Vulnerability testing concept

Minimizing cyber risks with vulnerability assessment and penetration testing

Cyberattacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated and prevalent. According to the ITRC’s 2021 Data Breach Report, 1,862 confirmed data compromises in 2021, up 68 percent over 2020. 2021 now holds the record for the highest number of data compromises reported in one year.

It seems that cybercriminals are continuously figuring better, newer tactics to get around cyber defenses. Businesses have to up their cybersecurity game to keep their data and other digital assets safe.

The first step in reinforcing cybersecurity is understanding what you’re up against and what needs to get done. Start by identifying gaping security holes in your infrastructure where threats can slip through. There are two main ways you can do this: conducting a vulnerability assessment or penetration testing (pentesting).

What is a vulnerability assessment?

A vulnerability test or assessment is a systematic way of defining, identifying, categorizing, and prioritizing security weaknesses (vulnerabilities) in an IT system. In a nutshell, a vulnerability assessment identifies security defects or oversights, the risk they pose, and possible solutions.

Vulnerability assessment is often confused with risk assessment. Although the two sound quite similar, they are different analytical approaches. Risk is the potential for loss or damage to digital assets. A risk assessment determines internal and external threats that pose measurable risks to the business. 

On the other hand, a vulnerability assessment investigates internal security gaps that can potentially lead to risks. However, risks and vulnerabilities are two sides of the same coin.

A thorough vulnerability assessment consists of four main steps:

  1. Discovery: The first step involves identifying all the assets making up the corporate information system. This identification is similar to a basic IT audit, which gives you a list of all the organization’s software, hardware, network, and data assets.
  2. Scanning: This is the bulk of the process. Each asset gets scanned using automated tools to gather all the available security-related information. This data is then analyzed to reveal possible flaws and their risks.
  3. Defining results: The results are interpreted in a report listing all the vulnerabilities discovered, along with their assigned priorities and severity levels.
  4. Remediation: In this stage, the security team uses the results to devise an effective vulnerability mitigation plan.

What is penetration testing?

Pentesting is a more intrusive method of finding security flaws in networks, hardware devices, and software applications. A pentester or white-hat hacker simulates a cyberattack to check for exploitable system flaws such as open ports, misconfigurations, crackable passwords, or weak firewalls. This approach gives a unique perspective into vulnerabilities from an attacker’s standpoint. Depending on the test’s goals, the pentester can use any of these methods:

  • External testing: The pentester tries to access protected assets through externally-facing gateways, such as a business website, usually via the internet.
  • Internal testing: The test is carried out internally, behind a firewall or corporate network. It simulates an attack by a malicious insider.
  • Blind testing: The tester is only given the name of the target organization and left to their own devices.
  • Double-blind testing: In this scenario, the internal security/IT team is kept in the dark about the test.
  • Targeted testing: Both the pentester and internal team work hand in hand while keeping track of each other’s movements.

Pentesting vs. vulnerability assessment: which is better?

The only difference between a vulnerability assessment and a penetration test is that pentesting takes a deeper dive into investigating vulnerabilities. This difference also means that vulnerability assessments cover a broader scope than penetration tests. But it’s not a question of which is better because both methods are essential in facilitating risk management. Many security experts might incorporate pentesting in vulnerability assessments.

It takes a combination of efforts, skills, and resources to build a robust cybersecurity framework capable of withstanding modern threats. At GB Tech, we understand this all too well, which is why we’re prepared to help your business safeguard its assets and interests in the digital space. Contact us today to learn more about our cutting-edge managed IT and security solutions.