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Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Test – What’s the Variation?

Posted April 25, 2019

As the attackers are increasing day by day, the threats of hacking are also increasing with it. Processes like vulnerability assessment and penetration test are being launched by the IT technicians team to prevent these vulnerabilities.

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Vulnerability assessments are the processes in which we define or identify vulnerabilities in the existing system and devices. This helps us to explore the possible opportunities of being hacked. Vulnerability assessments have been proven to be very convenient in securing us from hackers.

“Vulnerability analysis focuses on both, consequences for the object itself and on primary and secondary consequences for the surrounding environment. It also concerns itself with the possibilities of reducing such consequences and of improving the capacity to manage future incidents.” (Lövkvist-Andersen, et al., 2004) In general, a vulnerability analysis serves to “categorize key assets and drive the risk management process.” (United States Department of Energy, 2002)

Penetration test efforts to exploit the susceptibilities in an arrangement to determine whether unsanctioned entrée or other malevolent movement is conceivable and recognize which errors posture a danger to the application. For example, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard needs penetration testing on a consistent plan, and after system variations.

People often consider these two as the same thing or interchangeable, i.e., it doesn’t matters which one we use they both have the same effect and advantages. Well, this is completely incorrect as they are two different processes and to consider them as one is very risky for your system.

Seth Glasgow, an X-Force Red penetration testing consultant, says that:

“In the past, the two terms could have been used interchangeably based on the threat and vulnerability landscape at the time. Whereas today, the two are very different and solve different problems.”

If these two are so likable yet so different, then there are different aspects to them that we need to discuss. These aspects are discussed in this article more briefly and in more detailed form.

Why are they being used interchangeably?

There has been a civilized war for a long time which states that penetration test and vulnerability assessment can be used interchangeably. On the other hand, there are discussions that they are two different things. But the question is that if they are different, then why do people consider them to be used interchangeably.

Some of the reasons are:

– Both used for protection

– Lack of knowledge

– Wrong forwarding of information

– Past issue

1. Both used for protection

As vulnerability assessment and pen test, both are used to secure and protect our systems; hence this is the very first reason for the confusion between them. Both are prominently used to secure the systems for different sorts of attacks. But this protection is not like VPN services; they secure systems by detecting the ways through which vulnerability could penetrate and operate.

Vulnerability assessment and penetration test, both, are used to solve the problem of tech vulnerabilities. They are two tests to check all sorts of vulnerability issues with our systems. So, they are often confused with each other.

2. Lack of knowledge

A very general reason for these kinds of confusion, i.e., interchanging of vulnerability assessments and penetration test, is that people do not have proper knowledge of these kinds of IT terms. They do not understand most of it and only pick the main words and understand whatever they want to.

This is the reason a dealer can easily fool people by saying that what they are selling a penetration test when in reality they are vulnerability scans, and this has a great effect on your security. Hence this is a very sensitive issue.

3. Wrong forwarding of information

Information about these kinds of programs is transferred in a wrong sentence structure. This means that the authorities are explaining these things in one way, but the people who are forwarding it further do not use the correct words to convey the exact meaning.

It may seem abstract to think like this, but, in actual it is true. It is like the game of Chinese whisper where the man source of the word is saying one word but the next passes on a completely different word. Therefore, the people at the end gets the wrong idea totally.

4. Past issues

There is another reason for the confusion we are dealing with today. It is because of the past issues as due to the requirements of the past it was not necessary to differentiate between the two terms. But as evolution took place, it has become very important to treat both the words differently.

In the earlier days without the internet, it was not an issue to represent both as same because any of the two fulfilled the needs. But now when the threats increased, and the cloud is an important part of our life, the two can’t be the same.

Why are they different or contrasting?

Now that we know that these two terms, i.e., vulnerability assessment and penetration test, are two different tests and cannot be used interchangeably; now, we have to find out what makes them contrasting. Below are some reasons for them:

– Different functions

– Time check

– Working

– Different alerts

1. Different functions

Vulnerability scans and pen test are as different as the two hands or two legs. Both may seem the same in terms of appearance but have different functions which we cannot exchange with each other, that is both have different jobs which the other cannot do.

When on one hand vulnerability scans are used to search the systems for any recognized vulnerability, the penetration test is used to exploit flaws in a system, actively. So, in general, we can say that vulnerability scans recognize only the known vulnerabilities and pen test recognize any new vulnerability.

2. Time check

A very important reason for vulnerability scans and penetration test to be different from each other is the time check they require. By this, we mean that after how much time this particular test should be conducted, is different.

Like vulnerability assessments should be conducted after every one month. While, on the other hand, penetration tests should be conducted at least once a year. So, vulnerability scans should be done more often than penetration tests.

3. Working

The working of the two tests is unquestionably different. They work in two different ways and for two different purposes. Both deals with two different sorts of vulnerabilities and have different techniques for functioning.

Vulnerability scans are mechanized, i.e., they are automated. On the other hand, a penetration test has to be used with the proper expertise. They are conducted by a third-party vendor who should be an expert in his field.

4. Alerts

Both the tests, i.e., the penetration test and vulnerability assessment alarm us for different threats. And, they do it in different ways and by different means.

Vulnerability assessments inform vulnerabilities as soon as any change appears in a system. Whereas, a penetration scan categorizes the weaknesses that a threat performer could exploit. Therefore, they alert on different vulnerabilities.


So, now that you know that vulnerability scans and penetration tests are two different scans, try to make sure that you are using the correct kind of test to check for your vulnerabilities. Also, try to be cautious of all sorts of vulnerabilities in time and before any potential exploitation.

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