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Penetration Tests and Vulnerability Assessments: Two Different Methods of Fortifying Your Network

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Advances in digital and virtual technology have proved to be a blessing for today’s large businesses and organizations, allowing them to develop complex internal infrastructures that allow for the saving, sharing, and storing of massive amounts of business data. Yet as the saying goes, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall”. Large networks mean that there are often more openings for attackers to breach. Such breaches can result in the loss of massive amounts of data, costing companies millions of dollars, and opening them up to all kinds of liability concerns. Those who place too much blind faith on the stability of their firewalls to protect them from such incursions are often shocked to discover just how adept attackers have become at getting around Internet security measures.

Luckily, there are steps that you, as part of your company’s management team, can take to help identify the weak links in your company’s cyber security chain, and provide you with the feedback and recommendations needed in order to address them. The two most common methods used to test the security of a system are a penetration test and a vulnerability assessment. Many use these terms interchangeably, believing that they follow the same methodology to achieve their aims. While there are some similarities between these security testing protocols, each has unique aspects that make it distinct from the other.

An All-Out Attack 

A penetration test is a concentrated attack on your computer system with the objective of finding specific holes in its defense that could potentially be exploited by attackers. Once the tester identifies a point of entry into the system, he or she exploits it to see just how far one could gain access into your system through that particular hole. These tests can provide you with a wealth of specific, actionable data, such as:

  • Unique sequences of system failures that could result in high-risk vulnerabilities
  • Single sets of attack vectors
  • Data detailing the potential impact of a successful attack

A Detailed Defense Plan 

Vulnerability assessments provide you with a comprehensive view of your system’s security. Whereas a penetration test focuses on individual holes in your firewall, a vulnerability assessment collects data regarding all aspects of the system, and highlights those areas where vulnerabilities may exist. What you get is essentially a snapshot of your system, giving you an external perspective of what areas an attacker may look to exploit when planning on how to gain access to your network. A vulnerability assessment can help you by:

  • Identifying each unique resource in your system
  • Highlighting the potential vulnerabilities of each resource
  • Ranking those resources in terms of importance to your overall security.

While different, each of these tests help you to achieve the same objective: an impenetrable virtual network. The vulnerability assessment identifies those areas you need to fortify, and a penetration test will tell you if those fortifications work in keeping out attackers.

Your data is the lifeblood of your business; simply trusting in the abilities of your IT team to protect it often isn’t enough. You need to be prepared for any and all scenarios that could potentially leave your network exposed. That’s where we at AWA come in. By performing either a penetration test or comprehensive vulnerability assessment as part of a security audit, we can help you find those holes in your infrastructure’s defense that could leave you vulnerable to external attacks. We invite you to trust in the experience and expertise of our team to help guarantee your network’s security.

About The Author

CISSP - Certified Information Systems Security Professional
CEH - Certified Ethical Hacker
CISM - Certified Information Security Manager

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