The Critical Role of Autonomous Penetration Testing in Strengthening Defense in Depth

by | Jun 10, 2024 | Customer Stories

A Modern Approach to Comprehensive Cybersecurity

Defense in Depth (DID) is crucial in cybersecurity because it employs multiple layers of security controls and measures to protect information systems and data. This multi-layered approach helps ensure that if one defensive layer is breached, others continue to provide protection, significantly reducing the likelihood of a successful cyber-attack. By combining physical security, network security, endpoint protection, application security, data security, identity and access management, security policies, monitoring, backup and recovery, and redundancy, organizations can create a robust and resilient security posture that is adaptable to evolving threats. This comprehensive strategy is essential for safeguarding sensitive information, maintaining operational integrity, and complying with regulatory requirements.

However, DID is not a panacea. While it greatly enhances an organization’s security, it cannot guarantee absolute protection. The complexity and layered nature of DID can lead to challenges in management, maintenance, and coordination among different security measures. Additionally, sophisticated attackers continuously develop new methods to bypass multiple layers of defense, such as exploiting zero-day vulnerabilities or using social engineering techniques to gain access and exploit an environment. This highlights the importance of complementing DID with other strategies, such as regular security assessments, autonomous penetration testing, continuous monitoring, and fostering a security-aware culture within an organization. These additional measures help to identify and address emerging threats promptly, ensuring a more dynamic and proactive security approach.


JTI Cybersecurity helps organizations around the world improve their security posture and address cybersecurity challenges. They work with small businesses, enterprises, and governments whose customers demand the highest levels of trust, security, and assurance in the protection of their sensitive data and mission-critical operations. JTI provides prudent advice and solutions when following best practices isn’t enough to protect the interests of their clients and the customers they serve.

  • Year Founded: 2020
  • Number of Employees: 5-10
  • Operational Reach: Global

Threat Intelligence

In November 2023, the prolific ransomware group LockBit confirmed a cyberattack on Boeing that impacted its parts and distribution business, as well as part of its global services division. The incident occurred following claims from LockBit that they had breached Boeing’s network and stolen sensitive data. Although Boeing confirmed that flight safety was not compromised, the LockBit group initially threatened to leak and expose the stolen sensitive data if Boeing did not negotiate. This incident not only underscores the persistent threats faced by major corporations but also highlights the importance of implementing robust cybersecurity measures.

Is the concept of DID dead?

In a recent interview with Jon Isaacson, Principal Consultant at JTI Cybersecurity, he highlights that, “some marketing material goes as boldly as saying DID doesn’t work anymore.” However, Jon goes on to say that “DID is still a good strategy, and generally when it fails, it’s not because a layer of the onion failed…it’s because the term is overused, and the organization probably didn’t have any depth at all.” While this is a concept that’s been around for quite some time, its importance hasn’t diminished. In fact, as cyber threats evolve and become increasingly sophisticated, the need for a layered approach to security remains critical.

However, it’s also true that the term can sometimes be overused or misapplied, leading to a perception of it being outdated or ineffective. This can happen if organizations simply pay lip service to the idea of defense in depth without implementing meaningful measures at each layer or if they rely too heavily on traditional approaches without adapting to new threats and technologies.

In today’s rapidly changing threat landscape, organizations need to continually reassess and update their security strategies to ensure they’re effectively mitigating risks. This might involve integrating emerging technologies like autonomous pentesting, adopting a zero-trust security model, or implementing robust incident response capabilities alongside traditional defense in depth measures. While defense in depth may be considered a fundamental principle, its implementation and effectiveness depend on how well it’s adapted to meet the challenges of modern cybersecurity threats.

“While DID definitely helps shore up your defenses, without taking an attackers perspective by considering actual attack vectors that they can use to get in, you really can’t be ready.”

DID and the attacker’s perspective

In general, implementing a DID approach to an organization’s security posture helps slow down potential attacks and often challenges threat actors from easily exploiting an environment. Additionally, this forces attackers to use various tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) to overcome DID strategies, and maneuver across layers to find weak points and exploit the path of least resistance. An attacker’s ability to adapt quickly, stay agile, and persist creates challenges for security teams attempting to stay ahead of threats and keep their cyber landscape secure.

As Jon explains, an “adversary is not going to be sitting where Tenable Security Center (for example) is installed with the credentials they have poking through the registry…that’s not how the adversary works…many organizations try to drive their vulnerability management programs in a compliance fashion, ticking off the boxes, doing their required scans, and remediating to a certain level…but that doesn’t tell you anything from an adversary’s perspective.” One of the only ways to see things from an attacker’s perspective is to attack your environment as an adversary would.

Enter NodeZero

Before discovering NodeZero, Jon was working through the best way to build his company, while offering multiple services to his clients. He mentions that “when JTI first started, it was just him, bouncing back and forth between pentesting and doing a SOC2 engagement…early on, there weren’t a massive amount of pentests that had to be done and most were not huge…so doing a lot manually wasn’t a big deal.” However, with his business booming, Jon got to a point where doing a pentest 100% manually was just no longer a thing and he required a solution that was cost effective and that he could run continuously to scale his capabilities for his customers.

Additionally, Jon toyed with the idea of building custom scripts and having a solution automate them so at least some of the work was done for him, weighing his options between semi-automated or buying a solution. Jon first learned of Horizon3.ai through one of his customers, who was also exploring the use of an autonomous pentesting solution. So, after poking around a few competitors of Horizon3.ai that didn’t yield the results he was hoping for, he booked a trial.

NodeZero doesn’t miss anything

At the time, Jon was skeptical that any platform could outperform manual pentesting while supporting his need for logs and reporting. But, as he explains, “there was nothing that [Node Zero] really missed [compared to his previous manual pentests] and there were cases where [NodeZero] would find something that was not found through manual testing.”

After initial trial testing, Jon dove headfirst when he was onboarded with Horizon3.ai and started using NodeZero for many of his pentesting engagements. Looking through the eyes of an attacker, “we can drop NodeZero into an environment and let it do its thing…NodeZero not only enumerates the entire attack surface, but also finds vulnerabilities and attempts to exploit them as an attacker would.” This enables Jon to provide more value to his clients by digging into results to determine actual business impacts, provide specific recommendations for mitigations or remediations, and verify those fixes worked. “[End users] can get a lot of value out of NodeZero even if they aren’t a security expert or pentester because you really can just click it, send it, and forget it…the best bang for their buck is the laundry list of things they [end users] can do to secure their environment every time they run it [NodeZero].”

“NodeZero is a really great tool for both consultants and pentesters…because for us pentesters, we can use it [NodeZero] kind of like the grunts or infantry of the military…just send it in to go blow everything up and then we [pentesters] can be a scalpel, and really dig into and spend time on the areas where things are potentially bad.”

So what?

DID is not dead and is a critical concept in cybersecurity, leveraging multiple layers of security controls to protect information systems and data. By integrating various security measures, organizations create a robust and resilient security posture. This layered approach ensures that if one defense layer is breached, others continue to provide protection, significantly reducing the likelihood of a successful cyber-attack.

However, DID is not a cure-all; it has its limitations. The complexity and layered nature can pose challenges in management and maintenance, and sophisticated attackers may still find ways to bypass defenses using advanced techniques like zero-day exploits or social engineering. Therefore, it’s essential to complement DID with autonomous penetration testing, continuous monitoring, and fostering a security-aware culture to address emerging threats proactively and dynamically.

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