Can Vulnerability Scanning Replace Penetration Testing?

The major misconception that leads to lots of security breaches in businesses is – treating both Vulnerability scanning and Penetration Testing alternative to one another.

The major misconception that leads to lots of security breaches in businesses is – treating both Vulnerability scanning and Penetration Testing (Pen-Testing) alternative to one another. Of course, they may seem like similar tools that are used to identify vulnerabilities and strengthen web application security.

However, they are starkly different in terms of purpose, scope, and methodology. This misconception would lead to missing of valuable security aspects and weakens the security postures.

Let’s look into the processes and capabilities of these two approaches and how they fortify the application security.

How Does Penetration Testing Work?

Penetration Testing is the process where an authorized attack is simulated by a trusted pen-tester/ white-hat hacker on the application/ network/ system/ server or other components under secure conditions in real-time. It is a manual process. Pen-Testing is leveraged to:

  • Assess the exploitability of different known and unknown vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and security weaknesses
  • Understand how vulnerable the system/ application is to a cyber-attack
  • Evaluate the strength of security measures used
  • Determine which aspects of the security measures were defeated and how easily.



  • It is the most effective means to identify unknown vulnerabilities, logical flaws, the exploitability of human assets through social engineering, and zero-day threats. Security Scanning cannot identify these vulnerabilities
  • The business can understand how secure their application is in the real world
  • No false positives are yielded in Penetration Testing


  • Being a manual process, it is time-consuming
  • Given the costs and time involved, all assets in the IT infrastructure cannot be included in these manual tests. Only critical assets, high-profile security risks, and certain aspects are tested at a time

How Does Vulnerability Scanning Work?

Vulnerability/ Security Scanning is the process wherein known vulnerabilities, gaps, weaknesses, and misconfigurations in the asset structure and code are identified proactively by leveraging automation. In the scanning process, the structure of the asset/code is discovered, and each element is checked automatically against a pre-defined set of rules to understand responses and behavior.


  • The accuracy and agility of automated Vulnerability Scanning are high. It is best suited for the repetitive and voluminous scanning requirements during the SDLC stage
  • A wide range of assets can be included, in comparison to Pen-Testing. So, it is best suited for large-scale deployments
  • Quick identification and testing for known vulnerabilities are possible with the Automated Penetration Testing functionality of modern-day scanners


  • It is only effective in identifying known vulnerabilities and misconfigurations; business logic flaws, logical errors, zero-day threats, exploitation of social engineering techniques, and other unknown vulnerabilities are not identified by even the Automated Pen-Testing functionality of scanners.
  • Vulnerability Scanning is prone to false positives, which erode the security posture and performance of the application. False-positive management is offered only by a few providers.


Can Vulnerability Scanning Replace Penetration Testing?

Replacing one with another will create wide and dangerous gaps in web application security. Considering the importance of security, running automated vulnerability scanning is a must. However, it comes with false positives. While agility and scalability are provided by Scanning, the power of human expertise is provided by Pen-Testing.

Taking the Best of Both Worlds

Vulnerability Scans must be conducted comprehensively daily and on-demand after major changes. All assets (applications, network, infrastructure, etc.) along with associated systems like CMS, databases, servers, open ports, etc. must be included. And so, should third-party features/ services/ components.

Human expertise and thinking skills cannot be replaced by any machine or algorithm. It is suggested that Pen-Testing be done on a quarterly or annual basis for strengthening the security posture. While insight into the baseline of security is being provided by Scanning, the real-world implications of vulnerabilities can be exposed by Pen-Tests.

Maximize Effectiveness of your Application Security with WAS

Pen-Testing methods are replicated in modern-day with leading-edge tools like Indusface Web Application Scanning (WAS) where the responses of vulnerabilities are analyzed through heuristic, behavioral, and signature-based testing.

With Indusface WAS, new signatures are automatically added as it is backed by Global Threat Intelligence. Integrated with the Intelligent, Managed WAF, un-crawled areas are automatically added by the WAS tool based on live traffic insights.

This tool is also called Automated Penetration Testing and is effective in proactively identifying known vulnerabilities and testing them for potentially dangerous behavior in a comprehensive, regular, and scalable fashion. Equipped with false-positive management, Automated Penetration Testing with WAS ensures high performance and proactiveness.

Leverage the best out of Vulnerability Scanning & Penetration Testing with Indusface WAS and strengthen your web application security!

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