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Even some of the most accomplished IT professionals are not sure about the difference between a vulnerability scan and a penetration test. Here are three basic differences between the two terms:

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1. A vulnerability scan detects and classifies system weaknesses in computers, networks and communications equipment. A penetration test on the other hand is the practice of testing a computer system, network or web application to identify insecure business processes, poor security settings, or other weaknesses that a hacker could exploit.

2. While a vulnerability scan informs the stakeholders about the system vulnerabilities, a penetration test shows how these vulnerabilities could be exploited to cause harm to the organisation.

3. A vulnerability scan could be performed by an organisation's IT department using tools such as OpenVas and Nessus. A wide range of tools are available for use during a penetration testing but it’s the skill of an experienced pen-tester that is needed to identify ways in which vulnerabilities can be exploited.