Vulnerability Assessments vs. Penetration Testing

With cyber threats causing an estimated $400 billion in losses globally each year, every enterprise must make shoring up security systems an A-1 priority. Two of the most prominent and readily available countermeasures are vulnerability assessments and penetration testing. Trusted third-party teams can provide these services to improve upon your existing information and data security systems.

How Do Vulnerability Assessments Work?

A vulnerability assessment, offered by a talented individual, or more commonly, a professional team, examines and assesses the strengths and weaknesses in your network. It acts as a sweep of your perimeter and a top-down view with easy-to-parse information, such as the location of bugs and misconfigurations. It will also determine if the architecture itself is flawed and if applications used by the enterprise – including the coding of those applications and deployment thereof – are producing vulnerabilities.

Furthermore, a detailed vulnerability assessment goes beyond the enterprise to analyze the potential for various outside threats, including access to the cloud and socially engineered threats. The former is critical as more and more data is stored there, and the latter is an often-overlooked vulnerability to every enterprise; through spoofed websites, phishing and whaling scams, ransomware, and email scams, under-trained employees may be (unintentional) threats to your enterprise’s security.

What Makes Penetration Testing Different?

Penetration testing takes security protection to another level by actively simulating a hack. One of the most important advantages a penetration test, or “pen test,” provides is its human element; even the most advanced automated system cannot think as creatively or spontaneously as a human hacker can. A pen testing team will replicate a cyber attack before it occurs outside of the safety of simulation and produce a list of weak points that hackers could exploit.

A full third of IT professionals have conceded that it has taken more than a year to discover that a breach had occurred, and more than half of these same professionals were unable to determine the sources of those breaches. Penetration testing, via “real world scenarios,” root out those breaches using methodology derived from infosec experts and national and governmental standards. These tests are performed in real-time and reported back the same way.

While low-cost penetration tests are available, the more thorough tests offer complete analysis beyond a simple network test, including web application penetration testing, wireless testing, mobile device penetration testing, and social testing, which monitors what information employees have made publicly available and which employees are susceptible to common scams and hoaxes.

Which One Do You Need?

If you are considering whether to employ a vulnerability assessment or a penetration test, congratulations! You already are ahead of the curve by considering proactive measures before a serious threat damages your profitability and creates costly downtime — or worse.

A vulnerability assessment is more useful for the organization that is still growing a security system and can use the information gathered in the assessment to prioritize fixes and tweaks. A penetration test is better-suited for those people who have arrived at what they feel to be a comprehensive security platform. Pen tests are more goal-oriented, i.e. to simulate the theft of customer sales data or the modification of human resources records, and therefore help an organization shore up an already-robust system.

In the simplest terms, penetration testing focuses on the depth of your security, while vulnerability assessments focus on the general strength of your security.

Do you feel your organization could benefit from a wide-scale vulnerability assessment or a narrowed penetration test? Get in touch with Sentek today.