Penetration Testing Versus Vulnerability Management

Many information security professionals are familiar with the terms ”‘vulnerability assessment” and “penetration testing” (“pen test” for short). Unfortunately, in many cases, these two terms are incorrectly used interchangeably. A vulnerability assessment is a process of finding and measuring the severity of vulnerabilities in a system. Vulnerability assessments yield lists of vulnerabilities, often prioritised by severity and/or business criticality.

Vulnerability assessments typically involve the use of automated testing tools such as web and network security scanners, whose results are typically assessed and escalated to development and operations teams. In other words, vulnerability assessments involve in-depth evaluation of a security posture and are designed to uncover weaknesses and recommend appropriate remediation or mitigation to remove or reduce risk.

In contrast, penetration testing is typically a goal-oriented exercise. A pentest has less to do with uncovering vulnerabilities and is rather more focused on simulating a real-life attack, testing defences and mapping-out paths a real attacker could take to fulfil a real-world goal. In other words, a penetration test is usually about how an attacker is able to breach defences and less about specific vulnerabilities.

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In contrast to vulnerability assessment, penetration testing involves identifying vulnerabilities in a particular network and attempting to exploit them to penetrate into the system.


Vulnerability management is the process of identifying, evaluating, treating, and reporting on security vulnerabilities in systems and the software that runs on them. Security vulnerabilities, in turn, refer to technological weaknesses that allow attackers to compromise a product and the information it holds. This process needs to be performed continuously in order to keep up with new systems being added to networks, changes that are made to systems, and the discovery of new vulnerabilities over time.

Vulnerabilities emerge every day within new networks, web applications and databases. They may occur due to software defects or misconfigurations of information systems. Because they can be exploited by cyber attackers, it is essential to eliminate these exposures to protect your critical IT assets and safeguard sensitive information.

The IT Force Vulnerability Management Service delivers vulnerability assessments of your environment using:

The Qualys scanning solution for automated and recurring vulnerability scanning that delivers vulnerability scan reports, remediation recommendations, and has the ability to track workflow, reporting, and trending of your environment.

The Top Challenges Organisations Face When Addressing Vulnerability Management

According to research conducted by Gartner, through 2020, 99 percent of vulnerabilities exploited by threat actors will continue to be ones known by security and IT professionals for at least one year. This means that it’s essential for organisations to take intelligent action today to improve their security posture.

Below are some challenges facing security and IT professionals today as they strive for an effective Vulnerability Programme:

“It probably (hopefully) won’t happen to me” mentality

Comprehensive vulnerability management, a foundational component of an organisation’s security posture, can be difficult to manage due to time and resource constraints. Some may not feel the urgency until an actual breach, but by then it is too late. A proactive, well-managed vulnerability programme is always preferable over a reactive approach to security.

Convincing leadership of the need for a vulnerability management programme

Frequently, we see security professionals struggling to explain to leadership why perimeter defences and client firewalls are not adequate replacements for a comprehensive vulnerability management programme. Also, some believe that if their external scans do not show many vulnerabilities, there is no cause for concern for the organisation, which is misleading.

A 36,000 page PDF report does not help me

After a Vendor Management System (VMS) programme is deployed, periodic scans are set up and reports are scheduled. Once the reports start rolling out, most Security and IT professionals are overwhelmed by the amount of data in a single report. The data is complicated, confusing, and too general for the needs of their organisation.