What’s the difference between vulnerability assessments and penetration testing?

What’s the difference between vulnerability assessments and penetration testing?

Business leaders often find themselves facing multipronged cyberattacks from all directions. With threats coming from both internal and external sources, it has never been more important to adopt a multilevel approach to cybersecurity that encompasses every data-bearing system in your care. This approach should include both vulnerability assessments and penetration testing. They may be very different from each other, but each has a critical role to play in keeping your organization safe.

Vulnerability assessments

Businesses often suffer data breaches at the hands of poor cybersecurity planning. In most cases, breaches aren’t even discovered until several months after they occur. As such, it’s often difficult, if not impossible, to determine exactly how hackers managed to break in. That’s why businesses must take a proactive approach to security by patching vulnerabilities before they get exploited. Furthermore, no two organizations are the same when it comes to technology infrastructure, so adopting a one-size-fits-all approach simply isn’t the best option.

Every cybersecurity strategy should start with a vulnerability assessment. This involves determining the types of data the company handles and classifying them according to any relevant compliance standards, as well as internal priorities of the organization. The assessment should also provide visibility into all the data in the company’s care, which means knowing who has access to it, where it physically resides, and which security controls are currently in place to protect it.

No business can expect to implement an entire cybersecurity strategy overnight, which is why it’s important to prioritize. Obviously, confidential data must always be secured first, but it’s also important to prioritize the security of systems that, if compromised, could severely affect your productivity and reputation. Vulnerability assessments are typically carried out over multiple stages involving an initial review of the threats facing the data, an impact analysis, and a determination of the likelihood of an attack occurring.

Penetration testing

Conducting a vulnerability assessment is typically the first thing a company does to implement a sufficiently robust cybersecurity infrastructure. For the most part, it’s a matter of prioritizing and planning. However, there’s no better way to determine the level of risk facing a company than by intensively testing existing systems. Penetration (or pen) testing is a form of white-hat hacking in which a cybersecurity expert attempts to access your infrastructure using the same sort of methods that cybercriminals use.

The hands-on nature of pen testing makes it one of the most effective ways to quantify risk, as well as identify areas of your infrastructure that are in immediate need of protection. A pen test takes things to a whole new level by having someone deliberately try to physically or digitally break into your network, and then building a report that shows organizations how the attack occurred and which vulnerabilities it exploited. Just like cybercriminals, white-hat hackers often reveal exploits their clients never knew existed.

Businesses often carry out pen tests while conducting a vulnerability assessment. However, it’s good practice to have them at least once per year, or whenever you make any substantial changes to your technology infrastructure. This is especially important, since these tests work by discovering previously unknown and exploitable weaknesses in routine business processes and applications.

Why you need both

Vulnerability assessments are somewhat like conventional antivirus software in that they involve addressing vulnerabilities that are already known to the people carrying them out. By contrast, penetration tests take a more hands-on approach to identify and reduce both known and unknown weaknesses.

Both are equally important, with vulnerability assessments typically being carried out at least twice as often as penetration tests. By including both as part of your security strategy, you’ll be one step closer to locking down your business from threats both within and outside.

Founders Technology Group helps businesses reduce and mitigate risks with bespoke security strategies tailored to your operational needs. Call us today to start getting the help you need to protect your business from cybercrime.