Security Audit

Difference Between Pentesting and Vulnerability Scanning

Updated on: December 29, 2023

Difference Between Pentesting and Vulnerability Scanning

Vulnerability Scanning is the process of using certain tools to detect, categorize, and score vulnerabilities existing in a system. Pentesting refers to the active exploitation of vulnerabilities to determine their severity, genuineness, potential for causing damage, and other insights.

When we say vulnerability assessment vs. penetration testing, rest assured, it is just to draw your attention. They are not enemies like that. Both vulnerability assessment and penetration testing have a similar end goal – the evaluation of the security strength of your systems. There are a bunch of notable differences between them, and our job here is to locate those differences and highlight them.

Comparison Table of Vulnerability Assessment vs. Penetration Testing

Vulnerability AssessmentPenetration Testing
Vulnerability assessment is focused on detecting and categorizing vulnerabilities in a system.Penetration testing involves exploiting vulnerabilities to draw insights about them.
It is a mostly automated process involving vulnerability scanning tools.Penetration testing requires manual intervention on top of automated scanning.
It is almost impossible to achieve zero false positives with an automated vulnerability assessment.Manual penetration testers can ensure zero false positives.
Vulnerability assessment often misses critical and complex vulnerabilities.Thanks to the human element of penetration testing, it detects business logic errors that remain undetected in a vulnerability scan.
Automated vulnerability assessment takes significantly less time and money than pen testing. Penetration testing is a consuming and expensive procedure and for good reason.

What Is The Difference Between Vulnerability Assessment & Penetration Testing?

Vulnerability Assessment is the process of detecting and assessing the vulnerabilities in your website, application, network, or devices. It is usually done with the help of an automated vulnerability scanner that scans your systems for common vulnerabilities and exposures by referencing a vulnerability database.

The term penetration testing refers to the process of simulating an attack against a system to find weaknesses in its security and fix them. It is usually performed by security experts who apply several hacker-like tactics to find ways into your system and explore those ways to figure out how much damage could be done through those.

While both services are aimed at identifying vulnerabilities, penetration tests are far more exhaustive than a vulnerability assessment. Vulnerability assessments are a part of every pentest, but not vice-versa. However, it is important to consider your requirements and scope before choosing between them.

Vulnerability assessments are less expensive and can be done using automated tools. However, while penetration tests can be done with automated tools or manually, they can be expensive since it is more in-depth when compared to a vulnerability assessment. However, companies and enterprises usually prefer penetration tests to meet compliance requirements & to detect and remediate even the smallest flaws in their systems.

Who needs a vulnerability assessment?

Well, pretty much anybody who is trying to run an internet-facing business needs frequent vulnerability assessments. Whether you run a multi-million dollar SaaS business, or a small e-commerce startup trying to utilize the goodness of data, you need regular vulnerability scanning. It is an absolute necessity if you are trying to operate under certain security regulations like PCI-DSS, HIPAA, or SOC2.

Who needs penetration testing?

Penetration testing is suited for companies with complex applications and a lot of lucrative data. Businesses with strong security features need penetration tests to remove any loopholes that might still exist in their security. Companies looking to do it should have a sizeable security budget since it involves expert manual pentesters and is more expensive.

Why do you need a vulnerability assessment?

Let’s say, you have a dynamic website to sell flowers. Having worked tirelessly to build an online presence, yours is now the first of the search engine results. Your application is customized to anticipate every need of its users. In short, it is a fantastic web app. 

Now a hacker hacks your website through a security vulnerability with the aid of a vulnerability scanning bot. Every time a user clicks on your website’s URL from the SERP they are taken to a questionable site with unspeakable content. You lose more than just money.

If a simple vulnerability assessment had been carried out, these vulnerabilities could have been located in time. This would have rescued you from loss of revenue, reputation, and a lot of pain.

So, you need a vulnerability assessment to

  • Detect common vulnerabilities in your system
  • Bolster your network assets against cyber attacks
  • Attain compliance with security regulations relevant to your industry
  • Protect your data and build trust among customers

One small security loophole vs your entire web application. The risk is high!

Get your web app audited & strengthen your defenses!
See Pricing
Starting from $199/month

Why is penetration testing needed?

Let’s consider the same floral business once again. Now you’re getting regular automated vulnerability scans, patching, and reducing your website’s attack surface. You have no worries about SQL injections, and XSS vulnerabilities anymore. 

But this time, a hacker manipulates your pricing and buys bouquets at half price despite there being no offers. You don’t notice this until you manually check the balance sheet. Your vulnerability scanner must have missed something.

While vulnerability assessments are fast and inexpensive, it is an automated procedure and will likely miss some spots. It cannot detect business logic errors, price manipulation hacks, or even privilege escalations. This is where penetration tests are important. 

Penetration testing helps you understand the risk posed by a certain vulnerability accurately. Manual pentesters confirm each vulnerability and provide steps for remediation. Moreover, certain security regulations like level 4 of PCI-DSS require a manual pentest for compliance.

vulnerability assessment vs penetration testing
Image: Benefits of Penetration Testing

With penetration testing, you can get

  1. A clearer understanding of your web security posture including business logic errors
  2. Step-by-step directions to remediate vulnerabilities
  3. Zero false positives
  4. Remediation support from security experts
  5. Pentest certificate

Vulnerability Assessment vs. Penetration Testing: The Showdown

We have discussed vulnerability assessment and pentesting separately so far. It’s finally time to talk about them with respect to each other. The goal here is to point out and highlight the discernible features in both and put an end to the vulnerability assessment vs penetration testing debate.

