Businesses put a lot of trust in their networks and systems. They store valuable data and information on these systems that, if compromised, could lead to loss of money, customers, or worse. As a result, it is important for businesses to have regular vulnerability assessments done on their systems in order to find any potential weak points that could be exploited by malicious actors. However, penetration testing should not be regarded as a separate entity.
When it comes to information security, therefore two of the most common types of assessments are vulnerability assessment and penetration testing. Both are crucial in detecting potential security problems, but they have distinct features and purposes.
In this blog post, we’ll look at vulnerability assessment vs penetration testing so you can make an informed decision.
What Are Vulnerability Assessments?
A vulnerability assessment is a scan of your system that looks for any potential weaknesses that could be exploited by attackers. These scans can be done manually or with automated tools, and they often involve looking for known vulnerabilities in software, hardware, or configurations.
Vulnerability assessments can be either active or passive. Active scans are more intrusive and can actually attempt to exploit any vulnerabilities that are found. Passive scans simply look for signs of potential vulnerabilities and do not attempt to actually exploit them.
Vulnerability assessments can be used to find both technical and non-technical risks. Technical risks are related to the security of the systems themselves, while non-technical risks are related to things like social engineering or physical access to the systems.
What Are Penetration Tests?
Penetration tests, also known as pen tests, are similar to vulnerability assessments in that they involve looking for weaknesses that could be exploited by attackers. However, penetration testing goes a step further and attempts to exploit any vulnerabilities found.
This means that penetration tests are always active scans. They can be used to find both technical and non-technical risks, just like vulnerability assessments.
However, penetration tests are usually more targeted than vulnerability assessments. Because they are created to mimic a real-world attack on your computer, this is why. As such, they will often focus on specific vulnerabilities that have been identified as being particularly critical to your system’s security.
Differences Between Vulnerability Assessments and Penetration Tests
Let’s look at the differences between vulnerability assessments and penetration tests further now that we have a basic understanding of what they are.
One of the most important differences between vulnerability assessments and penetration tests is scope. Vulnerability assessments can be done relatively quickly and with little effort. They can be performed manually or with automated tools, and they often don’t require much interaction from the organization being tested.
The first step in pen testing is to detect how an intruder might penetrate your networks. It’s more time-consuming and requires more forethought. This is because they need to be carefully targeted in order to simulate a real-world attack. As such, penetration tests usually require the involvement of experienced security professionals.
Another important difference between vulnerability assessments and penetration tests is intrusiveness. Vulnerability assessments can be either active or passive, but they are generally less intrusive than penetration tests. This is because they don’t actually attempt to exploit any vulnerabilities that are found.
Active scans, on the other hand, are known as penetration tests. This means that they can be more intrusive, as they may actually disrupt service in some cases.
A vulnerability assessment is a procedure for detecting any potential flaws in your system so that they may be remedied before attackers exploit them.
A penetration test is a thorough examination of the security of your computer system to see how well your protections hold up in an actual attack.
As you can see, there are a few key differences between vulnerability assessments and penetration tests. Vulnerability assessments are less intrusive and can be done relatively quickly, but they don’t actually attempt to exploit any vulnerabilities that are found. Penetration tests are more time-consuming and intrusive, but they provide a more realistic assessment of your system’s security.
It’s critical to consider the scope, intrusiveness, and goal of each type of test before selecting which one is best for you. If you’re simply looking for potential weaknesses in your system, a vulnerability assessment may be all you need. However, if you want to simulate a real-world attack, a penetration test is a better option.
Ankit Pahuja is the Marketing Lead & Evangelist at Astra Security. Ever since his adulthood (literally, he was 20 years old), he began finding vulnerabilities in websites & network infrastructures. Starting his professional career as a software engineer at one of the unicorns enables him in bringing “engineering in marketing” to reality. Working actively in the cybersecurity space for more than 2 years makes him the perfect T-shaped marketing professional. Ankit is an avid speaker in the security space and has delivered various talks in top companies, early-age startups, and online events.