Penetration Testing vs Vulnerability Scanning. Know the Difference.

BY OnSecurity Team / ON Sep 29, 2020

Penetration testing (often referred to as ‘pentesting’) and vulnerability scanning play a vital yet contrasting role in safeguarding your business against criminal threats. While both processes work to protect and improve your business’s cybersecurity, they are often confused.

What are the Key Differences?

A vulnerability scan is an automated test that searches your systems, assets, and networks business-wide, highlighting and reporting any detected risks. Vulnerability scanning can be manually triggered or scheduled to run at set times.

A penetration test is a highly targeted procedure. It involves an experienced ‘pentester’ using both automated and manual techniques to identify insecurities that an automated scan might miss.

Upon finding any weaknesses, a pentester will attempt to e\xploit these to infiltrate a network, system, application, or physical premises, depending on the brief. In other words, it’s a simulated attack.

A vulnerability scan only involves a surface-level check of your business infrastructure, followed by the production of a report that details any potential risks.

In contrast, during a penetration test, specialists actively research your business infrastructure and look for vulnerabilities - evident and hidden. After examining these weak spots in-depth, they will provide you with detailed solutions to remedy them and give a better detail of the ‘impact’ of the issue.

The Benefits of Vulnerability Scanning

A vulnerability scan should be seen as a useful automated tool that provides a bird’s-eye appraisal of your network security.

Vulnerability scanning will only flag potential system insecurities - it will not work to exploit them itself. It will assess elements of your network, such as servers, firewalls, routers, and applications.

These scans don’t require a high level of skill and are generally carried out in-house. They can take anything from a few minutes to several hours to complete.

The Limitations of a Vulnerability Assessment

Vulnerability scans are a passive form of risk assessment: they’re restricted to outlining risks and do not account for the human decision-making process present in sustained criminal attacks on organisations.

After receiving the results of your vulnerability scan, it’s left to your IT support team to sort through complex data manually and patch weak spots. You’ll then need to rerun the test. Crucially, you cannot know whether more complex risks remain undetected.

In addition to this, vulnerability scans sometimes report false positives. A false positive is a non-existent threat that the scan mistakes for a real risk, creating additional work for your team.

The Benefits Of A Penetration Test

Compared to vulnerability scanning, pentesting takes a significantly more in-depth look at your organisation’s security systems. It can identify complex threats concealed within your business infrastructure. Simulating a real-life attack on your organisation and actively testing vulnerabilities enables you to gain critical insights into the current state of your security measures, along with the solutions needed to improve them.

Which Is Superior? A Penetration Test or a Vulnerability Scan?

There is enormous value in both vulnerability scans and pentesting. Vulnerability scanning facilitates a quick and inexpensive overview of your network security, but it is no substitute for a penetration test’s forensic security analysis. Penetration testing is an investment in the future security of your business and can help you avoid costly damage - financial and reputational - down the line.

Do You Need a Penetration Test?

OnSecurity’s penetration test is the gold standard of security testing. It provides a forensic appraisal of your existing security measures and can stretch from as little as four hours, to multiple days, depending on your organisation’s needs.

OnSecurity’s expert penetration testers have a highly developed understanding of security systems, internal and external testing, remote access hacks, network technologies, and web application vulnerabilities. They will perform a deep dive to locate and exploit weaknesses in your system - just as a criminal would - as part of a simulated attack.

Publishing any findings as they go, our testers’ approach ensures you’re able to act on and mitigate any risks as soon as they’re discovered. Once the test is complete, your tester will create a report providing detailed solutions to rectify vulnerabilities, improve security measures, and fortify your business against future risks.

OnSecurity offers a wide range of penetration tests, covering:

If you’re interested in using one of our comprehensive penetration testing services, get in touch with our team or get a free online quote in 60 seconds on our website.