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Vulnerability Assessment vs. Penetration Testing – What Difference They Make to Your Organization Security?

Often used interchangeably, vulnerability assessment and penetration testing, however, are two different terms. Although aimed at enhancing cybersecurity, both of them function uniquely, have distinct objectives, and play varying roles in the context of a company’s cybersecurity. Accordingly, to enable a better understanding of vulnerability assessment and penetration testing, Alliant Cybersecurity highlights a few differences between both.

What is vulnerability assessment, and what is penetration testing?

As the name suggests, vulnerability assessment is an automated test that enables you to identify vulnerabilities in an organization’s systems and applications. On the other hand, penetration testing is considered to be a more rigorous test than vulnerability scanning. It is a controlled form of hacking, and the way of operations is pretty similar to that of a criminal hacker. Here, the attacker, termed ethical hacker, checks and exploits vulnerabilities within a system.

In simple words, it is testing a system for weaknesses through a real-time demonstration of how an actual cyber-attacker will enter the system and gain access to vulnerable documents, files, servers, etc. Nevertheless, both these forms of assessment are critical to an organization’s cybersecurity, and hence knowing both is essential from the viewpoint of understanding their roles. Let us proceed to highlight a few key differences between both.

6 Differences Between Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing

AspectVulnerability AssessmentPenetration Testing
PurposeIdentify vulnerabilities that might compromise a system, and which might increase the likelihood of exposing critical resources to an attack.Identify unknown threats and the weaker areas in a particular system, and further, also compute the risk level at which the systems are.
Frequency of AssessmentShould be done at least once quarterly, and particularly after a new system, equipment is induced, or the system or the network undergoes significant changes.Should be done one or twice a year. However, it must be done also when the equipment, facing the internet, undergoes substantial changes.
Focus AreasLists known software vulnerabilities that the company can assess and exploit.Finds out unknown and exploitable weaknesses in routine business workflows.
ApplicabilitySuitable for companies that are considered insecure and want to identify known security concerns.Well-suited for companies that have a strong cybersecurity, but want to check if the systems are hackable, and know the degree of the exposure to a potential breach or attack.

1.      Discover assets within the IT environment.

2.      Identify the existing vulnerabilities across the network.

3.      Rank risk levels as low, medium, and high.

4.      Deliver reports

5.      Highlight pain areas

6.      Suggest solutions

7.      Implement solutions through configuration of system changes, strengthening security infrastructure, and effective and efficient patch management

1.      Determine the test’s scope and exploitation level on identifying vulnerabilities

2.      Identify vulnerabilities and rank risk severity

3.      Simulate a real-world attack and exploit the vulnerabilities discovered

4.      Maintain system access, until the vulnerabilities remain identified

5.      Do a risk analysis to fathom access

6.      Deliver reports of everything done and identified

7.      Suggest solutions

8.      Execute solutions

9.     Do a re-test to ensure fixing of all the gaps and vulnerabilities identified

Type of Process (Automated/ Manual)The process is automated. It uses web security scanners, network security scanners, etc.The process is automated as well as manual.
Result of the AssessmentIdentifies many known vulnerabilities.Identifies unknown weak points and devises a solution to seal them and prevent an attack.
Duration of the TestFrom a few minutes to a few hoursFrom a few days to a few weeks
Who performs the testsIn-house staff with authenticated credentialsCybersecurity professionals


What difference do vulnerability assessment and penetration testing make to the organization?

Vulnerability assessment and penetration testing both have a substantial role to play in an organization’s security. The former enables companies to identify known risks and vulnerabilities concerning a particular network. The latter simulates a real-world attack and exploits vulnerabilities to help the company know the extent of risk they are exposed to. Additionally, it enables companies to determine the depth of the access that a particular attack may allow an attacker and compute the damage that might occur on continuing with undiscovered vulnerabilities.

Need a Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing Expert? Partner with Alliant Cybersecurity

Alliant Cybersecurity is one of the US’s leading cybersecurity firms with extensive experience and proven expertise in conducting vulnerability assessments and penetration tests. The company comprises several qualified and experienced cybersecurity experts, who have worked on several complex and demanding cybersecurity projects, and delivered results. If you want to identify your system’s vulnerabilities and conduct penetration testing to exploit them and fortify gaps, write to Alliant at [email protected].