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Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing, Same or Not?

Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing, Same or Not?
  • Discover
  • cybersecurity
  • Penetration testing

8 Jun 2022

In today’s connected world, cybersecurity can’t be taken for granted. The rapid developments in technology, combined with constantly evolving threats, make it necessary for online infrastructure and virtually every connected application to ensure security against every conceivable event that could compromise them. 

These systems need to undergo frequent vulnerability assessments and upgrades to maintain such round-the-clock preparedness.

What is Vulnerability Assessment?

Commonly referred to interchangeably as vulnerability scan and vulnerability testing, vulnerability assessment is a commonly implemented process in the cybersecurity domain. 

In this process, systems and the software applications running on them are put through a series of tests using a specialized set of tools to identify any potential security vulnerabilities.

Vulnerability testing is generally conducted by qualified professionals using automated tools. These tools are programmed to look for potential exposures by matching them against many known vulnerabilities. 

Following the scan, a report will be generated listing the presence of any of the known vulnerabilities along with other relevant information for better understanding. Running an automated scan is just the first step of vulnerability scanning, as the report generated needs to be followed up by a certified professional.

Security professionals can manually verify all the vulnerabilities mentioned in the report to rule out false positives. In the end, the client will receive a comprehensive report stating all confirmed potential risk exposures along with directions to fix them.

However, running a vulnerability scan and fixing reported issues won’t ensure complete security. Instead, it focuses only on a set of known vulnerabilities confined to the system and the software running on them.

A thorough penetration testing methodology needs to be adopted to ensure all-around security.

What is Penetration Testing?

Unlike vulnerability assessment, penetration is a manual process where experienced white-hat hackers use all possible methods to compromise the system in a safe environment. Additionally, the purview of penetration testing extends beyond a single system and software to include the entire IT infrastructure.

In penetration testing, the process is similar to subjecting an application or a company’s infrastructure to various coordinated cyberattacks. These attacks simulate real-world possibilities and, depending on the expertise of the testing team, could end up uncovering vulnerabilities from the least expected places.

To cover all possible scenarios, the penetration testing process is split into multiple types, each focusing on a particular aspect or facet of a business. The six major types of penetration testing include:

  • External network penetration testing.
  • Internal network penetration testing.
  • Social engineering testing.
  • Physical penetration testing.
  • Wireless penetration testing.
  • Application penetration testing.

At the end of penetration testing activities, the business will have a complete picture of all possible vulnerabilities in their organization, enabling them to plug those gaps to proactively ward off any potential cyberthreat.

Weighing Between Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing?

Vulnerability assessment and penetration testing have their advantages. While penetration testing is comprehensive and covers more ground, it is also expensive for those very same reasons. 

Meanwhile, vulnerability assessment covers most of the known risk exposures for a system in a short time at a significantly low cost compared to penetration testing.

Good practices and, in some cases, the regulatory requirements call for more frequent vulnerability assessments than penetration testing. The constantly updated collection of known vulnerabilities and changes and updates made to system software also makes a strong case for quarterly assessments.

Meanwhile, the comprehensive security testing method doesn’t require frequent assessment. However, businesses are encouraged to conduct these tests annually or whenever significant infrastructure upgrades or new equipment are installed.

Whether mandated by regulations or not, identifying risks and fixing them before anything untoward happens is always good. And these two processes make the well-known proverb, “forewarned is forearmed,” much more relevant in this technology era.

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