Penetration testing and vulnerability scanning are often confused for one another, but they are two very different cybersecurity tools. Vulnerability scanning is automated and looks for known security issues, while penetration testing is a simulation of an attack on your systems to find vulnerabilities that could be exploited.
What is vulnerability scanning?
Vulnerability scanning is the process of identifying potential security risks in your network by looking for known weaknesses. These scans can be conducted internally or externally, depending on where your network perimeter lies. Vulnerability scanners work by matching the software and hardware you have against a database of known vulnerabilities.
If a match is found, the scanner will report back to you with information about that particular vulnerability. This includes things like the severity of the issue and what kind of data could be at risk if that vulnerability were exploited. Vulnerability scanners can be run manually, but they are most often used as part of an automated process.
What is penetration testing?
Penetration testing, also sometimes called pen testing or ethical hacking, is the process of simulating an attack on your systems to find vulnerabilities that could be exploited. Unlike vulnerability scanning, penetration testing is not automated. Instead, it is conducted by ethical hackers who use their skills to try and gain access to your systems in the same way a real attacker would.
Penetration testing can be used to test both physical and digital security measures. For example, a pen tester might try to tailgate someone into a building or break into a computer system through a weak password. The goal of penetration testing is not to actually breach your security, but rather to find the weakest points in your defenses so that they can be strengthened.
When should you use vulnerability scanning?
Vulnerability scanning should be used on a regular basis, particularly if you have a large or complex network. Automated vulnerability scanning can be conducted relatively quickly and can give you a good overview of the security risks present in your system.
However, it is important to remember that vulnerability scanners can only find known vulnerabilities. This means that they will not be able to identify new or unknown risks. For this reason, vulnerability scanning should be used alongside other cybersecurity tools, such as penetration testing.
When should you use penetration testing?
Penetration testing should also be used on a regular basis, but it does not need to be conducted as frequently as vulnerability scanning. This is because penetration tests are much more time-consuming than scans, and they can also be disruptive to your business operations.
However, penetration testing is an important tool for identifying new or unknown risks. This makes it an essential part of any comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. Penetration testing can also be used to validate the effectiveness of your security measures and to provide reassurance to your customers or clients that their data is safe.
Now that you know the difference between vulnerability scanning and penetration testing, you can decide which of these tools is right for your organization. Both are important parts of keeping your systems secure, so make sure to use them both on a regular basis.