Is the Price Always Right? A Comprehensive Guide to Penetration Testing Costs

Learn more about the factors that affect the cost of a penetration test and how to measure the value of the cost of your penetration test.

Cate Callegari
min read

Factors affecting the cost of penetration testing

The cost of penetration testing can vary depending on various factors. A good penetration test pricing framework should be highly customized to your application(s) scope. Here are some of the key scoping factors that can affect the cost of a penetration test:

Type of test

The length of a web application test can be heavily influenced by whether it is unauthenticated (black box) or authenticated (white box or gray box). For dynamic scanning, black box can take 5-50 times as long as white box scanning. This is not always the case for penetration testing. The length of the test is entirely dependent on the state of the code revealed and given to the penetration testers. In some instances, a black box test will take longer because penetration testers don't know anything about the system, and they may need to take extra measures to reveal what they are searching for, such as enumeration or brute force attacks. In some cases, white box testing may take longer if the code is poorly written or there is a large volume of code to manually sort and pick through. If there is a need to reverse engineer this code, there are added levels of complexity added to the test.

There are multiple variations of penetration tests that a penetration testing vendor may conduct, such as cloud, infrastructure, networks, web, mobile, API, IoT, desktop, firmware and agents. For example, many web applications also have a mobile application counterpart, which is most often iOS or Android. Although web applications may have similar functionality to their mobile counterparts, their testing environments and risks are considered as separate entities for penetration testing.

Manual vs Automated

Penetration testing can be conducted either as a more manual or a more automated approach. Manual penetration testing is performed by a qualified ethical hacker who gets into the application themselves and leverages their skill and creativity to find security gaps. As a result, manual penetration testing takes longer, as they attempt to mimic and create real-life examples and scenarios that a real hacker would. Manual penetration testing typically dives deeper into vulnerability exploitation pathways and  will identify issues that automated tools can miss. Unlike automated penetration testing, manual testing can contextualize vulnerabilities against unique business logic

Some penetration testing companies rely heavily on automated tools, so it is always worth checking the extent to which the testing is undertaken manually by specialists.

Reporting style

The penetration testing report may identify the need to undertake a retest to determine that remediation steps have been effective. Detailed reports with reproducibility steps and remediation recommendations within the report provides more value to companies versus a report that only contains the vulnerabilities found. Reports that include steps like this to make remediation easier for the client, justifies the high cost as the quality of the report is much greater.

Size and complexity of the organization's network and infrastructure

Larger organizations with complex networks and infrastructures require more extensive testing. Depending on your business context and priorities for penetration testing, a large application with more roles, endpoints, assets, and sensitive data requires longer testing periods to ensure accurate and substantial coverage. Small to medium businesses (SMB’s) with smaller applications may not need the same amount of testing as a large or enterprise level application.

It is important to note that the amount of sensitive information that is stored or connected to your application can have a significant impact on coverage and in depth testing. An application without any sensitive data storage might not need the same coverage and depth as an application that stores sensitive client information like personal identifiable information (PII). Industries such as financial services, security, and healthcare tend to have more sensitive data at risk. Healthcare remains the top target of ransomware attacks. Understanding and revealing the full scope and capabilities of your application is crucial, paired with  getting a high quality penetration testing provider is important to maintain security at all times.

Experience and reputation of the penetration testing company

Established and reputable penetration testing companies may provide a higher level of expertise and better results. Penetration testing companies that have worked with clients in industries that typically have more sensitive data in their applications is a good sign. The penetration testing vendor may have experience in various industries, including other security companies. No one knows security better than security people, and when security organizations trust penetration testing vendors this speaks to their industry reputation.

Additionally, you can look at the industry standards in which your penetration testing vendor tests against. Software Secured tests against 5 industry frameworks (ASVS, OWASP Top 10, NIST, WSTG & SANSTop25) for deeper insights and higher quality. Testing against multiple frameworks allows for a more in-depth coverage of your application, and proves the experience of the penetration testing vendor and their capabilities of using multiple frameworks.

How to measure the value of the cost of your penetration test

Defining security goals

The first step in measuring the value of the cost of your penetration test is to define your goals and objectives. What do you hope to achieve with the penetration test? Do you want to assess your organization's ability to detect and respond to cyber attacks? Is your penetration test to complete compliance requirements? Do you want to improve your overall security posture? Answering these questions will help you determine the goals of the penetration test and the metrics you will use to measure its effectiveness.

Tracking metrics and industry benchmarks

There are 4 key metrics to communicate the value of penetration testing and the progress of your security posture.

1. Impacts of severe risks

By tracking measures of risk, organizations can calculate the breach risk in monetary terms.

Breach risk ($) is equal to breach likelihood (%) multiplied by breach impact ($).

2. Vulnerability density trends

By tracking the density of vulnerabilities found per penetration test, you are able to determine trends, and if your vulnerability count is increasing or decreasing as you are doing more testing.

