Why Scanning Isn’t Enough: Vulnerability Scans vs. Pentesting

J.R. Hernandez
Security Services Manager

Vulnerability scans and penetration testing are both critical components of a strong offensive security posture, and while they overlap in some ways, they are not one and the same. While vulnerability scanning focuses more on surface-level identification, penetration testing (or “pentesting”) takes a deeper dive into the security and stability of your organization’s infrastructure and attack surface.

The importance of the human component

When it comes to protecting your organization’s environment effectively, vulnerability scans are extremely valuable but only get you part of the approach. Pentesting takes you the rest of the way to nail down which vulnerabilities are most critical to your organization and their potential impact.

When it comes to pentesting, one of our priorities here at Evolve Security is real-time communication with the clients. One-way emails and static PDF reports extend your recovery time and leave your organization without actionable remediation insights. Through our Darwin Attack™ platform, our pentesting team performs assessments while keeping communication lines open, guiding remediation as quickly as possible.  

Vulnerability scans

A vulnerability scan is an automated test that examines your IT infrastructure for vulnerabilities. These scans can be performed externally (at your network perimeter) and internally (within your network) to identify, report, and provide risk management suggestions to address those vulnerabilities.  

These scans are quick, high-level, and can be automatically run on a regular basis to keep organizations aware of their network security posture. The three primary types of vulnerability scans include:

  1. Discovery scanning — The goal is to gain an understanding of what types of devices reside on a network and what vulnerabilities might be present.
  1. Compliance scanning — These audit security to ensure the organization meets certain compliance criteria, including that of PCI certification.
  1. Full scanning — This scan takes an in-depth look at vulnerabilities on a network using a wide variety of tools and is not stealthy due to the volume of testing being conducted.

As an analogy, a vulnerability assessment is like a burglar jiggling the handles on your home's doors to see if they're unlocked, while a pentest is more like a full on robbery, where the burglar comes in through the doggy door and makes it inside to wreak havoc. With either situation, you'd want an expert to make your home more secure.

A vulnerability assessment is like a burglar jiggling the handles on your home's doors to see if they're unlocked, while a pentest is more like a full-on robbery, where the burglar comes in through your doggy door, makes it inside, steals your belongings and wreaks havoc. With either situation, you'd want an expert to make your home more secure.

Penetration testing (Pentesting)

Pentesting is the equivalent of seeing a specialized doctor. Rather than an automated test, it requires an actual person to dive into your network’s complexities and identify what’s happening behind the scenes.

In order to determine that, pentesting performs a simulated cyber attack against your network, systems, and web applications to illustrate how vulnerabilities may be exploited by hackers. The results of these comprehensive tests show where your most critical vulnerabilities lie and help prioritize risk management efforts.

Cyber threats are continuously evolving, especially with the broader adoption and normalization of a distributed workforce and evolving IT landscape. Threat actors are always finding new ways to breach organizations, and pentesting can identify how your environment could be attacked before it happens. This is paramount, considering the average cost of a data breach in 2021 was $4.24 million.

Types of pentesting include:

  • External testing — Targeting the company assets that are visible on the internet, such as web applications, company portals, VPN services, and email servers.
  • Internal testing — Evolve Security simulates an attack by a malicious insider with access to applications, data, and network resources behind its firewalls.
  • Application penetration testing — Engineers analyze and identify vulnerabilities in the web applications and databases that store your data and provide services to your clients.  

See Firsthand

If you’re ready for a new enterprise security partner and interested in seeing how our Darwin Attack platform is changing the penetration testing game for our clients, get in touch and we’ll schedule a demo with you.

It’s clear that when it comes to vulnerability scans vs. pentesting, the answer is – you need both.

Ready to find more vulnerabilities than your last pentest?

Unlock your organization's full security potential and uncover even more vulnerabilities than before by choosing our advanced penetration testing services.