Penetration testing vs vulnerability scanning

What is penetration testing?

A penetration test, often known as a pen test or ethical hacking, simulates a cyber assault on your computer system in order to check for exploitable vulnerabilities. A cyber security professional will attempt to hack your network by any means necessary.

Benefits of penetration testing

A penetration test, when done correctly, will help you:

  • Identify vulnerabilities before criminals do
  • Proactively fix cyber security vulnerabilities
  • Mitigate risks to your business
  • Validate your security measures
  • Maintain high performance during security auditing

Read more about the benefits of penetration testing.

What is vulnerability scanning?

Vulnerability scanning is done by a computer program to test an organisation’s IT infrastructure for known cyber security weaknesses that have been entered into the program itself. It produces an automated report that you can then use to address the weaknesses identified. Manual checks are then performed to validate results from the scan.

Benefits of vulnerability scanning

Vulnerability scanning can help your business

  • Automate scanning for cyber security vulnerabilities at a large scale
  • Identify common weaknesses within your infrastructure
  • Support cyber security controls at remote working locations

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

While vulnerability scanning is mostly automated, a penetration test involves a real human attempting to hack your infrastructure. This can be a particularly important distinction when it comes to determining the results of your cyber security analysis since an experienced human analyst can take your environment into account to highlight the true severity of your weaknesses and mitigate false positives that vulnerability scans often produce. Vulnerability scans will only ever result in a quantitative score that can be difficult for non-cyber professionals to truly analyse.

A vulnerability scan is also limited to what it has been programmed to detect whereas a penetration test is more likely to identify complex or more nuanced means of cyber-attack (such as social engineering via phishing).

Which is better for business?

Both vulnerability scans and penetration tests have their place in the cyber security analysis schedule for any business. Penetration tests are by far the most comprehensive and accurate cyber security test you can carry out but regular vulnerability scanning can help you stay on top of issues in between your scheduled pen tests.

We recommended that organisations undergo a thorough penetration test at least once every 3-6 months – or sooner if the IT infrastructure is changed. We also have a bespoke reporting tool that allows our clients to visualise and remediate vulnerabilities as they are discovered in real-time which can save the need to pay extra for additional unscheduled pen tests – saving you time and money.

Get in touch with Byte Security to discuss the best cyber security testing method for your business.

Contact us now on +44 (0) 3301335167 or email