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Businesses frequently confuse the difference between Vulnerability Scanning vs Penetration Testing. Why is penetration testing considered to be more thorough than a vulnerability scan?

The first step to unearthing your business’s real security issues is learning to differentiate between the two and learn why your business needs both.

A vulnerability scan is an automated, high level test that looks for known vulnerabilities in your systems and reports on potential exposures. Whereas Penetration tests are intended to exploit weaknesses in the architecture of your IT network and determine the degree to which a malicious attacker can gain unauthorized access to your assets.

Also known as a “pentest” or “ethical hacking,” penetration testing is a manual technical test that goes beyond vulnerability scanning and provides a deep look into the data security of an application or an organisation.

Which is better? A vulnerability scan or penetration test?
Both tests work together to encourage optimal network and application security. Vulnerability scans are great for weekly, monthly, or quarterly insights into your network security (the quick X-ray), while penetration tests are a very thorough way to deeply examine your network security (the periodic detailed MRI).

Yes, penetration tests can be expensive, but you are paying a professional to examine every nook and cranny of your business the way a real world attacker would, to find a possibility of compromise.

Penetration testing scope is targeted and there is always a human factor involved. No automated penetration testing exists. Penetration testing requires the use of tools, sometimes a lot of tools. But it also requires an extremely experienced person to conduct penetration testing. A good penetration tester will always at some point during their testing, craft a script, change parameters of an attack or tweak settings of the tools he or she may be using.

It could be at application or network level but specific to a function, department or number of assets.

One can include whole infrastructure and all applications but that is impractical in the real world because of cost and time. The business defines their scope based on a number of factors that are mainly based on risk and how important is an asset. Spending a lot of money on low-risk assets which may take a number of days to exploit is not practical.

Penetration testing requires high skilled knowledge and that’s why it is costly. Penetration testers often exploit a new vulnerability or discover vulnerabilities that are not known to normal business processes. Penetration testing can often take days to a few weeks, to carry out. A penetration test is recommended to be conducted once a year.


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