Penetration Tests vs Vulnerability Scans: What’s the difference?

Penetration testing (also called “pen testing”) and vulnerability scanning are both required by the by a variety of regulatory frameworks, but there is often confusion about the differences between the two services. Let’s see how vulnerability scans and penetration tests differ from one another.

Vulnerability scans look for known vulnerabilities in your systems and report potential exposures. 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. A vulnerability scan is typically automated, while a penetration test is a manual test performed by a security professional.

Here’s a good analogy: A vulnerability scan is like having your neighbor go to your front door, checking to see if it is unlocked, and telling you if the door is locked or not. A penetration test goes a bit further; it not only checks to see if the door is unlocked, but it also tries to open the door. If it’s locked, it tries to take the door off the hinges, climb through a window, or open the garage door instead.

Both have an important role to play in your security posture and have their own advantages and disadvantages. An organization should have a regular vulnerability scanning and pentesting regimen to address their risk tolerance and satisfy regulatory requirements.

If you would like to read more about the advantages and disadvantages of penetration testing vs vulnerability scanning or want to know which one is right for you, download our whitepaper Vulnerability Scans vs Penetration Tests here.

You can also visit our website to read more about the different types of penetration testing and request a complimentary consultation to see what a pentesting engagement would look like for your organization.

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