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Penetration Testing vs Vulnerability Scanning

Penetration Testing vs Vulnerability Scanning

Penetration Testing vs Vulnerability Scanning

A penetration test enables organizations to identify vulnerabilities in their applications, infrastructures, and products. That way issues can be remedied before they are exploited to compromise the confidentiality, integrity, and/or availability of data. Penetration tests must be driven by talented offensive security experts who are familiar with current techniques, tactics and procedures used by today’s real-world threat actors.   

Penetration Testing vs. Vulnerability Scanning 

Security testing comes in a few different forms. Penetration tests are commonly confused with vulnerability scans, which are a very different test that provide inferior results by comparison. 

Vulnerability scanning is an automated process in which programs automatically test an organization’s infrastructure for potentially exploitable vulnerabilities. This testing is based on a database of known vulnerabilities and common attacks (such as SQL injection or missing patches). 

Vulnerability scanning only provides a surface-level look at an organization’s security. Scanners will output a report listing their findings many of which will be false positives. Perhaps more importantly, scanners also produce false negatives where they fail identify important vulnerabilities. The organization will need to determine  false positives and what false negatives may exist before developing a remediation plan.

A penetration test gives a cyber security professional permission launch attacks against your organization in a safe and controlled manner. The objective is to identify vulnerabilities in software, hardware, applications, networks, and proprietary technologies. Qualified testers have the same skills and tools as real cyber threat actors. This enables them to discover vulnerabilities that pose real risk to an organization. From there they can be remediated before they are exploited to compromise the confidentiality, integrity and/or availability of data.  

Advantages of Penetration Testing 

In a penetration testing engagement, a company’s systems are evaluated by a team of cyber security experts.  This provides numerous advantages compared to other forms of security testing, including: 

  • Targeted Scope:

    Automated scanners typically scan all IP addresses in a range, whether or not they are actively used. Basically, companies are paying to test IP addresses that may not even be live. With penetration tests, when scoped properly, customers only pay for systems that are live and connectable. (Penetration testing vendors who price based on number of IP addresses are likely performing vulnerability scanning in lieu of genuine penetration testing). 

  • Deeper Inspection:

    Automatic scanning provides a skin-deep assessment of an organization’s security, identifying vulnerabilities, sometimes exploiting them, and sometimes causing services to fail in the process. Penetration testers will exploit vulnerabilities to identify attack paths that cyber threat actors could follow to plant malware or steal sensitive data. Understanding these paths is critically important for building effective defenses. 

  • Intelligent Targeting:

    Vulnerability scanners will treat all of an organization’s systems equally. Penetration testers understand the relative importance and value of various systems and can target their assessments accordingly. Moreover, penetration testers can chain (combine) vulnerabilities to drastically increase their level of risk and gain access that might otherwise not be attainable through individual exploitation.  

  • Verified Results:

    Automated scanners identify where vulnerabilities may exist in a system but don’t always exploit these vulnerabilities to verify that they pose a real risk to the organization. Penetration testers exploit the vulnerabilities that they find to verify the existence of the vulnerability and the risk that it poses to the company. Penetration testers also produce no false positives and very few false negatives by comparison. 

  • Careful Verification:

    Vulnerability scanners can blindly exploit vulnerabilities to verify their existence which may result in system crashes, data loss, and other damages. Penetration testers have knowledge/experience to safely exploit vulnerabilities, or if risk is high, determine if exploitation should even be attempted.  

  • Security Expertise:

    Vulnerability scanners are automated computer programs, and their operator doesn’t need to know much about security to use them or interpret the results for a customer. Penetration testers walk clients through exploitation details/attack paths they followed and provide actionable insights on how to mitigate security gaps. 


Penetration Testing with Netragard 

With penetration testing, you get a first-hand view of how an attacker would target your organization’s systems. The return on investment of a penetration test is equal to the cost in damages of a single successful data breach that could have otherwise been prevented. Penetration testing could be the most important thing you do to help bolster defenses and safeguard against attacks/data breaches. How vulnerable are you? 

Netragard’s team of security experts applies over 15 years of vulnerability research and exploit development practices to its penetration testing services. This distinctive approach enables us to discover known and novel vulnerabilities and produce efficient/effective methods of remediation for our customers. We tailor our services to meet or exceed the unique requirements of each customer to ensure we deliver the best possible quality of service.     

How secure are your organization’s systems and data?  Reach out today! 

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