What Should You Budget for a Penetration Test? The True Cost

Budgeting for a penetration test shouldn't feel like rocket science. 

Unfortunately, since penetration testing costs can vary widely based on the extent of the assessment, the pentesting team's experience, and the organization's size, it can sometimes seem that way. 

In this blog, we hope to demystify penetration test pricing and help you appropriately budget for your next assessment. 

Pentesting vs. a Vulnerability Assessment

First, it is essential to understand that a vulnerability assessment is not a penetration test. Penetration tests take longer, are far more thorough and in-depth, and as a result, cost more than a vulnerability assessment. 

A true penetration test will likely cost a minimum of $25,000. Any assessment advertised as less will be more of a vulnerability assessment than a genuine pen test. Read more about the key differences between penetration tests and vulnerability assessments here. 

Pentesting vs. Red Teaming

Additionally, the phrases Red Team engagement and penetration test are often used interchangeably; however, they are not the same. During a Red Team engagement, the assessment team often has more freedom regarding the techniques they use. For example, Red Team engagements are more likely to use social engineering tactics, while penetration testers focus on exploiting specific technical vulnerabilities. 

Red Team engagements, which are usually longer in duration than a standard penetration test, are also more costly. For Red Team engagements, organizations should expect the pricing to start from $40,000. Companies who have never had a security assessment performed on their organization are better off choosing a penetration test over a Red Team engagement. 

Scoping is Key

Every organization's environment is unique to some degree. The penetration testing company must receive a clear picture of the organization's infrastructure, wants, and needs to provide the most accurate pricing. For this reason, properly scoping the engagement is extremely important. 

The questions asked upfront define the engagement's depth and, ultimately, frame what the pentesters may find. During the scoping process, a skilled and experienced pentesting company will: 

  • Define the environment 
  • Define quirks of the company 
  • Identify issues and limit the scope to essential apps
  • Set expectations
  • Define the ultimate goal


Learn more about the scoping stage of a pentesting attack here.

Each Test is Unique  

Even organizations that hire the same penetration company to retest their environment the following year may be surprised to find that the pricing is different. No two engagements are the same, even if performed by the same penetration testing company and performed on the same organization. Many factors play into the pricing, including ever-changing priorities, which is why scoping each engagement is vital.

Upon completing one penetration test for an organization, the penetration testing team could find specific areas where security was extremely lacking. During the next test, the scope will change and ordinarily focus on examining those areas in more depth to ensure any vulnerabilities found previously have been effectively remediated. Once again, this new scope will determine the pentest cost. 

Size and Complexity Matter

The pricing for a penetration test will vary depending upon the size and complexity of the target. This is especially true for web application penetration testing. If the web application is extremely complex, it could take weeks or even months to go through everything and ensure that the test is adequately carried out. The more time that the testing team has to dedicate to the project, the higher the cost will be in the end. 

The price is not one size fits all. A web application penetration test for a small start-up company may only run around $25,000. In comparison, a web application penetration test for a large company with two extensive web applications could be closer to a $140,000 price tag.

Explore the various types of penetration testing here.

The True Price of a Penetration Test

When budgeting for a penetration test, take into consideration your organization's size and the complexity of your systems. Larger companies with more intricate systems will need a higher budget than a start-up with a simple web application. 

Try to put aside $30,000 at the very least. If you are interested in a Red Team engagement, shoot for anywhere between $40,000 and $80,000*. 

Above all, the best way to budget for a penetration test or Red Team engagement is to get on a scoping call with an expert. An experienced engineer can quickly help iron out the details and determine what priorities an organization has for its next assessment. 

Not many pentesters can boast a 100% success rate of breaching systems when using social engineering. Our team at Mitnick Security wears our streak as a badge of honor and will strive to crack even the most protected infrastructures. Explore our Pentesting Services and request a scoping call to determine your estimated cost, today.

*Depending on the size of the organization. For example, if the enterprise has thousands of employees it can last up to two months.

Topics: pentest team

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