In the world of Cybersecurity, there are many ways to find out where the strengths and weaknesses lie in a company’s lines of defense. For example, conducting a Risk Assessment allows you to tally up a list of all your digital assets and, based upon the controls they have, you rank them on a categorical scale of how vulnerable they are to a security breach. Although this is an effective method, it relies heavily on human intuition and the interpretation can be quite subjective.

Other kinds of tests can provide a much more accurate look into this level of vulnerability, without any human biases. These tests are known as Vulnerability Scans and Penetration Testing. While these terms are often used interchangeably, the two tests are, in fact, quite different. The matrix below summarizes some of the key differences between a Vulnerability Scan and a Penetration Test.     


        Vulnerability Scan  Penetration Test
Tests are passive. Tests are active.
Tests are automated, with no human intervention. Tests are primarily manual, with a lot of human intervention.
Tests occur in a short timeframe. Tests occur over a longer timeframe.
The client receives reports but no recommendations for remediating issues. Clients receive reports and recommendations for remediating specific issues.
Scans can be run on a continuous cycle. Scanning is done only at a point-in-time intervals, due to their exhaustive nature.
Tests are primarily done on digital assets. Tests are done on both physical and digital assets.
Only known vulnerabilities are discovered. Both known and unknown vulnerabilities are discovered.
The tests are affordable. The tests can be quite expensive.
Only general tests are performed. All kinds of tests are conducted, depending upon the requirements of the client.


Understanding and Weighing the Cost

Clients often ask, “Which kind of test should my company use?” It all comes down to cost.

One primary advantage of a Vulnerability Assessment is the cost. It is very affordable, even to the SMB. Because of its low cost, a Vulnerability Scan can be run on a continual cycle, at different timing intervals.

The greatest advantage of a Penetration Test is the deep level of thoroughness involved. The downside is that it can be quite expensive. As a result, Penetration Tests are typically carried out only once or twice a year.

Typically, smaller businesses can only afford the Vulnerability Scan, whereas medium-sized and big businesses can afford the Penetration Test.

Whatever the size of your company, it’s critical to keep in mind that a security breach can easily cost a business 10 times more than either of the tests described in this article. With that perspective in mind, a  CISO and his or her IT Security team must be constantly proactive. Ultimately, this makes the Penetration Test the better choice.

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Ravi Das is a Cybersecurity Consultant and Business Development Specialist. He also does Cybersecurity Consulting through his private practice, RaviDas Tech, Inc. He also possesses the Certified in Cybersecurity (CC) cert from the ISC2.

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