Penetration Testing vs. Vulnerability Scanning

Comparing and contrasting a penetration test and a vulnerability scan may help you make the right decision for your company. While both methods use optimal application and network security to ...

Comparing and contrasting a penetration test and a vulnerability scan may help you make the right decision for your company. While both methods use optimal application and network security to conduct their tests, there are generally some slight differences between them. Each process can give you valuable insight into your current security each week, month or quarter, depending on your requirements.

The Difference Between Penetration Tests and Vulnerability Scans

The methodology is the main difference between a penetration test and a vulnerability scan. Penetration tests examine your network's security through a paid professional who inspects your security in person. The test aims to answer critical questions about whether someone could break into your security system or what potential harm they could do to your network. After the test, you'll have an overall picture of your security program's effectiveness.

A vulnerability scan, on the other hand, helps identify weaknesses while offering solutions for your current security program. In some cases, it may also provide possible improvements for your system through automated software that analyzes your network.

While each method approaches your security system differently and has distinct functions, many businesses use both techniques routinely to ensure their security systems are as up-to-date as possible. Depending on your network's current security position, either method may be more beneficial.

Penetration Testing Overview

Penetration testing is a simulation where a hacker attempts to get into the system through in-person research and exploitation. If they happen to hack the system, the professional running the test will analyze your network's vulnerabilities and how hackers can exploit them.

Penetration testers or analysts are often called ethical hackers, using password cracking, SQL injection or buffer overflow methods to compromise and extract personal data. However, they won't do any damage to your system. The point of the test is to find issues within your network and security applications while modifying your current software to ensure your company remains secure. They also check compliance with any security standards, such as PCI DSS, FedRAMP, HIPAA or other security protocols.

Penetration Testing Overview

The main difference between a penetration test and other forms of security testing is that a live human operates the program. No automation is required, and your company can hire the services of an experienced and tech-savvy human being.

Benefits of a Penetration Test

Some benefits of using a penetration test include the following:

  • Accuracy: A live test performed manually produces more accurate results.
  • Retesting Included: Many professionals will perform a retest after remediation as part of their services.
  • No False Positives: A penetration test can rule out false positives.
  • Annual Tests: Penetration tests can be performed annually or whenever your network has experienced significant changes.

Vulnerability Scanning Overview

Other companies conduct a vulnerability scan when testing their security programs. Many businesses rely on vulnerability assessments to explain how they might solve or fix current issues in their security.

What Is Vulnerability Testing in Software?

Automated vulnerability scanning helps your company assess its computers, networks and systems for possible weaknesses. Because the entire process is automatic, your business can easily determine what could be exploited. This method provides high-quality scans and can detect thousands of vulnerabilities, all in several hours or even minutes.

However, a vulnerability test won't give you much information besides a report on your risks. It's up to your IT staff or other personnel to patch the weaknesses, confirm false positives and rerun different assessments as necessary.

How to Do a Vulnerability Assessment

There are five steps to completing a vulnerability assessment:

  • Planning: Identify your company's methods for conducting the test.
  • Assessing: Run the test to assess any vulnerabilities.
  • Identifying: Make a list of all the possible threats the assessment identified.
  • Analysis: Use the assessment's detailed report to analyze risk ratings and scores related to security protocols.
  • Treatment: Fix your company's security issues through remediation or mediation. Remediation fixes the vulnerability fully while installing tools within your company to help keep your security measures up-to-date. Mediation reduces the chance of attack until you have time for complete remediation.

Benefits of Vulnerability Scanning

Some benefits of vulnerability scanning include the following:

  • Quick Look: A scan provides a brief and accessible look at possible risks and security vulnerabilities.
  • Affordable: Scanning is typically very affordable, depending on your chosen scanning vendor.
  • Automatic: Vulnerability scans are conducted automatically either weekly, monthly or quarterly.
  • Fast Completion: The scans can be completed very quickly, allowing easy access to risk assessments when needed.

Factors to Consider Before Choosing

While choosing between a vulnerability scan and a penetration test is easier once you understand their differences, you may want to explore a few factors before finalizing your decision. Here are five areas to consider before selecting a method.

1. Speed of Execution

A vulnerability scan offers speedy results in a few minutes or hours, while a penetration test takes longer. The test may run for several weeks due to the time needed to run each stage in person. These stages include planning, scanning, exploring, reporting, remediation and rescanning to check if your fixes have resolved any issues.

2. Depth of Testing

A vulnerability scan can conduct thousands of tests simultaneously while looking for possible vulnerabilities. However, the scan is limited because it cannot detect business logic errors and may sometimes issue false positives.

During penetration testing, the human expert may better detect complex vulnerabilities using tools, scanners and exploitation methods. Their experience means they can discover loopholes and possible risks that automation may not.

3. Risk Analysis

Vulnerability assessment reports provide scores according to the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS). These scores help locate and assess possible risks. When it comes to risk analysis, penetration tests may have the upper hand. These tests allow your company to see how much access a hacker may have to sensitive information and assets and how far they may be able to go before escalating risks and causing losses. The penetration test will also give you a clear return on investment and offer a remediation process to assess and fix any vulnerable areas.

4. Remediation Support

As stated before, a vulnerability scan offers a report with suggestions for fixing any security issues, but your developers or IT staff must execute those suggestions and fix the problems. During a penetration test, the professional will provide step-by-step guidelines to improve your vulnerable areas.

5. Pricing

Vulnerability scans tend to be cheaper than penetration tests. Because one is an automated tool and the other requires hiring a human professional, you may see a difference of several hundred dollars when conducting a vulnerability scan or a penetration test.

Find Cybersecurity Assistance at Eden Data

Find Cybersecurity Assistance at Eden Data

At Eden Data, we provide cybersecurity and virtual Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) services. We assist startup companies with security, data privacy or compliance needs, providing subscription plans based on your company's model. Let us handle your cybersecurity concerns so you can focus on growing a business. Contact us online to speak to a representative or schedule a call with one of our sales coordinators today.

Talk to Our Experts for Free

Our team is ready to answer any and all questions you may have.