Vulnerability scanning vs Penetration testing

vulnerability scanning vs. penetration testing

Vulnerability Scanning vs Penetration Testing

In the evolving world of cyber security, IT systems constantly face new threats. The Australian Cyber
Security Centre reports that in Australia, a cyber crime is reported approximately every 10 minutes. A
breach can heavily impact operations and cost valuable time and money. To stay secure, organisations
need to test for vulnerabilities at the highest and broadest system-wide levels, as well as the deepest
infrastructure levels.

Vulnerability scanning and penetration testing are powerful tools that help minimise the risk of
cyber attacks. When performed by experienced professionals, these cyber security services help provide
peace of mind at all levels of an organisation.

What Is vulnerability scanning?

Vulnerability scanning uses software to test a system for known threats or vulnerabilities. It does not, however, exploit the security holes to determine the extent of exposure and likelihood of an actual attack. After the scan identifies vulnerabilities and generates reports, security and IT teams can prioritise risks and develop countermeasures against threats. 

Broad scope 

A vulnerability scan has a broad scope that includes network hosts and connected devices, web applications and wireless access points. Where necessary, it will assess compliance with Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS). The scan provides an overview of risks that deeper penetration testing can assess in more detail. 

Automated and periodic vulnerability scanning

Vulnerability scanning is most effective when performed on a regular basis. Weekly, monthly or quarterly tests will provide an organisation with up-to-date insights on potential threats. Periodic scans reveal risks as well as confirm the effectiveness of current security systems. 

What is penetration testing? 

Otherwise known as ethical hacking, penetration testing identifies and exploits weaknesses of information systems. It assesses the network architecture and detects possible points of access for malicious intruders. A pentest can take several weeks to complete and should take place once a year. 

Unlike automated vulnerability scanning, penetration testing must be performed manually by professionals with a high level of expertise. Testers examine the technology and business processes of an organisation from the perspective of likely attackers. A completed pentest provides insights on the likelihood of an attack as well as likely methods of attack. 

Limited scope and deep testing

A penetration test or pentest looks at the deepest levels of an information system and will target only the most at-risk and important aspects of a system. The scope of a pentest, therefore, is usually much more limited than a vulnerability scan. Target areas can be as limited as a specific function of an application or department. At the network level, a pentester will look for exploitable vulnerabilities in systems, hosts and devices. At the application level, the test can help ensure compliance and reduce the risk of compromise. The tester will then use a wide range of tools to exploit vulnerabilities and assess the likelihood of a successful attack. It’s easy to see why it is more practical and cost-effective to limit this type of test to a narrow scope. 

Penetration testing scenarios

Penetration testing deals with a wide range of technologies and testing scenarios. Network testing, for example,
examines routers, firewalls and other infrastructure features. Server testing assesses operating systems
and types of servers such as web and mobile applications, databases, email and communication services.

A penetration tester can simulate a wide range of threat scenarios, from casual internet break-ins to phishing and other types of social engineering. Red teaming is a comprehensive approach that
combines many testing methods to simulate a highly motivated attacker.

Cyber security services can help 

Intrix Cyber Security provides cyber security services that can determine the best testing protocol for your organisation. Vulnerability scanning combined with network or application penetration testing provides a detailed picture of what is and isn’t working in your security systems. Most importantly, these tools provide the insights necessary to strengthen an organisation’s security system. 

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