Penetration Testing vs. Vulnerability Scanning: Understanding the Differences

Serena Gray
3 min readSep 4, 2023

Both penetration testing and vulnerability scanning are potential testing methods for identifying possible vulnerabilities in the system, application or infrastructure. A penetration test is conducted by a pen tester who will be responsible for detecting and exploiting security related weaknesses in an application or product.

A pen tester will conduct a simulated attack to identify exploitable vulnerabilities. When it comes to the vulnerability scanning process, the automation mode is used to evaluate networks, systems and computers for identifying vulnerabilities.

It will be much better for the team if they can understand the potential differences between penetration testing and vulnerability scanning. In this article, you will get to know the differences between penetration testing and vulnerability scanning.

What is penetration testing?

It is a testing method that simulates a cyber attack to find ways through which a system can be hacked and weak points can be discovered. Once the penetration test has been successfully conducted, a comprehensive description of the test results is provided and the severity of threats that are uncovered is projected. It provides methods to strengthen the security aspects of a system or application.

Benefits of penetration testing:

1. Specific vulnerabilities can be identified and fixed: Certain vulnerabilities are isolated by the penetration test method. Also, the test data can be used to ascertain the level of threat that is posed by each vulnerability. Furthermore, definitive steps can be taken to strengthen the system. If an application is worked out, security weaknesses can be revealed by a penetration test that can be in turn repaired during the development cycle.

2. The working of digital systems is known: Every component of an organization’s network that has been well-connected may not be fully appreciated by the most experienced IT teams. For example, a customer relationship management (CRM) and a web application may be connected to the same database.

If the team understands the difference between penetration testing vs Vulnerability scanning, then it will in turn help them to implement security related aspects holistically.

What is vulnerability scanning?

A specific computer program is used through the vulnerability scanning method to identify weaknesses in the performance or security of your systems including applications, mobile devices, computers and networks. There are no active attempts involved to penetrate an application, device or network, while a penetration test helps in getting past your digital defenses.

Benefits of vulnerability scanning:

1. Generating quantifiable numbers: Quantifiable numbers are generated to validate the risks the systems and data may face when there is an attempt to breach. Vulnerability scanning also helps in knowing those assets that may have issues when a malicious code has been introduced in the system.

The specific information provided by the scan can in turn help in strengthening the security around valuable assets.

2. A specific set of steps is followed to identify flaws: Flaws are identified in the system so that attacks can be prevented in the future. The security of the system is made more robust, which will in turn help the testing process to improve the reputation with customers, competitors, third-party vendors etc.

Following are a few differences between penetration testing vs vulnerability scanning to help you better understand both the above-mentioned testing methods:

Penetration testing:

Business logic errors are easily detected that may otherwise remain undetected by a vulnerability scan

System weaknesses are discovered and attempts are made to exploit them

A pen test requires more human hours and hence is considered to be a costly method when compared to a vulnerability scan

Vulnerability scanning:

Crucial and complex vulnerabilities may often get missed

Only system weaknesses are uncovered

A vulnerability scan be easily performed with the help of automated tools

Conclusion: If you are looking forward to knowing which type of security testing best suits your project and business needs, then get connected with a well-established Penetration testing Company uk that will provide you with tactical testing solutions that are in line with your project specific requirements.



Serena Gray

I work as a Senior Testing Specialist at TestingXperts. I am a testing professional accustomed to working in a complex, project-based environment.