When a website needs to be tested, it's security features are considered on the topmost priority, as each individual will be having the access to the website, which includes hackers, crackers, etc. These unauthorized entities, may attack and affect a website, in several ways. Therefore, vulnerable areas i.e. soft spots, loopholes and security gaps, which are likely to be attacked, is identified and detected, so as to correct it.
Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Test are the two useful methods or approaches of the vulnerability testing, which work in the direction of improving and strengthening the security features of the websites. However, most of the people, perceives the vulnerability Assessment and penetration test, in a same manner. Both these terms, are often misunderstood as the similar concept. It is pertinent to state that although both the approaches are the form of the vulnerability testing, which emphasizes on the security aspect, but their objective and scope of working, makes them different to each other. Let's go through these concepts, one-by-one, so as to remove the confusion prevailing between both these.
It may be seen as an approach, to discover the vulnerable areas, which may be prone to any sort of attack. In the vulnerability assessment process, a complete scan of the known software, hardware and network, is being performed, with the help of some specific automated tools, to reveal the loopholes or weak, which may work as an entry point, to provide unauthorized access to attackers. This helps, in preparing and maintaining a prioritized list of the vulnerabilities to make aware about this to the clients or the stakeholder and subsequently, resolving or correcting or strengthening these areas, so as to prevent the system from any sort of malicious attacks, in future.
It generally focuses on the breadth rather than the depth, i.e. it ensures the wider and maximum coverage of the areas, and does not emphasizes on the in-depth assessment of these areas. Further, the in-house professionals or testers are engaged in the vulnerability assessment process, having sufficient knowledge of the website or the application. Since, the focus is made on the wide coverage, rather than the detailed analysis, it requires lesser budget.
It is one of the forms of vulnerability testing, which is carried out, to identify and exploit the vulnerable areas of the system or the website. In penetration testing, security loopholes or gaps are identified, and accordingly wilful and planned attack is made on the system, to visualize and understand the different ways of attacking and the impact of these attacks on a system. It may be seen as an upper level of vulnerability assessment methodology, which performs thorough vulnerability testing.
Contrary to vulnerability assessment, a penetration test prefers depth over breadth, i.e. although, only few areas, which are prone to the attacks, are identified through the real world scenarios and subsequently, simulates the attack on the system, based on these scenarios. Penetration testing requires a dedicated testing team or a tester, namely pen testers. Further, the cost incurred over penetration testing is high, compare to vulnerability assessment. In addition, the output of the vulnerability assessment process, may be used for the purpose of penetration testing.
In light of the above, it may be concluded that the vulnerability assessment is used to discover the flaws in the security areas of a system, so that it may be corrected, whereas penetration test, based on real world scenarios, simulates the attack on a system, to identify and analyse the unseen and unexpected security issues. It is preferred to perform both the methodology in a subsequent manner, to gain confidence in the security features of a system.