Penetration Testing vs Vulnerability Assessments

In a realm of misleading marketing, be a savvy cybersecurity consumer. Don’t make this one big cybersecurity mistake!

Cybersecurity problems and regulations suddenly have surged, leaving many companies scrambling to catch up, even in industries previously little-troubled by breaches. As the cybersecurity market evolves, abstract definitions and expectations can leave companies vulnerable — yet thinking they’ve covered their bases.

Understanding this one key distinction could save your company tremendous headaches: a penetration test compared with a vulnerability scan (or vulnerability assessment). The terms sometimes are used interchangeably, which is a dangerous mistake. And in an industry full of buzzwords, that’s growing like crazy (Fortune Business Insights predicts that cybersecurity products and services will be a $366 billion market by 2028), companies with misleading marketing can create big problems.

Our goal is to make two things clear: 1. Both services have their rightful place in a comprehensive cybersecurity program.  2. They are very, very different in terms of depth, complexity, and results.

Vulnerability scans assess how well you’re running your security system, and they can provide a useful list of potential security issues, which may support penetration testing, but also support identification of potential weakness in your control program.

A pen test isn’t worth doing if a company isn’t using its security features correctly in the first place. Vulnerability scans can be automated, and they require much less expertise and time. But using this service alone, it does a poor job of assessing real-world risk.

A true penetration test involves a skilled cybersecurity expert actively attempting to infiltrate your environment and evade your security measures. Threat actors know how to exploit weaknesses across your security system, so combinations of conditions that may not raise any flags on a vulnerability scan would immediately catch the eye of a skilled pen-tester. 

Lastly, the report you receive at the end of a qualified pen test identifies attack paths, breaking them down into steps, while suggesting ways attacks could be countered.

Knowing these crucial differences could help you operationally, legally, and financially. Some companies charge exorbitant costs for vulnerability scans by advertising them as things like “light” or “automated” penetration tests.

The key is understanding the difference, and using each service in an effective manner. Being a savvy consumer better protects your organization from breaches and all the associated fallout.

Want more details? Check out the full post, “Mistaking Vulnerability Assessments for Penetration Tests Significantly Increases Your Risk” or download the white paper today.

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