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Ethical Hacking vs Penetration Testing: What’s the difference?

icon Posted by: Hasan Sameer
icon August 17, 2022

In Brief

Penetration Testing vs Ethical Hacking

Penetration testing is the process of finding vulnerabilities, malicious content, flaws, and security risks in your IT infrastructure. It involves manual as well as automated tools and techniques to make sure your cyber security does not have any loopholes.

Ethical hacking is a cyber security practice having the same purpose but diverse applications. It is the integrated approach to protecting your IT infrastructure from prevailing cyber risks. It involves different sets of tools and methodologies, even penetration testing comes under this comprehensive term.


of hackers attack their victims just for learning and practice.


of attackers have the purpose to make money.


of hacks are targeted at websites making Web Application Pentesting a necessity.


of hacking experts use their skills to protect and defend businesses and individuals from cyberattacks.

Difference Between Penetration Testing and Ethical Hacking

Web Application Pentesting

Conceptual Difference

Penetration testing is a type of security test to determine the strength and resilience of an organization’s IT infrastructure against cyber-attacks. Businesses hire a certified professional or a team for the job. They assess the whole infrastructure for any kind of security vulnerability or loophole that might lead to a successful attack. Moreover, penetration testing involves on-site audits.Here the tester gets some inside information and privileged access to the IT systems in question. There are a few types of penetration testing such as Internal, External, Wireless, Network, Cloud, and Web Application Pentesting.

Ethical Hacking is a simulated attack on the said system, network, or infrastructure to check its resistance against the actual cyber-attacks. The purpose of ethical hacking is to uncover the hidden vulnerabilities in your IT systems that might serve as a gate for hackers. The term ethical here separates this process from criminal hacking. The individual or team asks for the permission of the concerned organization before penetrating the systems. Businesses hire ethical hackers to identify flaws that they might miss but the hackers can exploit. The use of ethical hacking becomes more crucial when a major update is released. As a lot of features are unknown, it is necessary to check what can go wrong when you encounter a real attack on your infrastructure.

Key points of functional differences

  • Penetration testing has the motive to find hidden vulnerabilities in the target environment. On the other hand, ethical hacking involves different tricks to hack and find all kinds of security flaws within the infrastructure.
  • Penetration testing is focused on the security-specific assessment of the infrastructure. Ethical hacking is a comprehensive methodology to seal every hole in your IT security net, and penetration testing is also a part of it.
  • To be a good penetration tester, one needs to have prior experience in ethical hacking. Whereas ethical hacking is the first step towards being a penetration tester. To put it in an uncomplicated way, if we consider ethical hacking as a degree course then penetration testing is a specialization.
  • You need to possess expert-level knowledge to work as a penetration tester on specific domains and networks. While ethical hacking requires the awareness of the technicalities of the software and hardware of digital devices connected to the network.
  • Ethical hacking involves detailed paperwork including a legal agreement. On the other hand, penetration testing does not necessarily require heavy documentation.
  • Penetration testing is a far more compact procedure than ethical hacking. While ethical hacking is a thorough procedure that takes up a lot more time and effort as compared to penetration testing.
  • You only need to have the knowledge and access to the specific aspect under test for penetration testing. For instance, you just need to have access to the web infrastructure of an organization to conduct Web Application Pentesting for it. On the other hand, you need to access a wide range of computer systems within the IT infrastructure of the organization to carry out ethical hacking.

Which one to choose: Penetration Testing or Ethical Hacking?

Arguably, penetration testing is a subset of the holistic setup of ethical hacking. Therefore, if you choose ethical hacking, you cover it all. You will get a thorough assessment of your infrastructure and will know the security flaws present in the systems that are available. However, it will cost just as much. While penetration testing will only focus on system weaknesses and the vulnerabilities that mightget exploited by the attackers. So, if that is what you need only, then penetration testing is the better option for you.

Before You Go!

  • Penetration testing and ethical hacking are both top cybersecurity practices to fortify your organization’s security posture.
  • There are quite a few companies that offer Cyber Security Solutions in Dubai. But RSK has experience in both domains to provide best-in-class services.


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