The vulnerability density is given by:

VD +  V / S

where S is the size of the software and V is the number of vulnerabilities in the system. Following the common practice in software engineering consider 1000 source lines as the unit code size.

3. Open-to-remediated ratio and triage efficiency

The open-to-remediated ratio of vulnerabilities is a # of days from when the vulnerability is first discovered, to when the vulnerability is remediated. Companies need to carefully track the open-to-remediated ratio of vulnerabilities to provide evidence of the effectiveness of their penetration testing program overtime.

4. Remediation effort costs

Remediation effort costs are the costs associated with addressing vulnerabilities that are identified during a penetration testing engagement.

Personnel costs ($) multiplied by the hours (hrs) spent

Tracking these cost metrics allows you to determine if you're gaining efficiency in remediation. Effective quarterly penetration testing allows for vulnerabilities to be caught earlier in the development stage when aligned properly with the agile framework.

Additionally, you can use industry benchmarks to measure the effectiveness of your penetration test. By comparing the results of your penetration test to these industry benchmarks, you can determine how well your organization is performing relative to its peers and identify areas for improvement. On average, Software Secured identifies 26 vulnerabilities per test, 4X more than leading competitors.

ROI of penetration testing

By using a combination of the breach risk and ROI equations, you are able to estimate the potential breach damage of a particular vulnerability and ROI of a security investment (such as penetration testing) to help reduce the breach risk.

ROI is equal to the potential breach risk ($) divided by the cost to fix the breach OR breach risk after patching. To get ROI in percentage multiple ROI x 100.

There are various ways to prove the ROI of penetration test, check out “Penetration Testing ROI: 5 Metrics to Communicate Real Value” to learn more!

Penetration testing companies

There are many companies that offer penetration testing services. Here are a few reputable companies that you may want to consider:

Due to the fact that penetration testing is highly customizable to your organization — pricing information varies differently depending on application, data assets, scoping etc.

Benefits of investing in penetration testing

Investing in penetration testing can provide a number of important benefits for organizations of all sizes. Some of the key benefits include:

Improved security integration for your development team

Penetration testing can help identify vulnerabilities in your organization's network and systems that could be exploited by attackers. By identifying these weaknesses and addressing them before they can be exploited, you can improve the overall security of your organization. Only 25% of organizations with low-security integration can remediate a vulnerability within 1 day, compared to 45% of organizations with high levels of security integration. Investing in penetration testing improves your overall security posture for developers and allows you to remediate vulnerabilities faster. Overtime, developers will begin to learn how to avoid vulnerabilities found in the early stage of development, making the team overall more productive and more cost efficient. Conducting quarterly penetration testing is essential so teams can ensure that their code is secure, reliable, and less prone to errors, ultimately leading to a more productive development process.

Regulatory compliance

Many regulatory frameworks, such as PCI-DSS and HIPAA, require organizations to conduct regular penetration testing to ensure compliance. Investing in penetration testing can help your organization meet these compliance requirements and avoid potential fines or penalties. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) non-compliance fines hit nearly $100 million in the first half of 2022 alone, and by introducing quarterly penetration testing you reduce your chances of violating compliance regulations.

Cost savings

While the cost of penetration testing may seem high, it can actually save your organization money in the long run. Practicing security proactively throughout the year provides a large ROI for your organization. The cost to fix a vulnerability in the production phase is 100 times more costly than fixing a vulnerability in the design phase. Meaning the average cost of $500.00 to repair a vulnerability in the design stage is multiplied by 100. On average, Software Secured finds 26 vulnerabilities per test. The average costs saved when finding vulnerabilities in testing staging versus maintenance is over 1 million dollars per test. If an organization does quarterly tests, they can save over 4.4 million dollars annually.

Improved reputation and customer satisfaction

A data breach or cyber attack can have a significant impact on your organization's reputation. By investing in penetration testing, you can demonstrate your commitment to security and help build trust with customers, partners, and stakeholders. 50% of Americans have decided not to use a product or service due to personal privacy concerns. By demonstrating a commitment to security through regular penetration testing, you can build trust with your customers and differentiate yourself from competitors who may not take security as seriously.


In conclusion, the cost of penetration testing can vary greatly depending on multiple factors. Some of the most crucial factors that can affect the cost of penetration testing include the type of test, size and complexity of the organization's network and infrastructure, experience and reputation of the penetration testing company, and the overall level of sensitivity of the data stored or connected to the application. Penetration testing should always be customized to your organization and application, regardless of price. We have talked about the cost of a penetration test, but how do you know the difference between a high and low quality penetration test? Check out our blog to learn the differences in quality seen in penetration tests to help you determine which vendor is right for you and your organization. Book a meeting with our team to get your customized penetration test plan and improve your security posture without sacrificing quality.

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Cate Callegari

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