Vulnerability scans and penetration testing (also known as pen test) are two different security assessment procedures that should be carried out regularly by businesses to ensure they have a fully protected network environment. Both of these are very important for preventing cybercrime and minimizing the risk that vulnerabilities can potentially be exploited by malicious actors.
A vulnerability scan is an automated search that identifies vulnerabilities in hardware and software. They are typically run on portable devices, applications, routers, servers, and other endpoint devices linked to a local network. These scans can find potential vulnerabilities across the whole business without exploiting found gaps in security. They can be performed by cybersecurity professionals and IT personnel with a good understanding of networking and the specific products inspected by the scans.
Businesses should run vulnerability scans frequently on their IT infrastructure to ensure that gaps in security are found timely and patched before they become a threat. Vulnerabilities can be remediated more effectively if the company follows a management lifecycle, which takes into account all assets that need to be monitored closely and routinely. These network-based scans are not costly, which is why they are so effective to have in place as detection control over the IT resources and potential vulnerabilities. They should be performed at least once in every business quarter or every time a new piece of equipment is added to the company network.
Vulnerability scans come with reports that show any existing gaps in security or changes that took place in the tested resources after the previous test cycle. Automated scanners can also be used to alert the administrators that there is an unauthorized attempt to make changes to the IT environment. This function of the scan can help with detecting malware infections at the time of their happening or intended violations by members of the staff.
Unlike vulnerability scans, penetration testing is a preventative security control rather than just detection-based. Another main difference between the two is the testing approach, which is targetted and human-driven, in the case of pen tests. These are usually conducted by highly skilled cybersecurity experts who understand the complexities of IT networks and the tools needed to exploit new vulnerabilities, previously known or unknown to the business.
Penetration testing can be performed for specific applications, networks, or functions in a company with a large number of assets. Running this test at a department level is also possible, depending on the size of the business and its security requirements. Due to the number of skills and expertise needed to conduct this check, penetration testing ends up being more costly than vulnerability testing. Depending on the scope of the analysis and the assets that will be challenged by the tester, the length of the test also varies. It can take several days to weeks until it is completed, and most business clients choose to run it once or twice per year.
Penetration testing reports are more concise than those generated by vulnerability scans. They usually come with a body, describing the compromised data in the company, and appendices that list all the additional details regarding the testing methods and findings. A well-put penetration testing report should be clear and informative about the cyber attack vulnerabilities but also the data that is at risk. Penetration testing could also offer recommendations on how to improve the security position of the company by following specific steps and measures to eliminate all risks to cybersecurity.
Both penetration testing and vulnerability scanning are quite important for a successful security strategy in a company. They need to be performed timely and skillfully to make sure there are no vulnerabilities and they are identified before they have turned into threats or data loss.
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