Penetration Testing vs Vulnerability Assessments

Businesses are often confused about how best to protect their systems from hackers. With the number of cybercrimes exploding day by day, you cannot afford to see your IT structures exploited by hackers. Cyberattacks can hurt your profit margins and tarnish your brand image. In some cases, you may even end up in costly litigation.

Fortunately, there are ways to identify weaknesses and improve your system’s security with different types of penetration tests and vulnerability assessments. Yet, although they are similar processes, they are not interchangeable.

So, what is the difference between a penetration test and a vulnerability assessment? And which one is right for your organization? Keep reading to find out.

What is a vulnerability assessment?

A vulnerability assessment or vulnerability scan is generally a high-level automated test used to identify potential vulnerabilities in a system. Companies do this to check for security vulnerabilities in computers or networks, both internally and externally.

The main differences between a vulnerability assessment and penetration testing include frequency and use of tools. An automatic vulnerability test can spot up to 50,000 weaknesses. It can take between a few minutes and several hours to complete this test for an organization.

A vulnerability assessment vs penetration test is a more passive approach that does not go beyond identifying and reporting vulnerabilities. Nonetheless, regular vulnerability scanning classifies and flags vulnerabilities, giving you a clear picture of what to prioritize.

Vulnerability scanning and PCI DSS compliance

PCI DSS stands for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. It is a set of security standards applied to ensure that all businesses that accept, process, store or transmit credit card information have a secure network. This is to mitigate the risks of cybercrime.

Any business subject to PCI DSS is required to perform vulnerability scans quarterly and after any critical changes to its network. Also, they must run a new scan within 30 days if the first fails.

A qualified technician or Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP) typically reviews and confirms an internal vulnerability assessment. However, an Approved Scanning Vendor (ASV) must perform external scanning for PCI DSS compliance.

Benefits of Vulnerability Assessments

Compare penetration testing vs vulnerability assessments, you must know their respective advantages. Here are some valuable points from him:

  • Fast and high-level analysis
  • Cheap
  • Automatic (weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.)

Vulnerability Assessment Risks

Likewise, here are some limiting points that will make it easier for you to choose between a vulnerability assessment against a penetration test:

  • False positives
  • Manual verification required before retesting
  • No confirmation as to whether reported weaknesses are exploitable

What is a penetration test?

In penetration testing, ethical hackers simulate an attack like a hacker to expose all vulnerabilities. They drive step-by-step penetration test detect and exploit weaknesses using various methods, techniques and tools.

Essentially, the purpose of penetration testing is to check how far a hacker can penetrate your system and cause damage, determining the level of risk to your business.

Penetration testing typically involves checking application protocol interfaces (APIs), front-end servers, and back-end servers. Insights gained from internal and external penetration testing help fine-tune the Web Application Firewall (WAF) and other vital security systems.

In the end, penetration testers submit a detailed report sharing the steps and approach of a test. They also recommend corrective actions to fix weaknesses and strengthen security systems.

There are usually five penetration testing steps. The final stage, i.e. retesting, is an assessment performed after 2-3 months to verify if the vulnerabilities have been properly addressed.

Penetration testing and PCI DSS compliance

To achieve PCI DSS compliance, companies must perform a penetration test every two years and after a major change to their system.

Most companies prefer to schedule penetration testing during off-hours to avoid disruption to operations. However, sometimes they intentionally schedule it during office hours to determine staff attention and readiness.

Benefits of Penetration Testing

These top benefits will help you decide which is right between a pen test vs vulnerability test for your business model:

  • No false positives
  • Identifies cumulative vulnerabilities
  • Provides actionable improvement steps

Penetration Testing Risks

As with everything, it’s always wise to consider the risks and benefits of penetration testing before drawing a conclusion. Here are some limitations or risks of penetration testing:

  • Can cause damage to infrastructure if not done correctly
  • May take up to three weeks
  • Can be expensive

Penetration Testing vs Vulnerability Assessments

Both approaches are essential to a comprehensive security strategy for companies that rely on infotech. evaluate vulnerability assessments vs penetration testing based on scope, risk and criticality of assets, as well as cost and time.

Scope: Vulnerability Assessments vs. Penetration Testing

The involvement of a human factor is essential in an intrusion test because it is not entirely automatic. Various penetration testing tools help simplify a few steps. On the other hand, a vulnerability assessment is automated, but it does not attempt an actual attack.

The scope of vulnerability assessments is wider because it can handle more assets. It is managed by professionals who know how to handle situations resulting from automated notifications and false alarms.

However, the vulnerability scan is limited to identifying and reporting weaknesses. Unlike penetration testing, it does not provide in-depth analysis or remediation recommendations based on an actual (simulated) cyberattack.

Besides, penetration testing vs vulnerability assessments is much more specific, where particular elements can be targeted and tested.

Risk and criticality of assets: intrusion tests vs vulnerability analyzes

The number of assets involved in a penetration test is less than in a vulnerability scan. Although companies can apply penetration testing to an entire IT infrastructure, it is impractical due to high cost and time.

While vulnerability assessments can be performed for any number of assets, and that’s why it can detect more vulnerabilities.

Cost and Time: Vulnerability Assessment vs. Penetration Testing

You already know that a penetration test depends on a human expert; therefore, it is expensive. This can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks and is recommended at least once a year.

On the other hand, the vulnerability assessment is automatic, therefore significantly cheaper.

As its scope is wider, it takes longer to find vulnerabilities. It is why an organization might perform a penetration test instead of a vulnerability assessment.

Which one to choose for your organization?

So which approach wins between vulnerability assessments vs penetration testing? Vulnerability scans can be performed more frequently, while penetration tests are in-depth reviews, which can disrupt operations and may not be performed as often.

Penetration testing is an expensive and time-consuming method, but you learn how a real attacker can exploit your system. Meanwhile, vulnerability assessments are cheaper and give you a much quicker idea of ​​system weaknesses, but they’re not as thorough.

You can choose the right option between vulnerability assessments vs penetration testing depending on your business model, your budget and your expectations.

Final Thoughts

Vulnerability assessments are automated tests performed to locate vulnerabilities in any number of system assets. It’s inexpensive but isn’t as detailed as penetration testing. According to PCI DSS, compliant companies are required to run it at least quarterly and after any significant changes to their network.

Penetration testing involves attacking a system like a hacker to find out the weaknesses of all systems. It is made by a human being and is therefore more expensive. This should be done at least twice a year for PCI DSS compliance. the objectives of a penetration test are more specific and results-oriented.

Ultimately, however, you need to include both vulnerability scanning and penetration testing in your security strategy for optimal protection against cyberattacks.

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*** This is a syndicated blog from the Security Bloggers Network of EasyDMARC written by EasyDmarc. Read the original post at:

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