penetration testing versus vulnerability scanning

With organizations’ ever-expanding digital footprint, ensuring your environment is secure and protected against exploits and vulnerabilities becomes top of mind for many security professionals. As the security landscape evolves, new technology to protect and detect threats is evolving in step; however, two crucial activities remain at the forefront for the identification of threats:

External penetration testing: An authorized simulated attack performed on a computer system to evaluate its security.

Internal vulnerability scanning: A process of searching for vulnerabilities from within the business network.

Let's break down these activities further: External penetration testing versus internal vulnerability scanning.

External penetration testing

In its simplest form, external penetration testing can be thought of as simulating a bad actor trying to break into the organization's system from the outside. Penetration testers are hired to mimic real-world attacks using information that can be gathered through publicly available data or data that is provided by the organization.

Internal vulnerability scanning

While there is value in gaining knowledge from the outside in, the reverse is also true. This is where internal vulnerability scanning differs from external penetration testing. Internal vulnerability scanning checks for weaknesses within a company's internal network. The goal of these scans is to identify issues such as misconfigurations, outdated software and other vulnerabilities that an attack may be able to exploit to gain access to internal data. Simultaneously, vulnerability scanning will also provide insight into whether the organization's patching and deployment processes are sufficient to protect against known vulnerabilities.

What are the benefits of a combined approach?

Now you might be thinking, is all of this really necessary? The answer is simple, if you want to gain an understanding of the vulnerabilities and potential weaknesses in your environment, yes. Other benefits can be gained from these activities, including the following:

  • External penetration testing provides a real-world feel for how hackers might exploit weaknesses and can even be used to test internal incident response processes.
  • Internal vulnerability scanning provides a wide view picture of the entire internal setup from workstations to servers to give a comprehensive view of security.
  • Identifying misconfigurations and weaknesses early will allow the organization time to patch and remediate findings before attackers can exploit them.

In a nutshell, the combination of the services are two building blocks of a robust defense to protect organizations from threats. With these services, along with a layered defense-in-depth approach, organizations can proactively protect their assets in the ever-evolving threat landscape.

To discuss the benefits of external penetration testing and internal vulnerability scanning for your company, connect with our cybersecurity professionals.

Brian Nichols
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