Security is something we like to talk about a lot, but we tend to put it on the back burner until it becomes a problem. It’s only natural to think, “It’ll never happen to me,” but the fact is, it can and does happen to anyone at any time. That’s why taking proactive steps towards protecting your organization is so important and conducting regular security testing should be a key part of that process. But what exactly are you supposed to be testing for?
With hundreds and thousands of different cybersecurity threat vectors out there – all of which can be exploited in a number of different ways – it is impossible to ensure that your organization is truly secure. That being said, there are certain core components of security that you should always keep in mind when conducting testing. And both vulnerability assessment and penetration testing should be seen as an integral part of that process. But though vulnerability assessment and penetration testing are often used interchangeably, there are some key differences between the two that you should be aware of.
So, what is the difference between vulnerability assessment and penetration testing? Keep reading to find out.
What is a Vulnerability Assessment?
A vulnerability assessment is an investigation that determines the security state of a network, system, or application—by identifying and prioritizing vulnerabilities that could be exploited by an attacker. It’s also used to identify potential risks within the system, determine how likely it is for those risks to occur, and provide recommendations for remediating any issues that are found.
It’s important to note that a vulnerability assessment is different from penetration testing, which is designed to test the security of your systems so that you can identify weaknesses and fix them.
The goal of a vulnerability assessment is to create an inventory of all the vulnerabilities within your organization’s infrastructure. This includes all the software and hardware that is currently running on your network, including mobile devices, as well as the systems that are connected to your network. Vulnerability assessments can be conducted manually or automatically, but they all include some form of testing and evaluation. Manual vulnerability assessments require an IT professional to perform tests on each system within the organization, while automatic vulnerability assessments use software that scans your entire infrastructure for vulnerabilities.
The gathered information can then be used to help you prioritize which issues need to be addressed first and what types of solutions will work best for each problem.
The Most Common Types of Vulnerability Assessments Include:
- External network scanning, which helps identify any vulnerabilities that are outside your organization’s firewall. This includes identifying open ports, IP addresses, and MAC addresses, along with analyzing the type of software running on each device.
- Internal network scanning, which identifies vulnerabilities within your internal systems as well as devices connected to them (like printers or projectors).
- Internal system scanning, which helps identify vulnerabilities in your systems, such as weak passwords or outdated software that could be exploited by hackers.
- Network penetration testing, which is used to simulate a hacker attack on your network. This type of test may include attempting to gain access to sensitive information or even bringing down the entire system by crashing it with a denial-of-service (DoS) attack.
- Web application scanning, which is used to test the security of your website. This type of testing can help identify common vulnerabilities like cross-site scripting (XSS), SQL injection, and malware injection.
How Does a Vulnerability Assessment Work?
A vulnerability assessment is the first step in ensuring that you have the right security measures in place to protect your organization, employees, and customers. It involves identifying potential flaws in your systems and creating a plan to fix them.
The most common way to conduct a vulnerability assessment is through an external scan. This involves sending out probes to your network to see what ports open and what services are running on them. The vulnerability assessment will also test for any outdated software or operating systems that may leave your network vulnerable to attack.
If you do not have the technical expertise or time required to conduct an external scan yourself, then hiring a third-party IT company can be an excellent option. They will provide you with all of the information needed to take action on any issues identified during their assessment process. This allows them to focus on other areas of cyber security, such as penetration testing or incident response planning instead!
What is a Penetration Test?
A penetration test is a method of assessing the security of an application or system by simulating a real-world attack. The penetration test may be performed by a specialized security testing company, or it may be conducted by the developers of the application or system themselves.
A penetration test differs from a vulnerability assessment in that it involves actively attacking the target rather than passively searching for vulnerabilities. A penetration test is also focused on finding and exploiting vulnerabilities with malicious intent, while a vulnerability assessment focuses on discovering potential weaknesses in an application or system that could be exploited by hackers for malicious intent.
Penetration testing can be performed manually or automated. Manual penetration testing requires testers to execute attacks manually against a target system. Automated penetration tests involve using software tools to automate tasks such as port scanning, network mapping, identifying available services and vulnerabilities, exploiting identified vulnerabilities, and reporting results back to the tester.
What Will You Learn from a Penetration Test that You Wouldn’t Learn from a Vulnerability Assessment?
A penetration test is a method of verifying the security of an organization’s digital assets by simulating an attack on those assets. It’s a way to ensure that you’re taking all possible steps to protect your business from cyberattacks.
A vulnerability assessment is also used to verify the security of your organization’s digital assets, but it does so in a different way: by looking for known vulnerabilities that could lead to attacks rather than simulating attacks themselves. This means that a vulnerability assessment will help you find holes in your defenses, but it won’t tell you how someone might exploit those holes.
The most important thing to remember about penetration tests is that they are much more comprehensive than vulnerability assessments. While both types of tests look at potential threats to an organization’s security, only a penetration test can simulate these threats and show how they might be carried out—which means it provides more useful information about what could happen if there were an actual attack on your systems than just knowing which vulnerabilities exist within them.
When Should I Schedule a Vulnerability Assessment or Penetration Test?
The answer to this question depends on the needs of your organization and what you want to accomplish. If you’re looking for a deeper understanding of your current security posture, then a vulnerability assessment is likely the best choice. A vulnerability assessment will help you identify weaknesses in your systems, which can then be addressed with appropriate measures.
If, on the other hand, you are concerned about a specific threat actor and want to know if they have been able to gain access to your network, then a penetration test may be more appropriate. Penetration tests are designed to simulate an attack by an external party and allow you to see how well your defenses would hold up under real-world conditions.
Penetration testing is the best way to test your security. It allows you to simulate a real-world attack by an external party and see how well your defenses hold up. If you have a specific threat actor in mind, then penetration testing is also the best option. Vulnerability assessments are great for identifying weaknesses in your current security posture, but they don’t provide any insight into how well those weaknesses would be exploited if attacked by an adversary.