Industry Insights

What Type of Pen Test Makes Sense for Your Small Business?


Statistics consistently show that the cybersecurity threats keep mounting — and evolving each year for all businesses, but especially for small- to medium-size businesses (SMBs). According to a CyberSecurity Magazine article, 43% of cyberattacks target small businesses, but only 14% of SMBs are prepared to defend themselves.1

How can SMBs protect themselves from cyberattacks? One of the most beneficial approaches is to behave proactively, thwarting incidents before they happen by performing penetration ("pen") testing.

Essentially, a penetration test is an authorized simulation of a cyberattack2  against your computer systems, conducted to discover and patch potential points of exploitation.

As demonstrated by a raft of research, with less in-house security expertise on hand and fewer financial resources, SMBs are prone to cyberattacks. In fact, one in five small companies don't use end-point security, and 52% don't have any IT security experts in-house.1

Why Do You Need a Pen Test?

Regardless of a company's size, it's not a matter of if but when a company will experience a cyberattack. Penetration testing can be customized and scaled to help an SMB target its resources to the computer systems at greatest risk from hackers, whether external or internal.

Pen tests are classified according to how much knowledge and system access the tester has at the start of the test. Each type of penetration testing – black box, white box, and grey box – has advantages and disadvantages.

Black Box Testing

In a black box test, the tester assumes the role of an external hacker without access to any source code, architectural diagrams, or other insider knowledge other than whatever is publicly available.

Also referred to as Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST), a black box test looks at security issues surrounding external assets such as the network, firewalls, routers, VPNs, servers, and applications.

It can shine a spotlight on flaws like server misconfigurations, input/output validation errors, information disclosure through error messages, and incorrect product builds with missing modules.


  • Black-box pen testing is the most realistic, showing how an attacker without any insider knowledge could intrude on a system in the real world.
  • Black-box tests tend to be the least expensive.


  • Vulnerabilities in internal services remain undiscovered and unpatched because they are outside the scope of black-box testing.
  • Although a black box test can be quick, it can also take up to several months, depending in part on the skill level of the tester.

White Box Testing

Typically conducted by software engineers who know a lot about coding, white box testing (aka ethical hacking) is capable of assessing vulnerabilities of both internal and external systems in web-based applications during development and before production.  

It’s especially suited to examining critical internal systems for vulnerabilities within the infrastructure, source code, design, typography, security settings, and so forth. It’s also recommended for use in testing software algorithms such as those used in artificial intelligence (AI) apps.

In white-box testing, the tester is given complete access to the source code and architecture documentation, binaries, containers, and even the servers themselves. Unlike black box testers, white box testers carry out static code analysis, meaning they must be able to use tools like source code analyzers and debuggers.

Yet DAST technologies can also come into play because static analysis doesn’t always detect vulnerabilities caused by system misconfigurations.


  • Because of its comprehensive nature, white box testing works well for detecting and repairing software bugs.
  • When conducted in the early stages of software development, white box testing enables an app to be fully secured before its release to end-users


  • A white box test can be quite time-consuming and costly due to the vast amounts of data presented to the engineer.
  • With software engineers likely to take a different direction than actual hackers due to their greater knowledge of the system, these white box testers can overlook some real-world security issues.

Grey Box Testing

Grey box testing is more focused than a black-box test and less costly than a comprehensive white box test.

A black box tester acts in the role of an outside hacker. A white box tester is a software engineer. A grey box tester, in contrast, emulates the experience of an average end-user on the company network.

Grey box testers typically have internal accounts on the system, sometimes with elevated privileges for systems such as database servers. They also have some knowledge of a network’s internals, such as design and architecture documentation.

Grey box testers don’t need to be knowledgeable about software coding. Yet software developers often have input into grey box tests, too, and they frequently fix issues uncovered by grey box testers.

Grey box testing is often used to verify user authentications and determine whether a specific user can access another user's data. This test can also be used to mimic an insider attack, determining what access level a privileged user needs to obtain before being able to harm the system.


  • Unlike black box testing, which is done by trial and error, grey box testing is conducted with definite goals in mind.
  • The roles of testers and developers are separate and well defined.


  • In contrast to white-box testing, grey box testing isn’t geared toward “baking security into software” from the beginning.
  • Testers can miss certain vulnerabilities because they have no access to the source code.

Why Partner With Cybrella for Your Small Business Cybersecurity Needs?

Cybrella cybersecurity experts have a wealth of experience in cybersecurity consulting. In penetration testing alone, we've worked with enterprises and SMBs across vertical industries ranging from insurance to technology and medicine, to name a few. We use our experience as a value add in helping companies to identify risks and threats to their businesses.

Recognizing that penetration testing needs to be part of a complete cybersecurity solution, we combine it with two other offerings for our customers: CISO As a Service for risk management and compliance and Application Security As a Service for web app development.

Contact us today at to find out more about how we can help your SMB stay cyber secure — and in business.


  1. Cybersecurity Magazine, 10 Small Business Cyber Security Statistics That You Should Know — And How to Improve Them
  2. Cybrella, Industry Insights,


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