12 February 2024

Penetration Testing vs Vulnerability Scanning: Why your organisation might need them

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Gloves at the ready. It’s penetration testing vs vulnerability scanning. Don’t worry, there’s no pay-per-view needed for this read.  

In cyber security, where every network, connection, or application can be a potential door breach for hackers, two methods to protect your data stand out: penetration testing and vulnerability scanning.

Though both of these procedures aim to strengthen your organisation’s defences against cyber threats, their approaches are noticeably different. 

Today, we’ll delve into the depths of these methodologies and uncover the advantages and disadvantages of penetration testing and vulnerability scanning, ensuring we find the perfect solution for you to navigate the complex landscape of safeguarding your digital data.  

What is penetration testing?

A cyber security penetration testing service involves professionals known as penetration testers – or ethical hackers – simulating cyberattacks on your IT infrastructure, network, and applications. 

By replicating real-world cyberattacks through network penetration testing, experts can understand and exploit the identified vulnerabilities within your system in a safe manner. From there, testers assess the severity of these successful exploits, exploring potential lateral movement within your network. 

The finishing touches of penetration testing come from the results, which are documented in a comprehensive report, covering details about discovered vulnerabilities, exploited paths, and a risk assessment. Recommendations are then provided, guiding your organisation in strengthening its security. 

Testing how robust your network is with penetration testing should be more than an annual exercise for organisations. In fact, our cyber security experts recommend monthly tests to ensure your network is consistently up-to-date and ready for any advancements in data breaching techniques. 

Benefits of cyber security penetration testing

Penetration testing provides an array of benefits for your organisation. Here are just a few of the stand-out features that drastically improve your cyber security. 

Real-world risk assessment

No matter the shape, size or industry sector your organisation resides in, always-on network penetration testing carries out rigorous attempts to break down your defences. Through this hands-on approach, you receive realistic assessments of your organisation’s security posture, uncovering vulnerabilities that automated tools might overlook.

Bespoke security insights

Cyber security penetration testing goes beyond just identifying vulnerabilities in your network. It examines your entire system, including infrastructure, applications, and even physical security measures. This allows for bespoke insights into your organisation’s defences, potential entry points and possible chain reactions that could compromise the integrity of your entire infrastructure.

Compliance assurance

Penetration tests uphold your compliance and cyber insurance requirements, catering to and meeting compliance requirements for regulated industries, including PCI, HIPAA, SOC2 and cyber insurance. This is imperative for organisations that occupy industries with stricter compliance standards and require more frequent testing to adhere to regulatory mandates.

Limitations of penetration testing

Though penetration tests provide a myriad of benefits regarding cyber security, they also have their fair share of limitations, which you should be aware of before making a concrete decision on what to invest in. 

Resource intensive

Penetration testing demands significant resources; time and expertise are needed to accomplish a worthwhile test. The price of an ethical hacker can be quite costly, so investing in a penetration testing service might not be the most crucial need for those in the decision-making chair.  

Snapshot in time

As mentioned above, advancements in technology are increasing rapidly, meaning you need to be consistently up-to-date and ahead of emerging risks. Many penetration tests provide a snapshot of security vulnerabilities at a specific point in time, lowering its validity, even after a few weeks.

Potential system disruption

Penetration testing can disrupt operations if implemented carelessly, especially if not adequately planned and communicated across the entire organisation. This can result in slower workflows and potentially halter customer engagement whilst your network is in maintenance mode for the foreseeable future.

Is there any way around these limitations? 

In a nutshell. Yes! What you need to do is invest in the right service, one that fits your organisation’s bespoke needs and potential vulnerabilities. Lucky for you, we have that right here. 

Cyber Security Awareness (CSA) has recently introduced V-PenTest to its product portfolio.  

V-PenTest provides your organisation with regular, fully managed, automated penetration testing and reports, so you’re always up-to-date with points of weakness and exploits within your network and IT infrastructure. 

Plus, V-PenTest performs higher frequency testing at a lower cost, resulting in much greater ROI than traditional, consultative penetration tests.

What is vulnerability scanning?

A vulnerability scanning service is a procedure that scans for vulnerabilities in your organisation and helps you identify security weaknesses in your IT infrastructure, network and applications.

