Penetration Testing vs. Vulnerability Scanning: What’s The Difference?

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Penetration testing is typically run by human penetration testers while vulnerability scans are performed with an automated tool. Usually, a combination of both is necessary. Vulnerability scans expose network weaknesses, but a pen tester can show you what to do about it. This is important to remember while comparing penetration testing vs. vulnerability scanning.

“Pen testing and vulnerability scanning often work hand-in-hand. The question is less which one do you need, and more which one do you need now.”Tim Morton, Client Success Manager, Global CTI

Some businesses do choose one over the other. However, there are specific reasons for this choice when it’s made. For instance, vulnerability scans are more cost-effective. Meanwhile, some industries require periodic pen tests as a compliance requirement.

Today, we’ll take a closer look at penetration tests and vulnerability scans. You can use this information to help you determine whether your organization needs one, the other, or both.


What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing, or “pen testing,” is a proactive approach to evaluating the security of a system, network, or application. Think of it like a cyber attack drill where experts act as hackers who find and exploit system vulnerabilities before a real one can.

Because pen testers reveal exactly how a vulnerability can be exploited, you gain more actionable insights into how to fix it.

For example, a vulnerability scan could show you that your network is susceptible to a SQL injection attack. On the other hand, a pen tester could specify that this SQL injection vulnerability may allow an attacker to bypass payment gateways and make unauthorized transactions through your online payment system.

This gives you much more information on how to correct the issue.


Types of Pen Testing

Opting for pen testing is step one. From there, you need to assess which type of test is best for your needs. Here are some examples.

Pen Test How it Works
Black Box The tester attempts to breach a system without any knowledge of its internal workings.
White Box  The tester attempts to breach a system with complete knowledge of its internal workings.
Grey Box  The tester attempts to breach a system with some knowledge of its internal workings, but not everything.
External Testing The tester focuses on the parts of a system that are accessible from the outside, such as a website.
Internal Testing The tester operates from within the system’s network to see if vulnerabilities can be exploited from the inside.
Blind Testing The organization knows a pen test will occur but doesn’t know the specifics. This is to test their detection capabilities.
Double Blind Testing Neither the security team nor the organization knows when the pen test will occur. This tests both detection and response.
Targeted Testing Both the tester and the organization are aware of the pen test and its specifics. They collaborate to identify vulnerabilities.


What is Vulnerability Scanning?

Vulnerability scanning is an automated process that detects security weaknesses in a system, network, or application. It uses tools that compare your system’s details against a database of known vulnerabilities to see if anything lines up.

Although a vulnerability scanner can only show you weaknesses exist, it’s still a valuable form of security testing. Many pen testers leverage vulnerability scanners to detect weaknesses they can mock exploit.

By running these scans regularly, your team can more easily spot and fix issues before they become major problems.


How Does a Security Vulnerability Assessment Work?

Vulnerability scanning is typically one part of a security assessment process. Here is what the whole process looks like.


1. Identification of Assets & Resources

The first step is to identify the assets you need to protect. This would include any hardware, software, and data vital to your organization. You may be surprised that hardware was on this list. Yet, hacked hardware is not at all unheard of.


2. Vulnerability Scanning

Once you’ve identified your assets, use your vulnerability scanning tool to check them. You will receive a report specifying where issues exist.


3. Risk Assessment

After identifying vulnerabilities, assess the associated risks. This step determines the potential impact of an exploit and its likelihood. Use this assessment to prioritize your remediation efforts.

Discover More Ways To Enhance Your Online Security


4. Remediation Planning

Develop a plan based on your risk analysis to address detected vulnerabilities. This plan might involve patching software, adjusting configurations, or even replacing vulnerable systems.


5. Implementation

Put the remediation plan into action. This step might include technical fixes, policy changes, or user training. Swift action is crucial. The sooner vulnerabilities are patched the less room there is for hackers to exploit them.


6. Report

Generate a detailed report after the complete assessment. This report should outline the discovered vulnerabilities, their potential impact, and the remediation steps taken. Both technical teams and leadership rely on this report to gauge the organization’s security.


Fortify Your Computer System With A Cybersecurity Assessment

Both processes are essential to protecting your sensitive data. This might leave you wondering how you can reap all these benefits within an SMB budget. However, there’s no need to seek an expensive security solution to get high-powered protection.

Global CTI offers thorough security assessments for your entire network. Using advanced AI-driven methods, we identify and counter threats to ensure the continued safety of your data and systems.

Reach out to Global CTI today to get your security assessment now.

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