Penetration testing exploits a vulnerability in your system architecture while vulnerability scanning (or assessment) checks for known vulnerabilities and generates a report on risk exposure.

Penetration testing or Vulnerability scanning depends mostly on three factors:

  1. Scope
  2. Risk and Criticality of assets
  3. Cost and Time

Penetration Testing Life Cycle

Vulnerability Scanning Life Cycle

Major Comparison

StandardsPenetration TestingVulnerability Assessments
ScopeDetermines the scope of an attack.Makes a directory of assets and resources in each system.
ResourceTests sensitive data collection.Discovers the potential threats to each resource.
BehaviorGathers targeted information and/or inspect the system.Allocates quantifiable value and significance to the available resources.
OutputCleans up the system and gives final report.Attempts to mitigate or eliminate the potential vulnerabilities of valuable resources.
DepthIt is non-intrusive, documentation and environmental review and analysis.Comprehensive analysis and through review of the target system and its environment.
EnvironmentIt is ideal for physical environments and network architecture.It is ideal for lab environments.
TargetIt is meant for critical real-time systems.It is meant for non-critical systems.
AutomationNot Automated – Human Intervention requiredFully automated 
FrequencyOnce or twice a year, as well as anytime the Internet-facing equipment undergoes significant changesAt least quarterly, especially after new equipment is loaded or the network undergoes significant changes
ReportsConcisely identify what data was compromisedProvide a comprehensive baseline of what vulnerabilities exist and what changed since the last report
FocusDiscovers unknown and exploitable weaknesses in normal business processesLists known software vulnerabilities that could be exploited
Performed byBest to use an independent outside service and alternate between two or three; requires a great deal of skillTypically conducted by in-house staff using authenticated credentials; does not require a high skill level
ValueIdentifies and reduces weaknessesDetects when equipment could be compromised
PricingOn higher sideOn normal end , comparing to PT


Both vulnerability scanning and penetration testing can feed into the cyber risk analysis process and help to determine controls best suited for the business, department, or a practice. They all must work together to reduce cybersecurity risk. It is very important to know the difference; each is important and has different purposes and outcomes.

Training is also important as providing a tool(s) to your security staff does not mean that the environment is secure. Lack of knowledge in using a tool(s) effectively poses a bigger security risk. In-depth knowledge of security tools will allow your teams to bring ROI in terms of quality, a good view of an organization’s security posture, and reducing cost and time spent on unnecessary troubleshooting.