What Is the Difference Between Penetration Testing and Vulnerability Testing?

Regular security testing offers businesses the two most valuable resources when protecting against cybersecurity threats: time and knowledge. With consistent tests against your systems’ weak points, you can see what needs to be improved to keep your data safe, especially when analyzing the five most common vulnerabilities:

  • Server security misconfiguration
  • Cross-site scripting
  • Broken access control
  • Sensitive data exposure
  • Authentication and sessions

However, with multiple options for analyzing your vulnerabilities, how do you make the right choice for your business? In this article, we’ll break down the vulnerability assessment and penetration testing difference, as well as how Penetration Testing as a Service (PTaaS) offers ongoing security insights.


Are Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing the Same?

The key difference between vulnerability assessment and penetration testing is that vulnerability assessments search for potential weak points in your security, while penetration testing identifies weaknesses and then attempts to exploit them. There is often confusion between vulnerability scanning and penetration testing, which is easy to understand, since vulnerability testing is essentially an early step in the more-comprehensive penetration test.


What Are the Different Types of Vulnerability Testing?

Vulnerability testing is available in five main methods: network-based, host-based, wireless, database, and application scans.

  • Network-Based Scans: Assesses computers and other network-connected devices in your IT infrastructure for vulnerabilities
  • Host-Based Scans: Assesses network hosts such as servers and workstations for vulnerabilities
  • Wireless Scans: Assesses your network’s access points for vulnerabilities
  • Database Scans: Assesses your database applications (like your CRMs and email systems) for vulnerabilities
  • Application Scans: Assesses your web-based, native, and hybrid applications for vulnerabilities

These scans can be manual or automated and assess either internal or external entities. Each of these scans have a shared goal: to identify weaknesses in your security system so you can fix them before a bad actor finds and exploits them.


What Is Scanning Penetration Testing?

The scanning stage is the second of five stages in penetration testing, which involves assessing your applications, networks, databases, and access points for weaknesses. This stage shares a lot of similarities with vulnerability testing, but penetration testing (also known as pen testing) goes more in depth to discover what your weak points are and what you can do to strengthen them. Here’s how it works, start to finish:

  • Planning and Reconnaissance: First, you should have a goal in mind for your penetration testing. Which systems will you test and to what extent? This stage also involves gathering all of the information you’ll need to get the most out of your testing, including networks, domains, and mail servers that are connected to the target network.
  • Scanning: During this stage, you can employ vulnerability assessment methods to get an idea of which weak points to test. To make your assessment more effective, you can choose to perform a static or dynamic analysis. A static analysis scans the entirety of an application’s code to predict how it will perform while running. A dynamic analysis scans the code as it runs in real-time. While scanning your IT network is important, it’s also vital to ensure that your team is as resistant as possible to cyberattacks. As part of a social engineering pen test, employees should be analyzed on how they handle sensitive data and digital communications.
  • Gaining Access: In order to test your security, you need to provide an ethical hacker with access to your systems. You can grant access at several different levels: white box, black box, and grey box. White box gives the tester full access to your systems code, so they can dive deep and find hidden problems. Black box gives the tester no prior knowledge of your system, so they focus on the most severe risks. Grey box gives access to a set amount of information to test specific, predetermined vulnerabilities.
  • Maintaining Access: In this stage, the tester attempts to exploit your system’s vulnerabilities as much as they can. Their goal is to see how long they can maintain access, how much of your data they can access, and how much damage they can do. Of course, these are just tests, so your data will remain perfectly safe.
  • Analysis: Penetration testing your vulnerabilities only makes sense if you know which actions to take to strengthen your cybersecurity. To do so, findings should be summarized in detailed reports that describe: the specific vulnerabilities that were identified and tested, which sensitive data the tester gained access to, how long the tester navigated your system without being detected, and what the estimated damage of their access could have been.


Which Is Better: Vulnerability Assessment or Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing is often the better choice over vulnerability assessment because it is more comprehensive. Vulnerability assessment tells you what could go wrong. Penetration testing shows you your weaknesses and how your business will be affected if those vulnerabilities are exploited. In cases where budget limitations prevent access to penetration testing, vulnerability assessments are still better than turning a blind eye to your cybersecurity’s performance.

For businesses that prioritize their cybersecurity, Penetration Testing as a Service (PTaaS) offers even greater insights. Essentially, PTaaS provides testing at frequent intervals, so you can identify and shore up vulnerabilities in real-time. Cyberattacks are constantly evolving—so should your ability to protect against them.


Catch Vulnerabilities Before They Get Exploited

As an industry leader delivering PTaaS, InterVision understands just how critical detecting threats early can be. Cyberattacks are on the rise (an 18% increase between 2020 and 2021), and businesses need to not only match, but exceed, these attackers’ efforts. With PTaaS powered by RedSpy365, you can go on the offense against attacks without needing to slowly build up your IT team. We help you do this by continuously mapping emerging threats, so you don’t get caught off guard. To learn more about how you can put the element of surprise on your side—not your attackers’—get in touch today.