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September 22, 2023

Penetration Testing vs Vulnerability Scanning: Understanding the Differences and Benefits

The article explores the key differences between penetration testing and vulnerability scanning, and provides best practices for implementing a testing program that includes both methods.

Alex Drozdov

Software Implementation Consultant

In today’s digitalized world, no one can deny that it’s crucial to have strong cybersecurity measures in place. As cyber threats continue to alter, the value of such deeds as penetration testing and vulnerability scanning grows by a factor of ten. In this article, we’ll together find out why are these checkups important find which one to choose from the penetration testing vs vulnerability scanning combo, and which one is the best fit for your company!

What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing, also called "pentest" or ethical hacking, is a common way for companies to check how secure their IT systems are by simulating attacks. Widely used in fintech and IT industries, this technique ensures the smooth development of products. Simulated attacks assist in identifying any possible security flaws, which can later be addressed and fixed. 

Types of Penetration Testing

Pentest has some definite stages or types that help to define different levels of attack and how the system will defend itself. 

  • Black Box Testing

First comes black box testing that mimics the hacker attacks given minimal or no context about the target.

  • Gray Box Testing

When conducting a gray box test, testers are only given limited data about the target setting, and the attack that they are trying to mimic doesn't know much about how the system works. 

  • White Box Testing

In the end, there is white box testing, in which the testers are given complete access to and data of the system being tested. 

Types of Pen Tests

Phases of Penetration Testing

Now let's unravel the secrets of testing! Armed with knowledge about the diverse test types, it's time to journey through the phases of each test, discovering the magical outcomes they bestow along the way.

Phases of Pen Testing
  • Pre-engagement

The first phase is the pre-engagement which defines the scope, goals, and constraints of the test. At the end of this stage, we are given all the necessary approvals. 

  • Intelligence gathering

Second, comes intelligence gathering that grants us access to target data such as IP addresses, domain names, and employee details.

  • Vulnerability check

Once we have access to the data we need, we may begin detecting any gaps or weak spots.

  • Exploitation

The next and most crucial step would be to attempt to exploit the system using the cybersecurity gaps we've found.

  • Post-exploitation

Later, during the post-exploitation phase, we evaluate the scope of the access we gained and its potential consequences for the company.

  • Reporting

And last, we describe our results, potential dangers, and suggested corrective actions in a thorough report.

Penetration Testing Benefits

At this point, you might be asking yourself, 'Do I need this check?' Our response would be an enthusiastic, 'Absolutely, you do!' Why? Let’s discover together!

  • First off, you’ll understand your company’s cybersecurity flaws 

By running a pentest, you will have a thorough understanding of the particular flaws that could be exploited by hackers, allowing you to take preventative steps.  

  • You’ll improve your security posture

As mentioned already pentest improves a company's overall security by identifying and fixing possible issues that could leave it vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

  • Your company will comply with regulations and standards

Finally, by investing in robust cybersecurity measures, you can rest assured that your company is complying with all applicable rules and laws, earning the trust of its customers as they know you care about their private data.  

What is Vulnerability Scanning?

We bet you have at least once searched for the difference between vulnerability scanning and penetration testing. Yet, your search results may only give you an idea of what’s their purpose. 

While pen testing actively evaluates the security of a network, system, or application, vulnerability scanning (vuln scan) uses a passive approach. When we use a vuln scan, the entire procedure is automated and focused on systematically exploring the target for known security flaws. Pentests evaluate and scan, whereas vulnerability scanning searches for potential issues. 

Vulnerability Scanning Types

Vulnerability scanning comes with two main types each of which affects the final result and process! Which one to choose relies only on what you are going to scan and detect!

  • Active

The active type of scan involves sending requests to the target system to gather information and discover vulnerabilities actively. This ensures locating any possible gaps and all the necessary data connected.

  • Passive

In contrast, passive scanning entails observing network traffic to search for security flaws without actually interacting with the target system.

Vulnerability Scanning Types

Phases of Vulnerability Scanning

When integrating vulnerability scanning into your system, make sure to stick to the basics to ensure a smooth operation and useful results.

Phases of Vulnerability Scanning
  • Preparation

First off, configure the scanning tools, define the scope, and obtain necessary access. You have to obtain ownership from asset owners to avoid any disruption in the process. Moreover, during this phase, you are to define when and in what depth the scan should run. 

  • Discovery

Next comes the discovery phase, during which you are going to identify the assets that need to be scanned. In this case, you can make use of vulnerability scanners to determine open ports and services. The discovery phase is generally the most time-consuming one. 

  • Mapping

After you have discovered any flaws, your next step should be mapping them. This process includes creating a map where you add all the found vulnerabilities and possible remediation. This map can also come in handy for tracking the remediation process later.

  • Analysis

During the analysis stage, we check every single asset for any security flaws we may have ignored. Later, we classify all the vulnerabilities based on severity and potential impact. The analysis phase also aids in identifying any matched flaws and fixing them.

  • Reporting

Finally, at the reporting stage, you have to report all the detected vulnerabilities to the organization. Your final report must include a list of detected flaws, their severity, and recommendations on how to fix that flaws.

Benefits of Vulnerability Scanning

The benefits of vulnerability scanning are manifold, and here's why you should consider it:

  • Scanning vulnerabilities: Vuln scan identifies known vulnerabilities, many of which have patches or workarounds.

  • Reducing the risk of exploitation: Organizations can considerably lower their chance of falling victim to cyberattacks if they take swift action to address the vulnerabilities that have been identified.

