What’s the Difference Between Pen Testing and Vulnerability Assessment? - Tecbound Technology

What’s the Difference Between Pen Testing and Vulnerability Assessment?

Network penetration testing is crucial for proactively identifying and mitigating security risks. It helps prevent data breaches and financial losses by fortifying an organization’s defences. Penetration tests allow organizations to assess their cybersecurity posture based on realistic attack scenarios. This enables them to address issues that could lead to a cyberattack or data breach if they followed a solely defensive approach to security.

Penetration testing and vulnerability scanning may sound similar, but they’re not the same thing.

Vulnerability scanning is a more passive and automated process that identifies and lists known security vulnerabilities in a system or network. The primary purpose is to discover weaknesses in the target, without actively attempting to exploit them. It provides a snapshot of the system’s security posture at a particular point in time.

Penetration testing (pen testing) is a proactive, simulated attack on a system or network to identify and exploit security vulnerabilities. It attempts to exploit vulnerabilities and provides tangible evidence of potential consequences. The primary goal of penetration testing is to determine the potential impact of a successful cyberattack and to help organizations understand how an attacker might breach their security, giving them insight into vulnerabilities that could lead to a genuine breach – and a chance to fix them before the bad guys use them.

Pen testing finds weaknesses that vulnerability scans don’t

By conducting penetration testing, organizations can uncover weaknesses and take steps to address them before they are exploited. A pen test will also reveal what attackers can do on the network once access has been obtained, such as viewing sensitive data. This is crucial information that organizations can only access through a penetration test.

Cybercriminals will look for any vulnerability they can exploit to sneak into a company’s network. This includes some unexpected routes that would not be found by vulnerability scans like:

  • Shared local administrator credentials amongst workstations and servers.
  • Weak Active Directory domain user account credentials because of a password-based attack.
  • Disclosure of employee usernames and/or email addresses on devices like printers.
  • Misconfigured all-in-one printers that contain privileged domain account credentials.
  • Weak passwords amongst web services, including printers, servers and remote management consoles.
  • Misconfigured permissions associated with file shares and services, exposing sensitive data.

Pen testing brings major benefits to the table

According to Tech Republic, one in three companies cited that “cost” is why they don’t conduct more frequent assessments through pen testing. In the past, penetration testing was complex and expensive. Not anymore. Automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology have made penetration testing cheaper. Network penetration testing enhances cyber resilience and offers businesses several benefits including: 

  • The opportunity to secure the environment and reduce exposure. 
  • Making it easy to prioritize the remediation of critical security weaknesses. 
  • Understanding how an attacker could gain access to sensitive data or systems. 
  • Meeting compliance and regulatory requirements. 
  • Testing and improving incident response procedures. 
  • Validating the effectiveness of security controls. 
  • Avoiding a costly security incident or data breach. 
  • Peace of mind gained from proactively addressing vulnerabilities. 

Which cyber threats can be prevented through pen testing?

Here’s a list of some common cyber threats that can be prevented or mitigated through network penetration testing:

Unauthorized access:Penetration testing can identify weaknesses in authentication mechanisms, such as weak passwords, default credentials or inadequate access controls, which could allow unauthorized individuals to gain access to sensitive systems or data.

Data breaches: Penetration testing helps uncover vulnerabilities in data storage, transmission and processing systems, reducing the risk of data breaches due to insecure configurations, unencrypted data or inadequate data protection measures.

Malware infections: Penetration testing can identify vulnerabilities that could be exploited by malware, such as unpatched software, misconfigured security settings or weak perimeter defences, helping to prevent malware infections, ransomware attacks and subsequent damage.

Denial of Service (DoS) attacks: Penetration testing can assess the resilience of network infrastructure against DoS attacks by identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities that could be exploited to disrupt services or overload network resources.

Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attacks: Penetration testing can identify weaknesses in network encryption protocols, certificate management or insecure network configurations that could be exploited by attackers to intercept and manipulate communications between parties.

Insider threats: Penetration testing can assess the effectiveness of access controls and monitoring mechanisms in detecting and preventing insider threats, such as unauthorized access by employees or contractors with malicious intent.

SQL injection: Penetration testing can identify vulnerabilities in web applications and database systems that could be exploited by attackers to execute arbitrary SQL queries, potentially leading to unauthorized access to sensitive data or manipulation of database contents.

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS): Penetration testing can identify vulnerabilities in web applications that could be exploited to inject malicious scripts into web pages viewed by other users, potentially leading to the theft of sensitive information or unauthorized actions on behalf of users.

Phishing attacks: Penetration testing can assess the effectiveness of security awareness training and phishing detection mechanisms in detecting and mitigating phishing attacks, which attempt to trick users into divulging sensitive information or downloading malware.

IoT vulnerabilities: Penetration testing can identify vulnerabilities in Internet of Things (IoT) devices and networks, reducing the risk of exploitation by attackers to gain unauthorized access to IoT devices, compromise data privacy, or launch attacks against other systems.

Source: ID Agent

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