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Penetration Testing vs. Vulnerability Scanning: How Each Service Works

While penetration testing and vulnerability scanning are both services for testing your business’s systems for potential vulnerabilities, they go about their testing differently. Since both of these services are important and offer different advantages, it’s important to know what they are and how they can help you meet cyber security standards. You’ll likely also want to know some of their benefits and drawbacks before using them for your business’s security.

What Is Vulnerability Scanning?

Sometimes referred to as vulnerability assessments, vulnerability scanning is a service designed to look for security weaknesses in networks, systems, and computers. Typically, vulnerability scans are automated, and they can be set to test on a set schedule or be started manually. They’re needed to meet GLBA, PCI DSS, and FFIEC mandates, as they can find over 50,000 vulnerabilities.

While these assessments can find many vulnerabilities, they’re a more passive form of vulnerability management. Since they only detect and report on potential vulnerabilities rather than fix them, a security professional will need to take action on the vulnerabilities the scan discovers.

What Is Penetration Testing?


Penetration testing is a service performed by analysts or ethical hackers who search for vulnerabilities in a business’s system via research and hacking attempts. When an analyst finds a vulnerability during their penetration test, they’ll then attempt to see if they can exploit it. For example, they might use SQL injection, password cracking, or buffer overflow to exploit the vulnerability to compromise a network’s security and “steal” data from it without actually damaging the network.

Unlike vulnerability scanning, penetration testing is performed by a human being rather than an automated piece of software. While vulnerability testing only finds and reports on potential weaknesses, penetration testing is focused on exploiting those weaknesses to help a business or organization better guard its data. Since penetration testing can reveal many security issues and assist with fixing them, it’s often required by various security standards, such as FedRAMP, PCI DSS, SOC 2 Type 2, and HIPAA.

Which Service Is More Important?

While penetration testing offers a more detailed view into your security’s strengths and weaknesses than vulnerability scans, both services have benefits and drawbacks, making it so they’re best used together. For example, vulnerability scans come with much lower costs and are a quicker option, meaning you can run them more frequently to spot potential issues that your IT team or another cyber security team can take action on. However, they have some drawbacks, such as their tendency to create false positives and identify vulnerabilities that aren’t actually exploitable.

In contrast, penetration testing excels at finding more accurate results and can check if a potential vulnerability is exploitable. When a manual tester finds an exploitable vulnerability, they can give you more information on how a malicious hacker could use this vulnerability to attack your system and how you might address the issue. Though penetration has many benefits, it also takes longer and costs much more than vulnerability testing, meaning companies and organizations may only be able to afford running them occasionally.

Due to the advantages and disadvantages of both services, penetration testing and vulnerability scanning are both important to your data security. You should use both of them to find vulnerabilities and improve your security based on the information provided to you.

Choose BTI for Your Cyber Security Needs

Now that you know more about the importance of penetration testing and vulnerability scanning for your system’s security, you might want to partner with a company that can help you identify weaknesses in your system and take action on them. At BTI, we offer high-value, low-cost managed IT services to ensure your data is as secure as possible. Some of the services we provide include managed server care, core network support, managed desktop care, and backup and disaster recovery.

Find out more about our IT managed services today. If you have any questions or want to improve your cyber security, please contact us.


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