Breach and Attack Simulation vs. Penetration Testing

The Red Report 2024

The Top 10 MITRE ATT&CK Techniques Used by Adversaries


The landscape of IT infrastructure and cybersecurity threats is in a constant state of evolution. In this race, adversaries are deploying increasingly sophisticated malware. The Red Report 2023 highlights this escalation, noting that the average malware now exhibits 11 different MITRE ATT&CK Tactic, Technique and Procedures (TTPs). This complexity is rendering traditional, human-centric security approaches, such as penetration testing, almost infeasible for organizations to keep pace with the latest threats. Traditional security assessment solutions, which offer a snapshot of an organization's security posture at a point in time, are increasingly seen as falling short. There is a growing need for complementary solutions that are automated, continuous, and capable of rigorously testing an organization's implemented security measures with ease. This is where Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS) solutions enter the scene.

In this blog, we will explore why traditional security assessment methods, reliant on human expertise and knowledge, are struggling to address the current threat landscape. We'll also discuss how organizations can benefit from incorporating BAS solutions as modern, cutting-edge, and complementary tools in their cybersecurity arsenal.

Understanding the Human-centric Approaches: Penetration Testing vs. Red Teaming

Before we go deep down into a competitive analysis on Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS) tools and penetration testing practices, it is important to understand what penetration testing is and how it differs from other well known offensive practice that is based on human expertise: red teaming. 

Penetration testing is a highly targeted process where security experts simulate cyberattacks against a specific system, network, or application to identify vulnerabilities. This approach is more focused and narrow, typically conducted over a short period. 

Penetration testing typically involves:

  • identifying potential security weaknesses, and 
  • exploiting them to understand the potential impact. ​

The goal of penetration testing is to uncover vulnerabilities and provide generic mitigation recommendations, often pointing out the required patch version or updating, for instance, the old and vulnerable software. Therefore, it's often a planned activity with a known scope and is usually more technical in nature, focusing on what vulnerabilities exist and how they can be exploited.

Red teaming, on the other hand, takes a broader, more adversary-centric approach. It simulates a real-world attack, aiming to test an organization's detection and response capabilities. Red teams often use a variety of techniques to mimic actions of potential attackers, not just in terms of breaching defenses but also in maintaining persistence, and moving laterally through a network. 

This approach is more about understanding how well an organization's security posture can withstand an attack from a determined adversary and less about finding specific vulnerabilities. Red team exercises are typically more comprehensive, long-term engagements compared to penetration tests and involve a broader range of tactics, techniques, and procedures.

Comparative Overview: Penetration Testing vs. Red Teaming

Below, you are going to find a detail that provides comparative insight into penetration testing and red teaming. 


Penetration Testing

Red Teaming

Fully automated

Consistent and continuous assessments

Validates security control effectiveness

Identifies vulnerabilities

Simulates attacks targeting specific CVEs

Performs testing across the cyber kill chain

Supplies mitigation insights for security controls



Accelerates adoption of security frameworks

Generates quantifiable metrics

Safely assesses production environments

(some risk)

(some risk)

In the final sections, we are also going to provide a table that compares Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS) tools to penetration testing practice.

Now, it is time to introduce what BAS technology is about. 

Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS) Explained

Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS) is a comprehensive security control assessment methodology that involves simulating an array of cyberattacks on an organization's network and systems. These simulations are designed to closely and safely replicate the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) employed by real-world attackers, providing a controlled environment to evaluate the effectiveness of the organization's both security measures. breach-and-attack-simulation

Through the execution of these simulations, BAS tools assess the effectiveness of security measures and highlight unaddressed gaps in the current prevention and detection layer solutions. Additionally, they test an organization's readiness to confront real-world cyber threats. This proactive strategy allows organizations not only to identify and understand potential vulnerabilities but also to refine their defensive tactics. Prompt improvements can then be made, significantly bolstering their cybersecurity posture and enhancing their resilience against the continuously evolving spectrum of cyber threats.

Now that we have covered penetration testing and breach and attack simulation individually, it's time to delve into a comparative analysis. In the upcoming section, we will compare these security assessment solutions based on various aspects.

Breach and Attack Simulation vs. Penetration Testing

Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS) and Penetration Testing are pivotal tools in the realm of security assessment practices, each playing a unique role with their distinct approaches and capabilities. While both are integral to a robust security strategy, their differences become particularly evident when we examine the scale and scope of attack simulations and the nature of the mitigation advice they offer.


