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Network Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing – Are They the Same?

The probability of a company falling prey to a cyberattack has significantly increased in the past decade – there are even bills, acts, and various rules and regulations to deal with the issue throughout countries. While these are great initiatives, we need to take steps from the level of the firm to prevent these attacks from happening in the first place. This is where a network vulnerability assessment and penetration testing procedure comes in with the goal of identifying and resolving different kinds of security issues.


The true impact of network vulnerability assessment and penetration testing comes from its periodic occurrence and in-depth exploration of the target. For this, certain best practices should be ideally followed by the testing team, accompanied by an understanding of the business logic, to bring out an extensive picture of the firm’s security posture.



What are network vulnerability assessments?


Before we proceed further, it’s important that we distinguish between network vulnerability assessments and network penetration testing procedures in their procedure and end goals. Essentially, the network vulnerability assessment is a prerequisite for conducting the network penetration testing process. The former goes through the target network and analyses the computer and device networks for potential security loopholes. The information gained from this procedure is used to implement actual exploitation procedures for understanding each vulnerability’s criticality and security impact for better insights.


For many compliance standards, periodic network vulnerability assessments are made mandatory for identifying all kinds of new threats and attempts to break into the system. The PCI-DSS and HIPAA standards require that regular penetration testing and vulnerability analysis are conducted to protect sensitive information, including the customers’ medical and financial details.



What are the steps included under network vulnerability assessments?


Before the network penetration test, there are some steps that come under the umbrella of the vulnerability analysis that determine the success of the procedure.


  1. Setting up the project environment


The vulnerability analysis procedure requires a specific setting (or framework) for successful testing for which an information gathering and review session is mandatory. Within this, various data points will be included such as a list of IP addresses which will be combined with the configuration of the IDS/IPS originating IP addresses. This step will help the testing team to avoid false notifications of malicious activity within the configurations.


The testing team will also need to decide on the time and place for conducting the vulnerability assessment since they would need to ensure that the originating IP addresses are accepted on both sides during this time. All parties involved in the testing process should be informed about the details of the scan well beforehand. Network vulnerability assessments shouldn’t be limited to just the network – even devices such as printers that can be accessed through the internet are vulnerable to hacking attempts.


  1. Defining the tasks for the network vulnerability assessment process


There are some specific tasks that would be helpful for the testing team to keep in mind when starting with the process:


  • Identifying, analysing, and prioritizing different network threats
  • Evaluating organization network’s incident security response against common attacks such as distributed denial of service (DDoS), Man-in-the-middle (MITM), and network intrusion hacks
  • Looking for vulnerabilities in router and WiFi passwords
  • Figuring out device security in routers, switches, and computers


  1. Planning the vulnerability analysis


Once the environment has been set and the data to be tested is defined, including the IP addresses, regular network vulnerability analyses should be scheduled. The data analysis will also provide a list of security vulnerabilities to be explored further and allow the testing team the chance to detect the false positives. From there, the vulnerabilities will be prioritized depending on the business impact they pose. Consequently, this will also influence the chosen remediation procedures, the execution plans, and the timelines for the entire testing procedure.


  1. Tools for network vulnerability assessment


One of the best practices for the network penetration testing procedure is to adopt the right kind of tools at each stage. Many vulnerability assessment tools are available for identifying both common and specific security vulnerabilities through scanning. Tools such as OpenVAS and Veracode provide open-source vulnerability scanning provisions for scanning and a community that answers many questions.



Network Penetration Testing – The Final Step


After the vulnerability assessment tools provide a list of detected vulnerabilities, the next step is to implement the network penetration testing methodology to determine the severity associated with each vulnerability. A team of ethical hackers exploit each vulnerability through specially designed attack methods based on the business context and logic and suggest appropriate resolution measures. After this, a report will be created to detail out the findings of the entire process for informing both the technical and non-technical stakeholders of the firm.



This article was to provide an insight into the differences between network vulnerability assessment and penetration testing along with the steps followed under the network vulnerability assessment process. Always inform yourself of the procedure before stepping into any penetration testing contract with a third-party service.




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