Penetration test or vulnerability scan: what’s the difference?

Penetration testing-vulnerability scanning
The Problem

The danger posed by hackers seems infinite in today’s digital world. The frequency of which companies are affected by cyber-attacks is increasing. This blog article explores the methods of penetration testing and vulnerability scanning.​

The trend is still rising, because while more and more people are carrying out their own digital transformation, new security gaps are always emerging. To still be able to protect your own systems, now is the time to take the necessary measures. ​​

​Two methods companies often consider at this point which are penetration testing and vulnerability scanning. We explain where the difference between these two methods lies and where companies should start to protect themselves sufficiently from hackers.

The two methods compared: Penetration Testing & Vulnerability Scanning

Vulnerability scanning is an inexpensive and fast process to identify security vulnerabilities. Security tools help scan the network, applications or other IT infrastructure to find those vulnerabilities for which patches or other security solutions are already available. Such a scan can also uncover configuration errors or other vulnerabilities.  ​

 ​In comparison, a penetration test is a manual process. Here, so-called “ethical hackers” attempt to infiltrate the system on behalf of the company by exploiting known vulnerabilities or attempting to discover new ones. A penetration test therefore mimics a real attack and can include various methods that hackers often use. These include, for example, attacks on the network or on web applications as well as social engineering. On the one hand, this can provide information about possible effects; on the other hand, a successful penetration test usually also offers recommendations for action to close the security gaps.

Vulnerability scanning is a good start

When a company is faced with the decision of which of the two methods to choose, the vulnerability scan is always the first logical step. There are several reasons for this: First, vulnerability scanning is an effective and inexpensive way to quickly uncover existing security vulnerabilities, thereby providing an initial overview. Since vulnerability scans can be easily automated and therefore performed at regular intervals, potential risks can be identified and remediated before they are exploited by hackers. This reduces the likelihood of becoming a victim of a cyber-attack, which can result not only in the loss of data, but also reputational damage and disruption to day-to-day business. ​​

Once the necessary groundwork has been laid, penetration testing can help provide further key insights in the second step. While a vulnerability scan primarily reveals those security gaps that already have known causes, penetration tests additionally offer the chance to identify those vulnerabilities that were not previously known. In this way, penetration tests help to test one’s own response capabilities and to further refine security measures accordingly.​

Real security requires more than one solution

To safeguard against hackers and their destructive attacks, companies must identify their starting point for protection. Vulnerability scans serve as a crucial initial step to assess security and identify potential entry points. Penetration tests allow proactive identification and remediation of emerging trends before hackers exploit them. The combination of both methods enables companies to build a robust and sustainable security infrastructure. ​​

Want to learn more about how Autobahn Security can help you protect your business from attacks? Here we explain the seven essential steps we take to permanently improve your hacking protection.