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What’s the Difference between Vulnerability Assessments and Penetration Tests?

By Kaleigh Alessandro | Thursday, October 27th, 2016

There’s a lot of confusion across the industry about the difference between cybersecurity vulnerability assessments and penetration tests. A common reaction we hear is:

“You mean they aren’t the same thing?!”

Since we hear the two terms interchanged a lot, we thought it might be helpful to clear up some definitions and use cases for each. Let’s start with vulnerability assessments.

A vulnerability assessment is a discovery action used to identify and categorize potential exposures across your environment. The VA is a broad-spectrum effort designed to gauge your firm’s security posture with regard to external threats. (NOTE: Internal vulnerability assessments are also growing in frequency)

Here’s what the vulnerability scanning process typically looks like:

  • Identify systems, networks, and infrastructures at hand

  • Scan networks to determine areas of vulnerability toward external security threats

  • Create a database of known vulnerabilities and classify based on their unique severity

  • Make recommendations around remediation of risks and vulnerabilities

So how is penetration testing different?

Penetration testing is ultimately designed to determine if a would-be hacker could gain entrance into your firm’s network. This hacking simulation attempts to actually access or compromise systems and, hence, demonstrate where potential vulnerabilities lay. This is a very highly focused and targeted activity, and it’s highly dependent on the type of system you are testing against as well as the skill and capabilities of the person/firm conducting the test.

In most cases, a cybersecurity vulnerability assessment is going to be more valuable for a firm to conduct as a standalone effort. Certainly, a penetration test is conjunction with a vulnerability assessment can be beneficial to a firm – particularly to a firm with a large web presence. An e-commerce company, for example, which deals in a lot of web-based transactions, may find it helpful to access how easy or difficult it would be for a hacker to get inside its walls.

If you weren’t aware, Eze Castle Integration offers internal and external vulnerability assessments to clients as part of our expanded Cybersecurity Consulting Practice. Please reach out if you’re interested in learning more

Read more about investment firm cybersecurity best practices:

Hedge Fund Cybersecurity Whitepaper
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