Make sure you are using the right cybersecurity test for the right purpose.
Many companies (and sometimes their cybersecurity consultants) refer to a vulnerability assessment and a penetration test as the same thing, and while they both serve to protect a networked environment, they are not. Unfortunately, the interchangeable use of these two terms blurs the lines between these two very distinct activities and can result in missed opportunities to find, repair and defend an organization against cyberattacks.
A simple way to understand the differences is that a vulnerability scan, which can be automated, searches for network issues like missing patches and outdated protocols, certificates, and services. A penetration test is a proactive attempt to actively exploit a weakness once found.
Though both a vulnerability assessment and a penetration test are individually important elements of a well-rounded cybersecurity program, they are designed with different goals.
What is a Vulnerability Assessment?
A vulnerability assessment is a scan intentionally designed to identify configurations on your systems that could possibly be exploited by an attacker. A good vulnerability assessment scan will identify all system vulnerabilities, assign a level of risk or score to each and prescribe a fix.
Many companies look to third parties to perform this assessment, and their report of findings should provide a clear understanding of what vulnerabilities exist and what needs to be fixed first. This type of assessment needs to be executed regularly to maintain network security, with attention paid when network changes like new equipment installation occurs or when new network functionality or services are added.
What is a Penetration Test?
A penetration test is a fundamental part of most required cybersecurity regulatory or compliance program requirements, like PCI compliance.
A penetration test is more complex than a vulnerability assessment, with multiple steps involved. It’s designed to identify system or network vulnerabilities that can be exploited by a hacker; and attempts to exploit those vulnerabilities and illustrate the level of risk involved by simulating a hypothetical attacker’s attempts to gain unauthorized access to critical systems or networks.
Penetration testing is a form of “ethical testing” that gives qualified and trusted cybersecurity consultants a green light to break into their client’s computers or devices to test their network’s defenses. If successful, the client gets the opportunity to shore up their network’s defenses, and even an unsuccessful attempt at a break-in holds a positive outcome, as it is an indication – although not an absolute certainty – that the organization’s defenses are secure.
Freed Maxick Cybersecurity Services
Today, companies need both vulnerability assessments and penetration testing to protect their company’s assets (and reputation), their employees, and the data they hold about their clients. In either case, having the knowledge to decide which is truly needed for your organization now and in the future, and most importantly, which service you are receiving from a vendor, is vital information for you and your company.
We can help.
Freed Maxick’s dedicated team of cybersecurity risk experts performs vulnerability assessments, penetration tests and designs comprehensive cybersecurity risk management programs. We work closely with your team through each step in our proven process to reduce any concerns or impacts and provide our industry recognized consultation.