Through these vulnerability scanning tools, you can scan and monitor your network for vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and potential security risks, reducing the chances of exploitation by cybercriminals and hackers. 

Like penetration tests, managed vulnerability scanning tools provide reports of identified vulnerabilities, along with recommendations for remediation. This can aid your organisation to identify and address security issues proactively, reducing the risk of potential cyber attacks or data breaches.

Benefits of vulnerability scanning

And again, just like penetration testing services, vulnerability scanning comes with a ton of benefits for your organisation: 

Cost-effective solution

Compared to hiring an ethical hacker or team to evaluate your organisation’s cyber security, automated vulnerability scanning solutions can be integrated across various areas within your infrastructure without an expert’s eyes watching over, meaning less spend needed to perform a scan.  

Highly scalable

Vulnerability scanning tools can review a plurality of network sizes, allowing for scalable and seamless scanning of infrastructures. Additionally, through its automated functions, its process of identifying potential weaknesses across a wide range of systems and applications in your organisation is swift. 

Tailored to your organisation

Network security scanning can offer your organisation a variety of tailored options that fit your specific requirements. For example, with CSA, fully managed, self-managed and internal vulnerability scanning options are available for all our customers. 

Limitations of vulnerability scanning

It goes without saying at this point, but, like with penetration tests, vulnerability scanning procedures come with limitations as well as benefits. 

False positives

Occasionally, vulnerability scanning tools can accentuate on configurations and vulnerabilities that pose minimal risk within your network. This can lead to security teams receiving irrelevant alerts, leading to a weariness to act on potentially overlooked, genuine threats.

Manual vulnerability checking

Manual and managed vulnerability scanning requires human analysts to review and validate each potential vulnerability. Not only can this be time-consuming and costly, but it can also be ineffective in detecting automated or low-level threats designed to evade human detection. 

Limited human insight

Automated vulnerability scanning lacks the understanding and creative problem-solving abilities of human testers. While it can identify vulnerabilities in your infrastructure, it can also struggle to prioritise them based on their real-world, resulting in wasted spending and time. 

Is there any way around these limitations? 

Like penetration testing, it’s all about finding the right solution for you. And, miraculously, we have a solution that scales to your exact needs! 

CSA offers V-Scan, a monthly vulnerability scanning service that provides monthly reports, so you’re always on top of your vulnerability exposure. 

Traditional vulnerability scanning costs in excess of £1,000 a day and is usually reported once a year. With V-Scan, you get monthly vulnerability scanning services, which cost significantly less and provide monthly reports, so you’re always on top of your vulnerability exposure.

V-Scan enables your organisation to always understand where your network’s points of weakness are and gain much greater ROI than a one-off vulnerability assessment.

Network penetration testing vs vulnerability scanning: What’s the best approach for your organisation?

That concludes penetration testing vs vulnerability scanning, after a few rounds in the ring, I think it’s fair to say it’s a tie! 

Ultimately, it comes down to preference and your organisation’s needs. Both penetration testing and vulnerability scanning serve as essential tools in the cyber security world. 

While penetration testing offers depth and realism, vulnerability scanning provides range and efficiency. In a perfect world, we’d recommend utilising both.  

Striking the right balance between these approaches and tailoring the requirements needed in relation to the risks your organisation faces is paramount in maintaining a robust defence posture in an ever-evolving threat landscape. 

By harnessing the strengths of both methods – whilst addressing their respective limitations – your organisation can fortify itself against the continuous challenges cyber threats pose. 

How Cyber Security Awareness can help

As we’ve alluded to – quite openly – throughout this blog, CSA can provide both monthly vulnerability scanning services and automated penetration testing for your organisation. 

We’re a market leading provider of Security & GDPR awareness training and testing managed services, offering additional services alongside vulnerability scanning and penetration testing.  

GDPR Awareness, Dark Web Monitoring, phishing protection and policy management. We’ve got you covered. All fully managed, at affordable rates for organisations of all sizes, in all industries. 
So, if you’d like to explore more features V-Scan and V-PenTest can offer, discover additional services to keep your security up-to-scruff, or just discuss your current challenges and how we can help solve them – our experts are ready to help. Get in touch today.

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