What’s The Difference Between a Gap Analysis and a Penetration Test?

There are a variety of ways to test the maturity of your security program, including a gap analysis and a penetration test. However, it can be overwhelming to hear about these different types of security assessments and try to make an informed decision about what is right for your organization and your budget. The different types of security assessments and penetration tests can have very different benefits to your organization, and may be more beneficial to more immature security programs vs. more mature security programs and vice versa.

The Difference in a Gap Analysis vs. a Penetration Test

In general, there are two approaches to a security assessment. The first is to do an interview-driven approach known as a gap analysis. This provides a holistic view of your program, from the policies and procedures to the technical controls, and identifies any gaps or potential improvements to improve the security of your organization and the data you are trying to protect.

The second is a tactical assessment known as a penetration test. A penetration test emulates the real-world threats and attack vectors you are likely to encounter. The goal of a penetration test is to identify the weaknesses and demonstrate the impact of successful exploitation before an attacker does. In most organizations, a hybrid approach is the best way to find specific vulnerabilities now and improve processes to keep you secure moving forward.

When Should I Get a Gap Analysis?

There are various reasons to get a gap analysis. Many compliance requirements such as PCI DSS or HIPAA require some form of gap analysis in addition to different types of penetration testing. Additionally, they are helpful for preparing a roadmap for your security program, guiding what controls should be implemented in the future and helping with resource planning. Completing one will allow you to find gaps in documentation, processes, and technical controls. It is beneficial in many cases to couple a gap analysis with ongoing penetration testing activities so you can get a more holistic view of your security posture.

When Should I Get a Penetration Test?

A penetration test is a great way to determine the effectiveness of your security controls at a specific point-in-time, including whether your controls could be bypassed or whether you’d detect some of the techniques an attacker is likely to use. A penetration test will provide a technical roadmap for improving security, but does not touch on the various policies, procedures, etc. that the best practice gap analysis would. We recommend a penetration test on at least an annual basis, as technology and attack vectors are constantly changing. There are various types of penetration tests to assess different perspectives and potential points of entry for attackers.

Triaxiom Security specializes in both conducting gap analyses and penetration testing, so contact us if you need help completing this process or just want to better understand the approach.