When people confuse penetration testing with vulnerability scanning, they often miss a significant component of their network security profile. Both are essential for preventing cybercrime. Did you know within the United Kingdom’s IT budget, security accounts for 11.3%?

System vulnerability scans and assessments look for known flaws. During a penetration test, testers look for vulnerable areas and try to take advantage of them. While vulnerability scans may be automated, penetration tests take knowledge.

Systems on a network can be scanned for vulnerabilities using a vulnerability scanner. If you want to show that your network’s security is solid, you should do penetration testing, which mimics an assault to find and exploit potential vulnerabilities.

What is Penetration Testing?

In order to simulate an actual cyberattack, security experts will try to breach your network by finding and exploiting loopholes.

Each of the following techniques can be used in a penetration test:

  • Gaining access to a system or linked database by means of social engineering.
  • To get access to sensitive accounts via email (phishing).
  • Getting into secure databases with unencrypted network-wide passwords.

Penetration testing can be disruptive and damaging to machines, so it’s important to schedule it in advance and alert employees.

The success of your penetration test depends on you having a well-defined goal and communicating that goal and your needs to the team doing the test. You may have just implemented a new cyber security programme and be interested about its effectiveness.

A pen test can help you assess whether your program has achieved its objectives, such as maintaining 99.99% availability during a simulated attack, or ensuring that data loss prevention (DLP) systems are effective in preventing hackers from stealing sensitive information.

Which Type of Penetration is Necessary?

Before doing a penetration test, consider these points:

First, establish the test’s objectives. Simulate a security breach? Want to mimic an inside attack to see how far an attacker could get? Compliance? Are there specs?

Next, what sort of penetration test do you need? Web, client, wireless, social engineering, or physical? To give a precise scope of work, you may need more information, like user account credentials, the number of devices, or the number of users.

Last but not least, you’ll need to choose between an internal and an external evaluation. Most industry compliance requirements include testing from within and outside the network to duplicate attackers’ attack pathways.

7 Penetration Testing Stages

Stage 1: Planning

To pass a pen exam, preparation is crucial. In this step, the test’s parameters and objectives are established. The company will be able to pinpoint problematic systems and establish proper testing protocols as a consequence.

Some common ways to gather information are:

  • Queries to a search engine
  • WHOIS or DNS lookups
  • Public documents such as tax returns
  • Social Engineering
  • Internet user accounts, email addresses, and social media profiles
  • Port scanning, reverse DNS, packet sniffing
  • Shoulder surfing as well as physically accessible public sites such as dumpsters are both options.
Stage 2: Reconnaissance

After defining the scope, the tester receives target information. The reconnaissance step helps penetration testers understand a client’s systems and processes.

Search engine queries, domain name searches, social engineering, and internet foot printing are common reconnaissance strategies to reveal email addresses, social accounts, identities, and places.

Stage 3: Vulnerability Assessment

During this stage, we learn how the target system will react to different intrusion attempts. The first step in testing entails simulating potential dangers for the customer. They also locate potential entry points into their systems that might be exploited by attackers.

Stage 4: Exploitation

In the exploitation phase, testers attack security holes in a simulated environment. By simulating a cyberattack, the tester tries to access an IT environment without being detected.

Stage 5: Lateral Movement

Putting in place a command and control structure on the target network and acquiring access to a greater number of systems

Stage 6: Post-Test Reporting

Pen testers creates a report that details the vulnerabilities exploited, sensitive data accessed, and length of time gone unnoticed.

Stage 7: Re-Testing 

After the customer has had an opportunity to address the concerns raised in the report, the tester will do a second round of testing on their system to ensure that the vulnerability has been eliminated.

What Is Vulnerability Scanning?

Using software, vulnerability scans access your network by using preexisting credentials or by default. This generates a map of the network’s potential weak spots. An inventory is then compiled and compared to known vulnerabilities.

Vulnerabilities on your network may be detected and catalogued with the help of a vulnerability scan. Businesses can’t learn much from scans alone.

Types of Vulnerability Scans

External Vulnerability Scanning

From outside the organisation’s network, an external scan is performed. Its main objective is to find company security flaws. It has open ports in the firewall or web app firewall. This scan seals network security barriers so hackers can’t enter the network.

Internal Vulnerability Scanning

An internal scan is done within the network’s security bounds. Its goal is to find vulnerabilities that hackers who have breached network security can exploit. Insider risks like disgruntled workers or persons with network access are possible.

Unauthenticated/Authenticated Vulnerability scanning

Unauthenticated scans are similar external vulnerability scans that find network weaknesses. Authenticated scans use privileged credentials to seek for weak passwords, misconfigured apps or databases, and configuration errors.

Environmental Scanning

Another scan is intended for your organization’s technology. IoT devices, cloud-based devices, websites, mobile devices, and more have particular scanning.

Vulnerability Scanning vs. Penetration Testing: 5 Differences

  1. A vulnerability scan covers all assets in an organization, while a penetration test is only targeted at critical assets.
  2. Penetration testing needs expert security analysts, whereas vulnerability scanning may be done by analysts educated in the technology and fundamental networking and security principles.
  3. Vulnerability scans and penetration tests are known to be intrusive and can cause network issues.
  4. Vulnerability scans are cheap and can be done often, whereas penetration tests are expensive and are typically done once a year.
  5. Vulnerability scans can be done manually or automatically. They can take a few minutes to several hours. Penetration tests are always done manually and can take days to weeks.


Vulnerability scanning and penetration testing are two different techniques for understanding and mitigating cyber risk and maintaining a strong security posture. Both are important for keeping your system secure. Both are requirements in PCI, HIPAA, ISO 27001, and other industry and geopolitical regulatory frameworks.

Creative Networks provides CREST-certified penetration testing services and vulnerability scans that can be customised to meet the needs of any organisation.

Please get in touch immediately to explore your needs if you believe your company could gain from penetration testing.

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