How Much Does Penetration Testing Cost?  

In today’s digital landscape, cybersecurity isn’t just a luxury but a necessity. According to IBM’s Cost of Data Breach report, 2023 experienced a 15% rise in the global average cost of data breaches to $4.45M. Combined with reputational losses and penalties for violating privacy and other compliance requirements, such steeping costs of data breaches should motivate you to implement various cybersecurity best practices. To secure your information systems against cyberattacks, you must build security into every hardware/software development stage. Continuous or regular penetration testing to identify vulnerabilities in your information systems, networks, APIs, or web applications is among the bests ways of achieving this. Data breaches have proved it only takes a single overlooked vulnerability to jeopardize a company’s information systems. But how much does penetration testing cost? This article aims to shed light on the factors influencing the pentest cost and provide a general idea of the financial investment involved.  

Understanding Penetration Testing

Before diving into costs, it’s essential to understand what penetration testing entails. Pen testing is a simulated cyber-attack against your computer system to check for exploitable vulnerabilities and evaluate the overall impact of a potential attack on your business. Through pen testing, you can determine the effectiveness of your organization’s cyber security measures and its compliance with regulatory standards like HIPAA, PCI DSS, and GDPR. It’s a proactive approach to uncovering security weaknesses that attackers could exploit. The process involves a series of steps, including planning, reconnaissance, vulnerability assessment, exploitation, and reporting.  

Factors Affecting Penetration Testing Cost

There is no standard penetration testing cost, primarily because one engagement substantially differs from the other. Thus, a penetration test cost depends on factors including:  

Contract Type  

The penetration testing vendor can offer a time and materials (T&M) or fixed cost contract for a limited engagement. Most companies prefer fixed-cost contracts as they provide cost certainty. However, you should keep in mind that the vendor may adjust the penetration testing cost beyond the agreed-upon value because of things like unexpected contingencies and scope creep. Compared to T&M, fixed-cost contracts are usually more expensive. Either way, the contract should specify the penetration testing activities included and outline any situations that would incur additional fees outside the defined scope. You can negotiate long-term agreements covering recurring tests or multi-year engagements to lock in pricing.  


In a penetration test, the scope is its limitations and depth and includes at-risk assets such as applications, accounts, people, networks, databases, and physical security controls, among others. The number of in-scope systems and the size of an organization are the primary factors that determine the cost of a penetration testing engagement. Although other factors can adjust the rate per hour or system, the scale and scope provides the multiplier that determines the final penetration testing cost. There has been a rise in penetration testing tools that can automate some pen testing tasks. However, vulnerabilities identified by these tools must be tested for exploitation by a pen tester. Additionally, some penetration testing tools cannot be used in some scope. Hence, these tools cannot be used as a replacement for penetration testing professionals.  

System Type  

It matters what the pentest engagement seeks to explore. Testing a hybrid environment comprising local data centers, SD-WAN-connected users, wireless networks, and cloud data centers greatly differs from testing a website having multiple s3 buckets, Kubernetes clusters, APIs, connected databases, and embedded applications. All these require different tools and methods of differing complexity. Though the number of systems is the primary driver of the penetration testing cost, the type of systems also may be a determinant.  

Penetration Testing Approach  

Penetration testing is a crucial process in evaluating system security, and the method u can significantly influence the time and cost involved. There are three primary approaches: white box, black box, and grey box testing. In white box testing, the tester begins with substantial knowledge about the organization, including IP addresses, network diagrams, and some configurations. This approach contrasts with black box testing, where the tester has no prior knowledge of the environment and starts from scratch, like an attacker.   

Alternatively, an organization can opt for a grey box approach, where the tester is given limited information about the environment they will be testing. The tester then uses their understanding of the system to identify potential vulnerabilities. This approach combines the advantages of white box and black box testing by offering both a developer’s and an end-user’s perspective. As a result, the penetration testing cost using this approach falls somewhere between that of black box and white box testing.   

While some sources claim that white box testing is the least expensive because penetration testing teams do not have to defeat network security defenses, this may not always be the case. For instance, testing a simple network of 25 desktop computers will be less expensive than a black box test of the network. However, examining the source code, APIs, database connections, and integration of 25 applications embedded into a website will be more time-consuming than a black box test that might only be able to access one application.  

