What’s the Difference between a Vulnerability Scan and a PEN Test?

Oct 5, 2021

We find that often customers become confused between a Vulnerability Scan and a Penetration (PEN) test.  We’ve created this table below to show the differences.  Basically, A vulnerability scan is an automated, high-level test that looks for and reports potential vulnerabilities. A penetration test is a detailed hands-on examination by an actual person that tries to detect and exploit weaknesses in your system.


Vulnerability Assessment

Penetration “PEN” Testing

Performed by: Employee or Consultant 3rd Party Ethical Hacker
Performed with: Script Compilation of specific code
Tools Used: Qualys, Tenable, etc Nessus, Metasploit, Variety of tools
How Performed: Automated Manual
Expertise: Low High
Duration: 4 hours 1-20 days
Period: Monthly or less Yearly or more for incident response
False Positives: High N/A
Profile: Passive Dynamic
Disruptive: Low High
Purpose: Review of weaknesses Analysis of compromisable systems
Medical Analogy: Single X-ray Series of MRIs
Motivation: Good Cyber Hygiene Due Diligence
Results: List of open ports, missing patches Description of attempts blocked or vulnerabilities
Looking to Identify: SW vulnerabilities Insecure Business practices
Examples of Findings: Unpatched SW, obscure protocols… Credential violations, clear text transmissions
Importance: Mandatory Good practice
Remediation: Patching, Upgrading, … Hardening, Re-design, vendor swap
Cost: $100/IP address $15K
Variations: Scan Black-Box: Zero knowledge of Network
Assessment Gray Box: Partial knowledge of Network
White Box: Full Knowledge of Network

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