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Penetration Testing vs. Vulnerability Scanning: Explaining the Difference

Penetration Testing vs. Vulnerability Scanning

[et_pb_section fb_built=”1″ admin_label=”section” _builder_version=”4.16″ global_colors_info=”{}”][et_pb_row admin_label=”row” _builder_version=”4.16″ background_size=”initial” background_position=”top_left” background_repeat=”repeat” global_colors_info=”{}”][et_pb_column type=”4_4″ _builder_version=”4.16″ custom_padding=”|||” global_colors_info=”{}” custom_padding__hover=”|||”][et_pb_text admin_label=”Text” _builder_version=”4.16″ background_size=”initial” background_position=”top_left” background_repeat=”repeat” global_colors_info=”{}”]Penetration Testing vs. Vulnerability Scanning

On average, it takes a business around 197 days to discover that they’ve been the victim of a data breach.

On the other hand, businesses that contain a breach in less than 30 days are likely to save over a million dollars, on average, than those that didn’t. That’s a BIG difference.

But, how do you even find out where you’re vulnerable to a cyber attack?

Well, that’s where penetration testing services and vulnerability scanning can help. But how do you find out which service would serve you best?

In this article, we’re going to explain exactly what vulnerability assessments and penetration tests are, what they do, and why you would need them.

Vulnerability Scanning and Penetration Testing: What are They?

Both penetration testing and vulnerability scanning (also known as a vulnerability assessment) are methods used to identify vulnerabilities in your security posture in order to bolster your overall network security.

The main difference between scanning for vulnerabilities vs penetration testing is that the former is done using automated scanning tools and the latter is usually done manually by a highly-skilled pentester or analyst.


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Both methods search for weaknesses in your system. But where vulnerability scans don’t require any action to complete the scan you’ll find that penetration testing represents a far more proactive approach.

Penetration Testing vs Vulnerability Scanning

Breaking Down the Difference: Pen Test vs. Vulnerability Scan

In order to find out which method of searching for weaknesses in your security posture would be best for you, we break down the distinct real-world advantages for both penetration testing and vulnerability scanning.

Penetration Testing Advantages

First off, a penetration test is a highly detailed and methodical approach used to identify and remediate any potential vulnerabilities in your system.

Essentially, a ‘white hat’ hacker (the pentester) behaves the way a real hacker or cyber criminal would. They search for ways to break into your network and exploit weaknesses that they find.

The methods used include:

  • Physical Penetration Testing: Exploiting key card readers, sneaking into offices, tricking employees with ‘dropped’ USBs
  • External Penetration Testing: Attacking the network from the outside, remotely, to find attack vectors and entry points into your network


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Using one or all of these methods to determine potential risk exposure is very effective and is often used as a cornerstone of many organizations’ security strategies.

The advantages of Penetration Testing are:

  • Highly accurate and actionable results
  • Excludes false positives
  • Only needs to be performed once a year
  • Takes an average of 1 day to 3 weeks
  • Costs anywhere from $15,000 to $70,000

Vulnerability Scanning Advantages

In pursuit of adhering to security standards and doing a brief ‘check’ of your network security posture, vulnerability scans are an exceptionally useful method.

The best vulnerability scans are capable of searching for over 50,000 weaknesses and can be used to comply with FFIEC, GLBA and PCI DSS requirements.


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One of the main caveats to be aware of, however, is that these scans (unlike most penetration tests) don’t do anything beyond reporting their findings. Since most are automated scans that only collate results, it’s up to the IT department or business owner to make a plan to close those gaps.

It’s also important to note that it’s possible for a vulnerability scan to deliver a false positive (i.e. the scan determined there might be a weakness, but a quick check by a human can determine that there’s actually no risk at all.)


Here are the main benefits of performing a vulnerability scan:

  • Facilitates fast, high-level scans of your network
  • Low costs, around $100 per IP, per year
  • Automated
  • Can be done at almost any periodic frequency (weekly, monthly, yearly)
  • Scans complete in a matter of hours


Vulnerability Scanning and Penetration Testing

Vulnerability and Penetration Testing Services That Can Protect Your Data

At the end of the day, if you need to choose between penetration testing vs vulnerability scanning, why choose at all?

The fact is that most pentesters perform a vulnerability scan prior to the pentest in order to get an idea of where to start. Like sifting for gold in a riverbed, conducting frequent vulnerability scans in combination with penetration tests often yields the best results.

At CP Cyber we’re experts in both methods of detecting weaknesses in network security. Talk to us today for a free quote and get the cyber protection your business deserves.[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section]

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