Tester’s Experience  

A tester’s experience can sometimes be reflected in their hourly rate. Hiring a more experienced tester will cost you more, but counterintuitively, their experience can save you a fortune. Less experienced testers will cost you less but might not catch all the vulnerabilities that may later be exploited. Additionally, they could use more time setting up tools and other unproductive tasks, ramping up more hours, something that more experienced professionals can avoid. Experienced testers often emphasize the significance of a company’s longevity in conducting penetration tests. However, it’s essential to note that an experienced company might assign less-experienced testers to the task. Therefore, it’s crucial to verify the credentials of the actual penetration testers.   

You also should assess the vendor’s experience in addressing their specific penetration testing requirements. While penetration testing specialists may include a diverse range of expertise, generalist IT security vendors or individual consultants may specialize in either network security or application security penetration tests, potentially lacking proficiency in both areas. You must consider the specialization and expertise level required for their testing needs when selecting a penetration testing provider.  

Compliance Requirements  

Some organizations are subject to regulatory requirements that require approved pen testing methods. For instance, merchants, processors, issuers, and other payment processing systems or organizations should use PCI DSS-approved scanning vendors to conduct penetration testing. In other instances, the engagement might require a testing method to assess the systems for compliance with standards like ISO/IEC 27001, HIPAA, GDPR, CMMC, and SOC 2. This requires a pentester to be familiar with the requirements of the standard or regulation and tests done before reporting on compliance requirements. Such specialized penetration testing may impact the total cost of the engagement.  

Time and Location Requirements  

The time and location requirements are pivotal in determining the penetration testing cost for organizations. Special requests and unique requirements, such as off-hours testing, onsite needs, observation of processes, and physical security tests, can significantly impact overall testing expenses. Off-hours testing is usually conducted during nights or weekends to minimize disruption. Although this is convenient for business operations, it most likely will cost you more because testing is done outside normal business hours. On the other hand, onsite work involves in-person testing. It calls for expenses like travel costs but offers a more comprehensive assessment, including attacks on IT and other systems like physical security. This can lead to a more robust evaluation but comes with increased costs.  

Observation of processes necessary for compliance with sensitive data regulations like HIPAA may involve assessing physical environments to prevent unauthorized viewing of regulated data. For instance, a penetration tester might need to enter a hospital to ensure HIPAA data remains confidential. Physical security tests, focusing on onsite security systems like guards, locks, alarms, and cameras, require a distinct skill set, potentially leading to different rates and associated risks, such as physical damage to facilities. Considering these time and location factors is crucial for organizations seeking a comprehensive and tailored penetration testing strategy aligned with their needs and regulatory requirements.  

Remediation And Retesting  

If a penetration testing engagement uncovers a vulnerability, the contracting organization must remediate it. In most instances, companies require their IT teams to patch the vulnerabilities, and the penetration testing company tests the remediation. However, some companies require the pen testing vendor to patch the vulnerabilities they find. The vendor must still scan and retest the solution to address the issue properly. The overall penetration testing cost can increase if the remediations are too many or the retests are too complex. However, in many instances, remediation retesting doesn’t significantly increase the cost.  

Average Penetration Testing Cost

Given the factors above, the penetration testing cost can range from a few thousand dollars for a small web application to tens of thousands for a comprehensive large network pentest. For an SMB, a basic penetration test may range between $5,000 and $15,000. The cost can easily exceed $25,000 for larger enterprises with complex systems. However, you should note that these figures can vary. It’s important to note that while cost is a significant factor, the value of a robust cybersecurity posture can far outweigh the expense of penetration testing. Therefore, organizations should consider these services as an investment in their overall security strategy.  


Penetration testing is a crucial investment in bolstering cybersecurity defenses, particularly in an era marked by escalating data breach costs and regulatory scrutiny. Understanding the factors that impact penetration testing cost is paramount to budget for the engagement appropriately. Organizations should prioritize continuous testing, remediation, and retesting to ensure a resilient security posture. As you navigate the complexities of penetration testing costs, consider partnering with a proven penetration tester like Cleared Systems. Safeguard your digital assets effectively and proactively by contacting us for tailored and reliable penetration testing solutions. Invest in your organization’s security today.  

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