use Each Method

Some case studies state that if you place all your bets on automated penetration testing, you may overlook vulnerabilities, such as by a human following a certain logic and pattern. Manual penetration testing is ideal for identifying complex vulnerabilities but has its own shortcomings.

Case Study 1: E-Commerce Platform

Let’s see if there is a platform like Flipkart or Amazon. They have a big holiday shopping season coming up. With web application security testing, e-commerce platforms want to ensure that increased traffic does not become potential attacks. In such cases, automated penetration testing might fail to identify various vulnerabilities. Hence, combining automated and manual penetration testing would be a better way to identify vulnerabilities.
Ecommerce platform

Case Study 2: Fintech Application

A fintech application provider is developing a new management system for patients that will store sensitive data. In such cases of public applications, automated penetration testing would miss significant vulnerabilities like encryption, session expiration, page access, and others. Such vulnerabilities may expose sensitive data and access to administrative features. Hence, in such cases, combining automated and manual penetration testing is better.
Fintech Application

How Peneto Labs Can Help?

Automated penetration testing is certainly the next step in the digital landscape, but it should not be the sole method. Blending automated testing tools with manual penetration testing can ensure a comprehensive study of application security. Companies can leverage human expertise to address the limitations of automation.

Peneto Labs can help you examine your ongoing security levels through various security audits. We recognize the limitations of automated testing in a holistic security approach through which you can assess the potential risks and address them before getting exploited.

So, sign up and consult with our experts to get penetration testing for web apps on a budget for you and your organization!

Ready to secure your web apps with the best penetration testing approach? Whether you’re leaning towards automated testing for speed and efficiency or manual testing for thorough, expert analysis, Peneto Labs has you covered. Our team of certified professionals is here to help you choose the right solution tailored to your needs. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and take the first step towards fortifying your digital defenses.

Contact Penetolabs now and secure your web apps with confidence!