Let’s pick 5 categories and see how the participants fare in each one of them.

Difference 1. Speed of Execution

Speed is one of the key benefits of vulnerability scanning as it only takes a few minutes to a few hours to complete. Penetration testing is a significantly longer procedure and can take up to a couple of weeks to complete. Rescans will take additional time after you fix issues found during the pentest.

Difference 2. Depth of testing

An automated vulnerability scanner can detect peripheral CVEs based on OWASP and SANS. However, penetration tests are more in-depth & can identify business logic errors among other difficult, environment-specific vulnerabilities. Vulnerability scanners are also prone to false positive results. Penetration tests are carried out by experts, making them formidable for assessing security.

Difference 3. Risk analysis

Penetration testing has a clear upper hand here. With a penetration test, you get a clear ROI of the test and the remediation. Pentesters attempt to escalate access privileges and exploit vulnerabilities. It also tells you how much loss a certain exploit can incur. A vulnerability assessment report informs you about the CVSS scores for each vulnerability to mark its severity but cannot tell the extend of damages it can cause.

Difference 4. Remediation support

A vulnerability assessment report comes with suggestions for fixing the issues found. But your developers are left to do most of the research and execution. A pentest report contains detailed step-by-step guides to reproduce and fix vulnerabilities. Some provide video POCs. and you can collaborate with manual pentesters to overcome any blockers in remediation.

Difference 5. Pricing

Vulnerability scans are cheaper than a manual pentest. A quality vulnerability assessment can cost you anywhere between $100 and $200 per month whereas the cost of web app pentesting is in the vicinity of $400 per month. The cost of cloud pentesting and mobile app pentesting is usually strung even higher.

Can you have both vulnerability assessment and penetration testing?

Of course, you can. The real question is, do you need it?

Vulnerability scanning is for a high-level security evaluation. It is fast, cheap, but misses some details. penetration testing, as you know by now, is a deeper, knowledge-intensive process that does not come that cheap.

As your business grows in revenue, and your web application becomes more and more complex with an increasing number of functionalities, it is a good idea to add pentesting to the security regime. At the end of the day, it all comes down to a cost-benefit analysis.

It is always a good idea to partner with a VAPT company that can offer both automated vulnerability assessment and manual penetration testing so that the option to escalate to a more comprehensive model of security testing stays open.

VAPT: Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing- Best of Both

Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing (VAPT) is a comprehensive suite of security testing services, vulnerability assessment, and penetration testing services. This blend of services allows one to identify and mitigate cyber security risks in an efficient and timely manner.

Choosing to do VAPT helps you gain in-depth insight when compared to insights obtained from individual vulnerability assessments and penetration tests.

Astra’s Pentest is the Perfect Example

Whether you are looking for penetration testing services or just a vulnerability scanner, you must check Astra’s Pentest out. The engineers and security experts at Astra are hell-bent on making robust web security simple for users. In the process, they’ve created a near-perfect security testing solution that takes user experience very seriously.

vulnerability assessment vs penetration testing
Image: Astra’s Pentest Suite

One small security loophole vs your entire web application. The risk is high!

Get your web app audited & strengthen your defenses!
See Pricing
Starting from $199/month

With Astra’s Pentest you get –

  • 8000+ tests covering all major compliance requirements
  • Continuous testing through CI/CD integration
  • Scan behind the logged-in pages
  • Risk scores and accurate prediction of potential losses incurred by a vulnerability.
  • Zero false positives are ensured by security experts who confirm the authenticity of each vulnerability
  • Identification of business logic errors
  • A detailed guide to remediate the issues with video POCs
  • In-call support from security experts

The interactive pentest dashboard allows you to collaborate seamlessly with security experts to circumvent any roadblock your developers might face in terms of reproduction and remediation of vulnerabilities.

To Conclude

This is not the first article on the vulnerability assessment vs penetration testing debate, and this surely won’t be the last. However, you can consider this one as a definitive take. We hope you have got a pretty solid conception of the boundary that separates VA from PT while also understanding how they can function together to offer a holistic security evaluation of your systems.

Want to know more or have a quick question? Talk with our engineers!

We are always online! 😊


1. Is vulnerability assessment a part of penetration testing?

Although vulnerability assessment can exist as a separate procedure, it is used as a part of the pentest process.

2. What is the timeline for penetration testing?

It takes 4-10 days to complete a penetration test, the rescans can take half as much time.

3. What is the cost of pentesting?

The cost of pentesting is usually between $99 and $399 for web apps. For mobile apps, and cloud platforms the cost can vary quite a bit depending on the scope of the pentest.

4. Do we get free rescans after the vulnerabilities are fixed?

Yes, you get up to 3 free rescans after the vulnerabilities are fixed available within 30 days of the initial test completion.

Saumick Basu

Saumick is a Technical Writer at Astra Security. He loves to write about technology and has deep interest in its evolution. Having written about spearheading disruptive technology like AI, and Machine Learning, and code reviews for a while, Information Security is his newfound love. He's ready to bring you along as he dives deeper.
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1 year ago

What are the similarities between VA & PT?

Psst! Hi there. We’re Astra.

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