Penetration Tests vs. Vulnerability Scans: What’s the Difference?

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 In this article, we will take a look at Penetration Tests vs. Vulnerability Scans.  Since many believe that there is no difference in this, although, in fact, it is not.

Virtually every IT infrastructure has vulnerabilities, which are usually closed by all sorts of software updates.  Using these vulnerabilities, hackers carry out an attack on important IT objects in the organization, so it is necessary to identify and close these vulnerabilities in a timely manner.

Penetration Tests vs. Vulnerability Scans

Vulnerability Scanning

Vulnerability Scanning is the identification of vulnerabilities in an organization’s IT infrastructure.  Unlike penetration tests, scanning will show vulnerabilities and provide recommendations for closing them, but without considering possible exploitation of these vulnerabilities.

 Typically, vulnerability scanning is carried out by several proven commercial products, after which the customer is provided with a summary report on the vulnerabilities found and recommendations for closing them.

 What scans are there?

Types of scans that are carried out:

 * internally scanning network and software;

 * external scanning of the network perimeter;

 * scanning of web resources.

However, it should be remembered that network scanning must be performed on a regular basis at least 2 times a year or after any changes in the infrastructure.

 What is a pen test

Information security audit (penetration test) allows the Company with the help of DataArt to assess the real level of security of information assets in the current state of the art of methods for obtaining unauthorized access to information assets processed in automated information systems of organizations.  Such an assessment is obtained by simulating attacks by potential intruders on the selected information assets of the Company.

 The list of information assets and vectors of simulated attacks are determined at the initial stage of the penetration test and are agreed with the Company.

 Target assets for a potential attacker can be both the internal corporate network of the Company and specific information systems, including those containing data that are critical for the Company.

 A penetration test allows you to quickly assess the real security of selected information assets from unauthorized access, simulating the most common attacks.

How is testing done?

Currently, there are several international methods of penetration testing, focused mainly on simulating attacks aimed at the network infrastructure of an organization:

 * Open Source Security Testing Methodology Manual (OSSTMM) is perhaps the only technique that focuses not only on technical tests, but also on attacks related to social engineering and aimed at users of the corporate network.

 * NIST SP800-115 – a document, although not a methodology, but describes the general aspects of conducting penetration tests.

 * The Information Systems Security Assessment Framework (ISSAF) is a framework focused on instrumental vulnerability search.

 * PCI DSS (section 11.3 of the standard) – According to section 11.3 of the PCI DSS standard, organizations that comply with the standard must conduct a penetration test at least once a year.  To clarify this section of PCI DSS, the Information Supplement Requirement 11.3 Penetration Testing document was issued in very general terms describing the sequence of instrumental testing of the external perimeter of the network infrastructure of the company under test (in fact, this instrumental test is not a penetration test).


 To summarize, we can conclude that security testing services are sometimes considered more thorough than vulnerability scanning, but in reality, they cover a different range of vulnerabilities.  Pen testing focuses on things that cannot be detected automatically, such as business logic vulnerabilities and new vulnerabilities.