Breach And Attack Simulation (BAS)

Penetration Testing

Fully automated

Consistent and continuous assessments

Validates security control effectiveness

Identifies vulnerabilities

Up-to-date comprehensive threat library

Simulates attacks targeting specific CVEs

Performs testing across the cyber kill chain

Supplies mitigation insights (both vendor-based and vendor-neutral) for security controls


Accelerates adoption of security frameworks

Generates quantifiable metrics

Safely assesses production environments

(some risk)

In this section, we delve deeper into three core characteristics that distinctly set BAS apart from penetration testing. This analysis aims to provide not just an overview, but an in-depth understanding of these differing methodologies.

  • BAS Solutions’ Threat Library vs. Penetration Testing Engagement Scope

  • Security Control Assessment: Integrating BAS into Defense-in-Depth Strategy

  • Actionable Insights with Mitigation Library: A Comparative View of BAS and Penetration Testing

First, we are going to take the comparison from the “Threat Library” perspective.

Breach and Attack Simulation Threat Library vs. Penetration Testing Scope

The BAS Threat Library stands out with its vast and continuously updated range of attack scenarios, encompassing everything from malware campaigns to sophisticated techniques employed by Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups. This comprehensive library enables BAS tools to simulate a wide array of attack vectors, effectively covering the broad spectrum of potential cyber threats.

Contrastingly, even the most skilled penetration testers face limitations in the number of attack simulations they can realistically conduct. The ever-expanding threat landscape, burgeoning with newly disclosed vulnerabilities and emerging threat groups with specific regional and industrial agendas, poses a significant challenge. For a human, regardless of their expertise, keeping pace with the latest threats is daunting. While penetration testers often subscribe to a plethora of cyber threat intelligence sources – ranging from reports, blogs, databases, to dark forums – in an effort to replicate the latest attack threats in their engagements, the sheer volume of information and the complexity involved in understanding just one APT's exploit kill-chain are overwhelming. The challenge multiplies when considering multiple APTs targeting an organization with known or new vulnerabilities.

This is where BAS solutions come into play, offering an automated and continuous alternative to traditional, human-centric practices like penetration testing. These platforms, constantly fed with new threats by advanced and dedicated red teams, remain up-to-date and comprehensive. For instance, the Picus Security Validation platform, powered by BAS technology, boasts a Threat Library of over 5000 threats, encompassing more than 20,000 attack actions. These threats are categorized into five main areas: 

  • Network Infiltration, 

  • Endpoint Attacks (across Windows, Linux, macOS), 

  • Web Application Attacks, 

  • Email Attacks, and 

  • Data Exfiltration.

One notable aspect is how BAS platforms are constantly updated by dedicated teams specializing in various attack types. For example, in the case of web application attacks, red team professionals meticulously research and construct attack flows that replicate adversary behaviors observed in the wild. 


Additionally, the inclusion of endpoint attacks for major operating systems – Windows, Linux, and macOS – demonstrates the platform’s comprehensive coverage. This is particularly pertinent as the knowledge and expertise required to understand the nuances of different operating systems are not always readily available among penetration testing professionals.


In conclusion, while penetration testing remains invaluable for identifying and non-destructively exploiting vulnerabilities in a targeted manner, its scope is inherently limited. BAS solutions, with their vast and continually updated threat libraries, provide a complementary approach. These solutions not only save time and energy but also offer continuous visibility into an organization's security posture against a wide range of attacks, including sophisticated APT kill chains and the latest ransomware variants. As such, they are becoming an increasingly essential tool in an organization’s security arsenal.

Targeting Multiple Security Controls in Defense-in-Depth Strategy with BAS

Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS) and Penetration Testing are both integral components of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy, yet they differ significantly in their application within a multi-layered defense strategy

BAS, with its automated and continuous approach, fits seamlessly into the defense-in-depth model, offering a unique advantage in testing and validating every implemented security measure across all layers of an organization's defense. This thorough approach contrasts with Penetration Testing, which, while in-depth, often focuses on specific vulnerabilities or systems and may not encompass the entire spectrum of an organization’s defenses.

For instance, in a multi-layered defense, each layer – network, host, application, and data – serves a specific purpose and contains different security solutions like firewalls, intrusion prevention systems, anti-malware tools, and data loss prevention systems. 






