When someone poses the question – Penetration Test Versus Vulnerability Scan – we answer by describing what each test is. Also, what each is designed to do.
One of the key differences between a penetration test and a vulnerability scan lies in the amount of human time and skill needed to perform it. This influences the depth to which the target network will be tested.
Scans are automated and are quite shallow, whereas penetration tests are manual and result in systems being more thoroughly evaluated.
Some compliance standards, such as PCI DSS, require both vulnerability scans and penetration tests are carried out on a regular basis – so it’s important to know the difference.
What is a Penetration Test?
This is a testing process designed to locate and exploit vulnerabilities in IT systems. It relies heavily on the skill of a penetration tester (sometimes called an “ethical hacker”). This is an individual skilled in a wide range of techniques that can be used to gain unauthorised access to systems.
Penetration tests are useful in gauging how open an organisation is to attack, breach and loss of data. This is achieved by performing the sorts of tests that a real hacker would use.
Companies take a penetration test when they need a detailed security analysis of networks and applications.
The tester writes that penetration test report, which would contain the following sections:
- A non-technical management summary, with a business focus. This is very useful for senior managers and project stakeholders wanting to understand business risks.
- A technical summary of recommendations. This is a summary of all detailed findings that includes clear risk ratings.
- Detailed test results. Here, each technical finding is documented with fix information.
What is a Vulnerability Scan?
This is an automated process where a scanning software tool finds security weaknesses .
Such tools are good at uncovering individual vulnerabilities. However, they lack the ability to piece together these issues to discover ways in which target systems could be breached in real life.
Vulnerability scans are useful as a low-cost way to support risk management, and can even be performed by suitably experienced end-users.
A vulnerability assessment report is automatically generated and would contain the following sections:
- A summary of technical findings. This is a summary of all detailed findings that includes clear risk ratings.
- Scan results. Here, each finding is documented with fix information.