We are living in a digital-first world where a majority of our work (personal as well as professional) is enabled via the digital medium. For example, we can now do banking, shopping, and other such activities on the click of a button. Websites and mobile applications have become absolute life-savers for us!
The exponential digital growth has also opened up new cybersecurity threats, as consumers have varied understanding about the security aspects related to the online medium. Cloud vulnerabilities, mobile device vulnerabilities, IoT (Internet of Things), and Ransomware are some of the top cybersecurity threats of 2022.
Online attacks not only lead to losses in business but also tarnishes the brand image. The clout of cyberattacks (or cybersecurity) attacks will only grow with time, which is why businesses must focus on mitigating or minimizing the risks of such threats. This is where a robust penetration testing strategy and vulnerability assessment plan can help in securing all the aspects of the product.
This also includes securing the IT infrastructure so that malicious actors do not get illegal access to the network. Though vulnerability assessment is an integral part of penetration testing, there is a significant amount of difference between both of them. Both of them are extremely important in upping the security elements in the product.
Vulnerability scanning (or assessment) is performed on the software to uncover the loopholes without seeking any advantage of the system’s weaknesses, whereas penetration testing exploits the identified vulnerabilities. In this blog, we cover all the differences between these two approaches. So, let’s get started….
What is Vulnerability Scanning?
In simple terms, vulnerability scanning is the process of inspecting all the potential exploits in the computer/software/systems. An automated scanning is much more reliable and scalable in comparison to a manual vulnerability scanning approach.
Vulnerability scans are extremely important considering the implications that cyber-security threats can have on the brand image as well as the business. Once all the loopholes are identified, the efficiency of the safety measures are also considered, as the learnings will help in the planning and execution of the penetration testing strategy.
The scanning can be done by the internal IT and security team, else you can consider outsourcing the activities to an experienced penetration testing company. This is because scanning and penetration testing are two sides of the same coin!
W3AF, OpenVAS, Nmap, Nikto2, and OpenSCAP are some of the most popular vulnerability scanners in the market. You should consider internal and external vulnerability scans as it nullifies the probability of threats from all the possible avenues from where the probability of threats exist.
Here are some of the common examples of vulnerability scanning:
- Verify if the password entered by the end-user is strong and meets all the security guidelines
- Ensure that the error message being shown to the end-users is helpful for them
What is Penetration Testing?
Penetration (or pen) testing is a form of legal hacking through which a real-world cyber attack is simulated for identifying the security vulnerabilities in the web product. It also helps in identifying the company’s preparedness in case a security exploitation is explored by the hackers.
From a business perspective, it is vital to be over-communicative to the end-users (or customers) of your product, so that they are aware about the counter-measures being taken to strengthen the product’s security.
Every member in the team, be it development/testing/DevOps can be a part of the pen testing process by testing the product features in a thorough manner. Wireshark, Burp Suite, Metasploit, Nmap, and Hydra are some of the most popular penetration testing tools in the market.
Here are some of the common examples of penetration testing:
- Check if the proxy servers are able to secure or safeguard the traffic on the website
- Check if the scripts installed on the website are able to spot bot or spam attacks
Penetration Testing vs. Vulnerability Scanning
Now that we have covered the basic aspects of vulnerability scanning and penetration testing, let’s deep dive into the major differences:
As mentioned earlier, vulnerability assessments majorly help in unearthing the security vulnerabilities without getting too much into the internal technicalities (i.e. code-level) of the product.
On the other hand, the results from vulnerability scanning exercise are also used in devising the penetration testing strategy. Unlike vulnerability scanning, penetration testing helps in unearthing the security vulnerabilities even at the code level. Hence, you would need a more detailed product understanding when running pen tests on the product. Partnering with an experienced penetration testing services company can bring the best out of both these security-related tests.
Running vulnerability scans as well as pen tests requires technical expertise but the level of expertise differs in both the cases. Vulnerability scanning using the best-suited tools requires minimal understanding about the architecture and internals of the product under test.
On the other hand, testers running pen tests need to be technically well-versed with the tool as well as the internals of the product. They need to be really good at hacking, only then they can defeat the malicious actors in their own game.
As running penetration tests requires deeper product understanding, it requires more experienced and knowledgeable personnel to do the job. Also, the tools-related costs can go a bit on the higher side for penetration testing.
In a nutshell, cost associated with penetration tests is significantly higher than that associated with vulnerability scans.
Test Execution Frequency
It is a known fact that higher the number of test runs, higher is the test coverage and better is the product quality. Since we are talking about security, it also includes hardware/network scans.
In ideal scenarios, vulnerability scanning must be considered every time a new piece of hardware is added to the internal IT systems. Not only that, assessment must also be done if you are adding support for any third-party cloud providers to the product roadmap. On the other hand, penetration tests must be run at a lesser frequency owing to the costs associated with the test runs. Though the number of test runs depends on the complexity & type of the product, it is recommended to run pen tests monthly once during the development & testing phase.
Automate or not?
The benefits of automation in testing are well-known to all of us. However, it all depends on which aspects of testing can be automated and which cannot? Vulnerability scanning can definitely be automated using tools called vulnerability scanners. Since vulnerability scans have to be conducted more frequently, it makes business and technical sense to automate the entire process.
On the other hand, running pen tests requires a fair bit of manual intervention during the process of test execution. Automated pen testing is still limited in function due to which they cannot be deployed for every testing scenario. In a nutshell, a mix of manual and automated pen testing must be considered so that experienced team members can focus on more priority work items.
Also Read: Key Stages of Penetration Testing
With the growing adoption of cloud, mobile internet, and other technologies; it has become essential to ensure that the web product is way upto the mark from the perspective of security. This is where techniques like vulnerability scanning and penetration testing can be instrumental in ensuring that all the aspects of the product (i.e. network, features, etc.) are secure to the core.
A penetration testing company like KiwiQA can be considered in scenarios where you would want to expedite the process related to vulnerability scanning and penetration testing!