  • Enhancing trustworthiness: Maintaining compliance with sector norms and standards through routine vulnerability scanning demonstrates your company's dedication to data security and compliance, which can increase customer trust in your services.

Differences Between Penetration Testing and Vulnerability Scanning

As mentioned below, these two types of testing vary greatly. But to keep it short and organized, here’s a quick rundown on how they specifically differ and what to expect from each of them: 

Penetration TestingVulnerability Scanning
CoverageProvides a comprehensive review of security by attempting exploitation.Focuses on known flaws without actively attempting exploitation.
AccuracyRelies on manual testing and analysis by qualified people, resulting in a better level of accuracy.Relies on automated equipment and technologies, which may yield false positives or miss specific errors and flaws.
CostA bit more expensive than a vuln scan as it is done manually.Less expensive as done automatically.
RemediationTries to exploit flaws and evaluate the real impact and possible threats.Focuses solely on finding vulnerabilities for future inspection.
ReportingReports generally include in-depth information about the methodologies used, the attack vectors, and the potential impact.Reports provide a list of vulnerabilities and the risks connected with them.

Choosing the Right Method for Your Organization

Prepare a checklist and let’s together define what method will fit your company goals! Let’s define key factors you need to pay the utmost attention to!

Key Considerations for Selecting the Right Method

  • Budget

First off: budget! If your company cannot make extra expenses but you need to identify the flaws, it’s easy and cost-effective to go with a vuln scan.

  • Goals

Get specific with your goals!  If you want to evaluate your company's overall security posture and find gaps, penetration testing is the way to go. Meanwhile, vulnerability scanning may be effective for a simple analysis of how good your cybersecurity is. 

  • Risk tolerance

Are you risk-tolerant? If not, then you should factor in the additional expense of doing a penetration checkup to get a thorough assessment of your network's security.

  • Compliance requirements

Finally, consider and pay attention to any rules or standards in your industry that require certain testing procedures for the safety and confidence of your business.

Compliance Requirements

Frequency of Testing

Let's move on to the next question: "How often should you conduct a checkup?" There isn't an apparent answer. Some companies can get by with just one checkup a year, while others need them frequently.  Here’s a breakdown of factors that impact the frequency of testing!

  • Organizational Size

How often you should do a checkup depends a lot on the size of your business. Larger businesses with more complicated infrastructures may need to test frequently to make sure all their assets are covered.

  • System Complexity

How complex is your system? Take into account that to keep up with the ever-changing environment, you may need to conduct an evaluation more often than usual. 

  • Level of Risk

Sure enough, attack and data flow risks increase in proportion to the need for more frequent and thorough testing.

  • Regulatory Requirements

The next factor that affects how often you should do checkups is compliance with regulations. Several cases (like banking, and fintech companies) require checkups quite frequently to ensure there is no data leak and that private data is protected.

  • Security Incidents

Finally, security incidents and breaches in the past may point to the necessity for more frequent testing to prevent a recurrence.

Implementing a Dual-Method Testing Program: Best Practices

  • Define Objectives

Define the goals and scope of the testing program in detail, making sure to take into account your organization's unique needs.

  • Select a Qualified Testing Team

Don’t forget to engage experienced and certified professionals to conduct both penetration testing and vulnerability scanning for accurate results.

  • Conduct Regular Testing

Ensure you do regular testing as it ensures ongoing security effectiveness and detection of emerging threats.

  • Establish Testing Procedures

It’s crucial to develop standardized testing procedures to ensure consistency and comparability of results.

  • Prioritize Vulnerabilities

Put a priority on vulnerabilities as it is your key factor to making a trustworthy and secure environment. 

  • Report Results and Recommendations

Ensure that management, IT, and anyone else who needs to know has access to thorough, detailed reports.

  • Implement Remediation Strategies

Improve your organization's security by addressing discovered flaws as soon as possible.

Security of Software

Why Yellow for Penetration Testing and Vulnerability Scanning?

Our expert team ensures your systems are hacker-proof through cutting-edge penetration testing and vulnerability scanning. Stay one step ahead of threats and safeguard your business. Embrace proactive protection with Yellow! 


To sum up, cybersecurity requires a comprehensive approach. Proactive and exact, penetration testing mimics real-world attacks. Vuln scan efficiently finds flaws in your system without breaking the bank. Strong protection against ever-changing threats can be achieved through a combo of the two approaches, together with regular testing and rapid response. Thus, follow up the methods mentioned above for a more secure digital future.

🔥 Can vulnerability scanning replace penetration testing?

No, vulnerability scanning cannot replace penetration testing. Vulnerability scanning is an effective method for locating common security flaws, although it is not perfect. Penetration testing, on the other hand, is more of a hands-on technique that can detect both common and uncommon flaws.

🔥 How often should I conduct penetration testing or vulnerability scanning?

The frequency you should do penetration testing or vulnerability scanning depends on several things, like the size and complexity of your business, how sensitive your data is, and how much budget you plan to spend. In general, smaller companies with less sensitive data may only need to do penetration testing or vulnerability scanning once a year while big companies may need them more often.

🔥 How much do penetration testing and vulnerability scanning cost?

In general, pentest is more expensive than vuln scan. This is because vulnerability testing requires more expertise and must be performed manually. The price range for vulnerability scanning may range from $500 - $5,000 while pentest may range from $1,000 to $10,000. The final cost is defined by the size and complexity of your organization, the sensitivity of your data, and the level of detail you require.

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