Vulnerability assessments and Penetration testing are terms that are used interchangeably but are fundamentally different methods of security audits used to discover vulnerabilities on a target system. Knowing these differences are key to making an informed decision on what your business needs to stay abreast of the ever-changing cyber security world.
Vulnerability assessments are usually automated scanning tools to identify vulnerabilities in a network, web application or mobile application. It can help identify any security issues, such as outdated protocols, certificates, missing patches and often checks for known vulnerabilities out in the wild. Once identified, it then places them into a category based on the potential impact of each exposure on your system. These are often called “Severity” categories and is based on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being the lowest (or informational) severity and 5 being the highest (or critical)severity.
Vulnerability assessments are essential to ensure the safety of a system and provides a good baseline for the systems security posture. Vulnerability assessment are usually a tool in the Penetration testing methodology.
Penetration testing involves identifying vulnerabilities in a network, web application or mobile application and exploiting them. Rather than relying on a tool to provide results, Penetration Testing is a manual process, where a person can combine automated tools, ingenuity, and creativity to exploit any discovered vulnerabilities. Penetration testing works to simulate a cyber-attack, although in a more controlled and non-damaging way.
Here’s a quick analogy: A Vulnerability Assessment is someone checking your home to see that all the doors are locked, and windows are closed before you leave for a holiday. A Penetration Test is someone checking the same things, but if a door is unlocked, they will walk into the house and making a list of what could be taken.
So which option is best? This all comes down to business requirements and the cyber security maturity of the systems. In our opinion, a Vulnerability Assessment is a fantastic starting point, as it allows a broad overview of your security posture and good platform for securing your systems. Subsequently, a Penetration Test allows you a peace of mind that a trained professional has put your systems through their paces and follows best practices. The combination of both practices allows for a comprehensive and thorough assessment, ensuring the protection of your data world.