Penetration Testing vs. Vulnerability Scans

If your organization is already taking a proactive approach to defending your network, then you’ve probably heard of the terms penetration testing and vulnerability scans. While both are essential to balancing a comprehensive cybersecurity platform, the purpose and execution of each have significant differences. In this post, we’ll explore those key differences, so you have a deeper understanding of how they can benefit your organization and protect your day-to-day operations.

What Vulnerability Scans Accomplish

Because it’s the more straightforward of the two cybersecurity solutions, we’ll start by exploring the purpose and goals of vulnerability scans and assessments. Fundamentally, a vulnerability scan is an automated task. A software platform automatically scans your network, devices, and infrastructure for any known network vulnerabilities.

Vulnerability scans take into account every aspect of your network to uncover any potential network loopholes. From there, you can install patches, reconfigure security settings, and make network upgrades as needed to resolve any detected vulnerabilities.

How Often Should You Perform Vulnerability Scans?

Since vulnerability scans are an automated process, you can schedule them to occur as frequently as you’d like. When scheduled during office downtime, vulnerability scans have minimal impact on regular network operations. While daily vulnerability scans aren’t necessary, we recommend performing scans weekly, bi-weekly, or whenever you make significant upgrades, updates, and additions to your network. That’s because as additional security vulnerabilities are uncovered, your vulnerability assessments take into account those emerging threats that more frequent scans can reveal.

The Role of Penetration Testing

Unlike vulnerability assessments, penetration testing requires a more human approach. While the purpose of vulnerability scans is to uncover known system vulnerabilities in your network, penetration tests are intended to uncover previously unknown vulnerabilities. White hat—or ethical—hackers attempt to use their skills to infiltrate your system using the same means cybercriminals would. If they’re able to access your network via loopholes, you know there are deeper security vulnerabilities that need to be addressed. If they’re unable to penetrate your systems, chances are your network is relatively secure for the time being.

How Often Should You Perform Penetration Testing?

Since penetration testing involves a more hands-on approach than vulnerability assessments, it’s generally not performed as frequently. However, the frequency with which you should perform penetration testing depends on several factors, including:

The Size of Your Network

The more expansive your network, the more likely it is to have security vulnerabilities. Even changing one setting or piece of infrastructure on a more extensive network can open significant loopholes in your cybersecurity protocols. As a result, the larger your network, the more frequently you should perform penetration tests.

Regulatory Compliance

In certain industries, businesses are required to perform penetration tests with mandated frequency. If you’re operating in a regulated industry like finance or healthcare, make sure you’re aware of how frequently you’re required to perform penetration tests and adhere to those stipulations. Those rules are in place not only to protect your clients; they’re there to protect your organization as well.

Infrastructure

If your organization is frequently upgrading and updating your infrastructure, you’ll need to perform penetration tests more regularly. Any changes you make to your network, particularly infrastructure upgrades and adjusting security measures, can lead to broader cybersecurity implications for your network. Regular penetration testing, especially after upgrades, is an ideal strategy for uncovering those hidden loopholes that cybercriminals look to exploit.

Why You Need Both

If you want to develop a cybersecurity platform that specializes in tackling emerging threats before they cripple your operations, your organization needs to be prioritizing penetration testing and vulnerability scans. While their overarching goals are similar—they uncover security vulnerabilities—their scope and execution can vary greatly. 

Vulnerability scans take a broader approach by scanning the surface level of your network for immediate security vulnerabilities. As the name suggests, penetration testing, on the other hand, takes a more focused approach by diving deeper into the intricacies of your network to uncover potential security exploits. Ultimately, with both solutions, you end up with a detailed list of the security risks and vulnerabilities on your network. However, performing a penetration test may bring to light different issues than a vulnerability scan does and vice versa. That’s why you need to find the ideal balance between the two strategies to maximize network protection.

How Pure IT Can Help

Whether you want to start taking advantage of the latest network security strategies, or you’re interested in exploring some fundamental security tools you can use to secure your system, contact the experts at Pure IT today. We’ll work with you to pinpoint your industry-specific threats and develop a cybersecurity framework that keeps you protected in an ever-changing security landscape.

Posted Under: Cybersecurity, Technology Best Practices