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Penetration Testing vs. Vulnerability Scanning: Which Solution Does Your Business Need?

Cybersecurity is not a “set-it-and-forget-it” process. It requires continual support, monitoring, and testing to protect against the growing list of new cyber threats.

Furthermore, penetration testing and vulnerability scanning are vital for financial businesses to maintain Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance. PCI compliance includes the security of any transactions that use a card, such as credit or debit cards.

Below, we’ll cover what the differences are between penetration testing vs. vulnerability scanning, the benefits of each, and how to determine which one is right for your business.


Vulnerability Scanning vs. Penetration Testing

Why Is Penetration Testing Important for Businesses?

A penetration test is designed to:

  • Determine your cybersecurity status
  • Identify strengths and weaknesses
  • Pinpoint possible attack vectors 
  • Provide the steps for threat mitigation

Cybersecurity penetration tests are crucial to maintaining data protection and compliance. Utilizing pentests to fortify your company is one of the best ways to help protect your enterprise from catastrophic cyber attacks and data breaches.

There are several types of penetration tests to consider for your business, including:

Internal penetration testing: Pentesters imitate an inside threat actor who may have certain login credentials that can access sensitive data.

External penetration testing: Pentesters imitate an outside threat actor trying to hack servers, websites, routers, and more.

Application penetration testing: Discovers gaps and weaknesses in apps, websites, and IoT devices.

Social engineering penetration testing: Evaluates a company’s staff cybersecurity practices and uses phishing, vishing, and “tailgating” tactics to access credentials or systems.


Why Is Vulnerability Scanning Important for Businesses?

Vulnerability scans include identifying and analyzing cybersecurity weaknesses in a system or network. These weaknesses can be related to software or hardware, as well as cybersecurity gaps in organizational policies and procedures.

Vulnerability scanning is another way to best protect your enterprise from cyber attacks. Similar to penetration testing, vulnerability scanning delivers a proactive approach to defending against cyber threats, allowing your company to address any weaknesses or gaps in your systems well before threat actors can exploit them and escalate an attack.


What Is the Difference Between Penetration Testing vs. Vulnerability Scanning?

There are several differences between penetration testing vs. vulnerability scanning to be aware of before choosing one for your business.


Penetration testing explores your organization’s cybersecurity infrastructure in great detail, pinpointing vulnerabilities and attack vectors threat actors could use to exploit your business. During this process, white hat cybersecurity professionals will utilize various tools, methodologies, and techniques to test every aspect of your enterprise.

Vulnerability scans are more superficial, scanning for any vulnerabilities that are apparent.


Penetration testing requires a more hands-on approach by the cybersecurity professional(s) performing it. While they will still use passive resources, such as automation, there are more processes performed manually than a vulnerability scan. In fact, many antivirus/antimalware include vulnerability scanning capabilities, allowing you to run it in the background of your system.

Vulnerability scanners, which are software programs that help pinpoint any vulnerabilities, are often used in vulnerability scanning to assist in threat detection.

Depth of Analysis

While a penetration test involves finding and creating ways to access your data, a vulnerability scan simply shows you where any existing vulnerabilities are in your network.


Penetration tests can take anywhere from days to weeks to perform and should be performed annually, if not quarterly.

Vulnerability scans can be performed within minutes to hours, depending on the software and tools being used.


Penetration tests are often more expensive because they address every angle of your cybersecurity posture. So while vulnerability scans may be cheaper, you also have to consider the depth of testing you need for your business.


Which Solution Does Your Organization Need?

Some factors to consider include budget, compliance requirements, risk tolerance, industry regulations, timeline, and company goals and objectives.

Organizational needs are incredibly individual and consulting with cybersecurity experts and conducting a risk assessment is the best way to determine which is right for your business.


Consider a Hybrid Approach From Industry-leading Cybersecurity Experts

While both types of cybersecurity testing deliver great benefits and help your business maintain both data protection and compliance, finding the right one for your organization is not about vulnerability scanning versus penetration testing. Rather, you should consider using both vulnerability scans and penetration testing to provide a sweeping line of defense against threats to your organization.

At Tec-Refresh, our team of cybersecurity experts has extensive experience conducting both penetration tests and vulnerability scans to help you protect your organization from ongoing cyber threats.

Learn more about our cybersecurity services today to get started.