When to Use a Pen Test Versus Vulnerability Scan

Penetration testing versus vulnerability scanning. It all sounds the same or does the same thing, doesn’t it? Mistakenly, these terms are often used interchangeably even though there are some fundamental differences. Here we will distinguish the two and help you see what value each could bring to your business.

What to Expect in a Pen Test

A penetration tester has the goal of getting through your system as far as possible, stopping for nothing and no one. They find the areas that are vulnerable to an attack and continue to push through it and obtain as much information as possible. After they complete a penetration test, you’ll have a report allowing you to see your weaknesses and areas they were able to breach, and in turn where you are in need of stronger security initiatives. On top of that, you will know where to start as the data will tell you the order of importance.

There are many types of pen tests that you can do: wireless, application and comprehensive to name a few. Now there are also two different options as for how you want a pen tester to approach your system. You can either let the pen tester know where to focus their efforts towards, or they can go in completely blind and just see what sort of mess they can stir up. Depending on whether you are testing to see if a new firewall is working in a certain area or just curious to see the current state of your system it may be good to choose one over the other.

What a Vulnerability Assessment is

As for vulnerability assessments, their goal is to identify the existing vulnerabilities in your environment. They scan for security risks and find where your vulnerabilities are, but don’t push through the layers to find more. Instead, this will provide an evaluation of your security posture.

On top of acknowledging the vulnerabilities, it will tell you the order of importance to resolving the vulnerabilities. Most assessments will follow a few general steps to help segment and prioritize your data.

First, it will identify the assets and resources within your system. Next, it will put items in an order of importance to note which items are most valuable. Then during the assessment it will identify the potential threats and vulnerabilities to each of the resources and assets found during the second step. Finally, it will begin to eliminate the most serious risks for the most valuable resources.

Don’t Want to Choose?

In partnership, you will be able to work towards minimizing your risk and improving your security posture. A vulnerability assessment and a pen-test answer different questions as the goal of each is different. When conducting a vulnerability assessment, you aim to answer what your weaknesses are and how to fix them. When pen-testing your system, you are seeing if someone can break in and what all they can obtain. Together though, you will be able to know what information is at risk and how to fix it.

Depending on our security posture going into either of these will help you determine which one to start with. However, depending on your business type, pen-testing may be mandated to be conducted at least once each year. No matter what you choose, both provide insightful and meaningful data surrounding your company’s security health.

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