Vulnerability scans and penetration tests are very different from each other, but both serve important functions for protecting a networked environment.
When people misunderstand the differences between penetration testing and vulnerability assessment, they are often missing a vital component in their overall network security profile and both are crucial for cybercrime prevention.
Vulnerability assessments search systems for known vulnerabilities. A penetration test attempts to actively exploit weaknesses in an environment. While a vulnerability scan can be automated, a penetration test requires various levels of expertise.
Differences between Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing
The table below lists the differences between vulnerability assessment and penetration testing:
|Vulnerability assessment||Penetration testing|
|Frequency||At least quarterly, especially after new equipment is loaded or the network undergoes significant changes||Once or twice a year, as well as anytime the Internet-facing equipment undergoes significant changes|
|Reports||Provide a comprehensive baseline of what vulnerabilities exist and what changed since the last report||Concisely identify what data was compromised|
|Focus||Lists known software vulnerabilities that could be exploited||Discovers unknown and exploitable weaknesses in normal business processes|
|Performed by||Typically conducted by in-house staff using authenticated credentials; does not require a high skill level||Best to use an independent outside service and alternate between two or three; requires a great deal of skill|
|Value||Detects when equipment could be compromised||Identifies and reduces weaknesses|