EPP, EDR, HIPS, HIDS, Anti-Virus Software, Anti-Malware Software, SWG





Cross Layer Solutions


BAS can rigorously test each of these layers against a vast array of simulated threats, ranging from common malware to sophisticated Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs). This comprehensive testing ensures that security gaps at each layer are identified and addressed, strengthening the overall security posture. Penetration Testing, although valuable for detailed analysis of specific vulnerabilities, may not provide such a wide-ranging assessment across multiple layers and diverse security controls.

Moreover, BAS’s dynamic threat libraries and real-time updates allow organizations to continually evaluate their security measures against the latest threats, ensuring that defenses remain effective as new vulnerabilities emerge. This is a critical advantage in a landscape where cyber threats evolve rapidly. Penetration Testing, traditionally conducted at intervals, may not offer this level of ongoing assessment, potentially leaving gaps in an organization’s defenses until the next scheduled test.

In summary, while both BAS and Penetration Testing are vital for a robust cybersecurity strategy, BAS’s ability to test every implemented security measure across all layers of a defense-in-depth strategy makes it particularly well-suited for ensuring a comprehensive and continuously updated security posture. This approach not only identifies vulnerabilities but also allows for immediate action, thereby reducing the window of opportunity for cyber attackers and enhancing the overall resilience of an organization’s cybersecurity defenses.

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Vendor-based Mitigation Signatures: A Comparative View of BAS and Penetration Testing

A key advantage, and perhaps the most crucial, of BAS solutions over traditional penetration testing engagements is that they do not merely point out gaps in a customer's security posture. Instead, BAS solutions offer up-to-date, actionable insights for mitigation.

The actionable mitigation insights provided by your BAS solution should include both 

  • vendor-specific and 

  • vendor-neutral, 

catering to a variety of security environments. The significance of these mitigation suggestions becomes particularly pronounced in scenarios where threat actors or malware campaigns target specific software or application vulnerabilities, for instance, to gain an initial foothold in an internal network. In cases where patching is unfeasible due to dependencies or potential business disruptions, organizations can swiftly implement relevant mitigation measures in their security controls. These measures are sourced and automatically updated from various vendors by their BAS (Breach and Attack Simulation) solution.

Contrastingly, penetration testing often culminates in a report that outlines vulnerabilities and provides general remediation suggestions. These recommendations may lack the specificity and actionability of those provided by BAS and usually do not include vendor-specific advice, which is vital for organizations using diverse security products.

Consider, for example, a scenario where a security professional aims to test the effectiveness of their organization’s perimeter security measures against an emerging threat like the “Cl0p Ransomware Gang.” The professional selects a relevant threat ID from the BAS platform’s Threat Library. In the following figure, you'll see a downloadable threat profile of Cl0p Ransomware from the Picus Security Control Validation platform.


This particular threat is comprised of 17 attack actions, executed in a specific logic flow.


After running the simulation and analyzing the detailed report, we find that there are 59 direct vendor-specific mitigation signatures from 6 different vendors, all ready for straightforward implementation.


Clicking on the first vendor listed, CheckPoint, we gain a more detailed view of the signatures. For this threat, CheckPoint offers 16 mitigation signatures specifically designed to counteract the Cl0p Ransomware Gang's tactics.


In conclusion, BAS presents a broader, more automated approach to security testing than traditional penetration testing. It covers a wider array of potential threats and delivers more specific, actionable mitigation strategies. While penetration testing is invaluable for targeted objectives, it doesn't match the scope, automation, or detailed mitigation advice – particularly regarding vendor-specific solutions – provided by BAS systems.


In conclusion, while Penetration Testing remains a crucial element in identifying and exploiting specific vulnerabilities within a targeted framework, Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS) emerges as a more comprehensive, automated solution in the rapidly evolving landscape of cybersecurity. 

BAS solutions excel in their ability to continually test and validate every implemented security measure across all layers of an organization's defense-in-depth strategy, offering an unparalleled breadth in threat simulation. This includes an extensive, up-to-date Mitigation Library providing actionable, vendor-specific, and vendor-neutral strategies. As a result, BAS stands out as an essential tool, complementing traditional penetration testing by providing continuous visibility and detailed, actionable insights. This combination ensures that organizations are not only aware of their vulnerabilities but are also equipped with the necessary tools and strategies to address them promptly and effectively, thereby enhancing their overall cybersecurity posture in the face of sophisticated and ever-changing cyber threats.