Vulnerability Assessments or Penetration Testing – Choose Wisely!


The terminologies “vulnerability assessment” and “penetration testing” often get confusing right? Although these security practices sometimes overlap, they are different with respect to having distinct goals and objectives.

Even though, both “vulnerability assessments” and “penetration tests” try to detect vulnerabilities or security loopholes that may allow a hacker to exploit the processes and disrupting the functionality.

The major difference between these two security testing activities is of “focus”.

A vulnerability assessment attempts to detect hidden vulnerabilities that occur in an environment or the development system. On the other side, penetration testing is deliberately focused to identify hidden entry holes in a secured system. In simpler words, pen testing doesn’t aim to dig out all the vulnerabilities in a system, it only works to detect those loopholes that may compromise a system’s security.

Vulnerability Assessments Vs. Penetration Testing

Vulnerability Assessments

Every organization that is looking to incorporate secured development models should begin with vulnerability assessments. This assessment takes place in a specific system environment and therefore attempts to detect its security and privacy related vulnerabilities.

Various vulnerability assessment stages can be automated through multiple scope-specific software tools available online, such as OpenVAS, Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer, and Nexpose.

Penetration Testing

Penetration testing, also known as pen testing, helps detect any major loopholes that can leave a whole security system exploited. It is way much more crucial than vulnerability assessments as it detects all the under-the-hood entry holes in any product or an environment.

The main goal of pen testing is to break through a protected system and discover the weak points. Pen testers are basically ethical hackers that do not work to identify and document vulnerabilities, instead, they find ways to break into a system and surprise the stakeholders with their incredibly vulnerable security model.

Where Does the Difference Lie?

Pen testers focus to reach into deep into the environment, and that ’s literally a much broader practice than vulnerability assessment.

Software Tools:

Vulnerability assessment may depend on various automation tools, however, pen testing ranges far beyond the software tools. Pen testers may sometimes use the same tools that vulnerability assessors use, but the basic goal is to discover easy-to-access entries in the security environment.

Inside and outside personnel:

In a small-level organization, the vulnerability assessments are commonly conducted by an inside personnel. However, extensive companies and businesses with more intrinsic environments require more immense security assessment and external security assistance.

Experience and Human Error:

An operational pen test is often intense and requires long-term experience and skills in contrast to the most vulnerability assessments. Pen testers skeptically get into an environment and detect the weaknesses that are mostly human created. Proficient pen testers are aware that a careless or unfocused user can be the easiest source to provide hackers an entry to exploit the systems.

End Report:

A vulnerability assessment report will only be a detailed document about the vulnerabilities detected, while the pen test report contains all the tactics and ways the penetration attacks were made effective. The pen testing report also involves why some attacks could not succeed and how they can be avoided in the future. Through pen testing report, stakeholders can stop hackers to break into the system by using the same tactics the pen testers (ethical hackers) used.

Number of attempts:

Pen testing is normally executed less often than vulnerability testing as it occurs on a huge scale compared to vulnerability testing. Organizations mostly attempt pen testing on an annual basis.

So, What Should You Choose?

Both vulnerability assessments and pen testing have their own metrics and both specify important goals of an organization. There can be many factors that decide which one to use, but the seriousness of an IT organization towards its security and privacy policy helps better in that decision-making process.

If you are a startup and placing some security models, then vulnerability assessment would be a good choice. On the other hand, if you are a well-established business, you should readily set up penetration testing in your systems.

In the process, if your organization becomes a highly experienced IT suite, you should not mind using both vulnerability assessments and pen testing.