Penetration Testing vs. Vulnerability Scanning - not two peas in a pod

Penetration Testing vs. Vulnerability Scanning - not two peas in a pod

Vulnerability Scanning vs. Penetration Testing: who is a winner?

Here you are, in between various tools that can strengthen your system security. You've probably heard of vulnerability scanning and penetration testing - but what is what? What option would suit your system needs better? Let's gain insight into this topic together and get things clear.

The misconception that vulnerability assessment and penetration testing are simply synonyms and conduct the same activities exists for a reason. Both of them serve the main purpose of identifying vulnerabilities in a system. In other words, those tools check whether your product is strong enough to stand up against malicious attacks.


Vulnerability scanning is performed by software that sifts through your security mechanisms and assesses whether they are strong enough to confront attacks. Think of a real estate inspector with a list of the most popular misfunctions that can affect a house and spoil your comfortable living there. That's a vulnerability scanner. The tool is loaded with the list of the latest threats and its goal is to go through all of them and check your system defense skills.

Penetration testing is also here with noble intentions to find out whether your system is secured enough against hackers. Now think of a real estate inspector from a previous example but this time with a group of assistants. They will examine not only some common checkpoints but go into the most unexpected and unknown places and even examine the outside area and speak to your neighbors. In terms of pen test, it means security experts will behave as true hackers and give a crack to bombard your system with various intrusions but with good intentions. As a result, you'll be reported about attempts that have been implemented and whether your system was solid enough to oppose it.

It seems like those tools are identical. However, there are a few clear distinctions you are advised to consider:

1. Approach

While vulnerability scanning is an automated tool penetration testing is carried by human beings who may use not only automated tools but also apply their experience and logic approach. Penetration testing is a much broader concept. Security experts put their feet in hackers' shoes and exploit even those vulnerabilities that may not be common or known in the security community. They may test company employees whether they are easy targets to reveal confidential information to hackers and do they follow company security policy rules.

2. Regularity

Vulnerability scanning is a more regular procedure. It is recommended to conduct monthly or at least once in a few months. Besides, the tool used for scanning purposes should be always kept up-to-date with new appearing threats. The vulnerability scanning contains the most recent and public available menaces, and without regular updates, you put your company at risk. The advantage of penetration testing is that it relies on knowledge of security experts who are usually skilled and experienced people with a gut feeling for potential security breaches. An annual penetration testing session is a healthy habit for your company's security.

3. Reporting

The vulnerability scanner provides you with a checklist of pass/failed positions, and it's the company's responsibility to review found vulnerabilities and eliminate them. The pitfalls of vulnerability testing are that there's no guarantee all weaknesses will be recognized. The penetration testing report is far more comprehensive and insightful. It describes how breaches have been discovered, and gives recommendations for improvement.

4. Expenses

Vulnerability scanning is a good option for companies with a limited budget, although it should be conducted more often. Additionally, it can be conducted by company employees who possess enough technical expertise. Penetration testing, on the other hand, is a costly activity though provides more reliable and valuable results. To a greater extent, third party security experts are the reason for such meaningful findings. External security technicians are non-biased, neutral to the company's environment and dedicated to their job.


It should be said in the first place, vulnerability scanning and penetration testing are not interchangeable techniques. They revolve around the same goal and differ only in scale, specification, and resources required for an efficient assessment.

For a better understanding you can send a request to IT technicians for Dhound Penetration Testing services, and discuss any remaining concerns.