All About Penetration Testing and Vulnerability Assessment

All About Penetration Testing and Vulnerability Assessment

May 20, 2020

Nowadays, every organization depends massively on its IT and cybersecurity team. This is because the smallest loopholes can lead to a massive breach in their network, leading to loss of data, reputation, and finances. However, most organizations use vulnerability assessment and penetration testing to protect their network against external and internal threats by discovering security threats.

Many people believed that both penetration testing and vulnerability assessments are the same. Although these two terms may have related processes, they have different purposes and should not be confused with each other. In this post, we will help to clarify the differences between vulnerability assessment and penetration testing. We will also talk about when and where each term is more appropriate.

What Is Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing in Cybersecurity?

Vulnerability assessment is the process of discovering and measuring how severe are the vulnerabilities in a system. It involves using automated testing tools like network and web security scanners, and the results will be assessed by the security team to reduce risks. This shows that vulnerability testing is evaluating security posture to discover vulnerabilities and then recommend the appropriate remediation to reduce the risk.

However, penetration testing is a goal-oriented exercise. Pentesting is not usually to uncover weaknesses in a system but to simulate a real-life attack to test the defenses set by the security team to help map out the paths that a real attacker can use to attack the network. This shows that the security team uses a penetration test to discover how a hacker can breach the network defenses.

However, penetration testing also involves using automated vulnerability scanners and other manual penetration testing tools to discover weaknesses in network infrastructure and web applications.

What Is the Difference Between Vulnerability Assessment And Penetration Testing?

Here are some differences between vulnerability assessment and penetration testing:

Vulnerability coverage

Vulnerability coverage (also known as length and breadth) is a major difference between vulnerability assessment and penetration testing.

Penetration testing is generally more useful when the target’s security defenses are believed to be strong because it is used for testing security defenses across a path towards a goal. This means penetration can be performed when a customer wants to check if their network security is hack-proof.

However, a vulnerability assessment is used by cybersecurity experts to discover if there are security weaknesses in a system. This approach focuses more on providing organizations with a list of weaknesses that need to be addressed without the need to evaluate the specific attack scenarios that a hacker can use. This makes it a perfect methodology for organizations with low to high-security maturity that wants to be aware of the possible security weaknesses in their network.

The degree of automation

Vulnerability assessment is usually automated; this helps organizations to cover a wider vulnerability range. On the other hand, penetration testing involves a combination of automated and manual techniques to dig deeper into the weaknesses discovered.

The choice of professionals

Another difference between these two terms is the choice of professionals that can perform both security assurance techniques.

Vulnerability assessments are usually performed using automated testing. This does not require many skills, and your security department members can easily perform it. However, penetration testing requires a higher level of expertise because it is manually intensive. It is best always to outsource it to a penetration testing service provider.


A vulnerability assessment report will only provide a comprehensive baseline of the weaknesses in a system and what has changed since the last report. However, a penetration testing report concisely identifies the data that was compromised.

Vulnerability Assessment Vs. Penetration Testing Comparison Table

Here is a table showing the differences between vulnerability assessment and penetration testing:

Vulnerability Scan Penetration Scan
Performed by Usually done by in-house staff using authenticated credentials as it does not require a high skill level Usually outsourced to independent penetration testing service providers as it requires a great deal of skill
Frequency It is done at least quarterly, especially if new equipment is loaded or significant changes in the network. It is done once or twice a year or anytime that there are significant changes to the internet-facing equipment.
Focus It lists out the known software weaknesses that hackers can exploit. It detects unknown and exploitable weaknesses in a normal business process.
Reports It provides a comprehensive baseline of the weaknesses present in a system and what changed since the last report It concisely identifies the data that was compromised.
Value It is used to detect when equipment can be exploited It is used to identify and reduce weaknesses in a system

Is Penetration Testing Part of Vulnerability Management?

Yes, penetration testing can be considered a key part of vulnerability management and assessments. This is because penetration testing can be done within a vulnerability management program when the obvious threats have been addressed, so the network is subjected to a real-life attack scenario. This means it is only after pentesting that the defenses in a network can be measured.

Why Do You Need VAPT?

Vulnerability assessment and penetration testing (VAPT) give companies a comprehensive evaluation of the weaknesses in their system. Using this approach, organizations can get a detailed view of threats that can face a network, enabling the business to better protect their data and system from hackers. It further helps IT and security teams to focus on ways to mitigate critical weaknesses in a system.

In summary, VAPT helps an organization to:

  • Prevent damage to an organization’s reputation.
  • Prevent the leakage and stealing of confidential data and intellectual property.
  • Mitigate the issues caused by an attack.
  • Prevent revenue loss caused by service disruptions.

Jump-Start Your Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing with EC-Council

The EC-Council Global Service is a perfect option for you if you are searching for security solutions that will keep hackers at bay. EGS also offers a complete vulnerability assessment and penetration testing solution that covers a wide range of network infrastructure and web application security assessment services for detecting and gauging security weaknesses.

Furthermore, EGS offers a unique and flexible approach that can be easily tailored to efficiently and effectively fit a client’s operating goals and environment.

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