Vulnerability Assessments vs Penetration Tests
The world of IT Security can be daunting, for those new to it. The field is inherently technical and seemingly filled with endless jargon. For non-technical executives and managers, the prospect of tackling IT Security can be very intimidating. Where do you start? Should you hire consultants? What services should you hire them to perform? A question we consistently find ourselves answering: “What’s the difference between a vulnerability assessment and a penetration test?” If you are concerned about the security of your infrastructure and shopping for a security resource, it’s critical to understand the distinction between these two services.
A vulnerability assessment is the process of examining your organization’s people, process, and technology, for the purpose of identifying weaknesses. We use a mixed approach of interviews with key staff as well as the use of technical security tools to examine the network and connected devices. Typically, the engagement ends with a report showing vulnerabilities with recommendations on how to fix them.
Penetration testing refers to the attempt to identify – and crucially exploit – vulnerabilities in systems for the purpose of breaching a company’s defenses. A penetration test can be an extension of a vulnerability assessment. A penetration test can take a few different forms, white box, black box, or gray box. Generally, the color implies the amount of information the tester knows beforehand. A white box test may follow a vulnerability assessment. That is to say, the penetration tester will have detailed knowledge of the company, its network, and the system in question. A black box approach would involve very little information being given to the tester beforehand, beyond a scope and terms of engagement. As you might have guessed, gray box is a hybrid approach.
The engagement typically ends with a report, detail on how the particular systems were breached, and advice on how best to secure the network or applications against the exploited vulnerabilities.
In short, vulnerability assessments represent a wide focus, in that they are designed to assess an organization from end-to-end. Often they are considered a starting point for companies with a maturing security culture. Penetration testing is a narrow, targeted engagement, typically focusing on one system or one network segment and is often undertaken by organizations with a mature security posture, looking to harden key systems against advanced attacks.
If you have any questions on IT Security matters, please contact our team of professionals at OCD Tech.