How to Choose Between a Penetration Test and a Vulnerability Assessment?

At the risk of sounding repetitive, the main IT issue for organizations revolves around every aspect of cybersecurity. To protect their systems, large and small businesses alike must take the necessary measures to understand and recognize their current and potential weaknesses and test their defense mechanisms. A vulnerability assessment and a penetration test are two distinct but complementary approaches used in cybersecurity to evaluate and strengthen infrastructure parameters.

A vulnerability assessment consists in identifying the potential weaknesses in an IT system. It involves employing automated tools and scanners to detect vulnerabilities in network endpoints such as firewalls, servers, programs, applications, configurations, etc. This investigation can be scheduled or manually initiated and gives a preliminary overview of what could potentially be exploited.  

A vulnerability assessment can be carried out by a team of in-house IT security experts, security consultants or managed services providers. Ideally, it is performed on a regular or periodic basis. A detailed report is created at the conclusion and, with the results, the organization can take measures to correct the identified weaknesses. 

A penetration test also called an intrusion test goes further by simulating a real attack on the system to assess its resilience. It is a more comprehensive and proactive approach that seeks to pinpoint exploitable security breaches and weaknesses in the defense system and to check detection and response capabilities in the event of a security threat. 

In most cases, a penetration test is carried out by either an in-house team of experts or an outside firm that specializes in this type of audit. It can involve methods such as exploiting vulnerabilities, social engineering, pirating passwords, etc. These tests are often conducted intermittently but may also be carried out on a regular basis to strengthen the organization’s defense and maintain a high level of protection. The resulting reports are usually long and detailed and contain a description of the attacks that were applied, the procedures followed, the potential impacts and recommendations for implementing corrective measures. 

Which approach to choose?

The two approaches are complimentary and work together to promote optimal network and applications security. Vulnerability assessments provide an excellent weekly, monthly or quarterly overview  while penetration tests provide a more in depth look at infrastructures. 

These approaches are mainly intended for organizations and businesses that want to assess and strengthen their IT security systems. They should, in fact, be an integral part of standard practice for prevention. As a managed services provider, MicroAge can be part of your cybersecurity solution.

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