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Despite that these two terms are often used interchangeably, there is a thin but distinct enough line between them.
Penetration testing is a formal procedure aiming at discovering security vulnerabilities, flaws risks, and unreliable environment. In other words, penetration testing can be seen as a successful but not damaging attempt to penetrate a specific information system; mimicking activities cyber criminals would engage in with the intention to compromise this system.
Generally speaking, organizations conduct pen tests to strengthen their corporate defense systems comprising all computer systems and their adjoining infrastructure. It is to be noted that while penetration testing can help organizations fortify their cybersecurity defenses, this measure should be performed on a regular basis since malicious entities invent all the time newer and newer weak points in emerging systems, programs, and applications. Even though a pen test may not provide answers to all of your security concerns, such a test will significantly minimize the possibility of a successful attack.
Ethical hacking, on the other hand, is an all-embracing term that includes all hacking methods, and other related cyber-attack methods. Some people disagree with hacking being considered “ethical” in any way. They deem that the word “hacker” in the term “ethical hacker” is added to attract more people to training programs and courses. For that reason, among other things, these people would prefer not to associate this term with them.
Compared to ethical hacking, penetration testing is a more narrowly focused phase. Simply put, ethical hacking is something like an umbrella term, and penetration testing is merely one fragment of all techniques, which is designed, as already mentioned, to locate security issues within the targeted information surface. Hence, penetration testing is some subset of ethical hacking.
|Penetration Testing||Ethical Hacking|
|A narrow term which focuses on performing cyber security assessment on IT systems||A comprehensive term in which penetration testing is only one feature|
|A tester needs to have a good knowledge and skills only in the specific area for which he conducts pen testing||An ethical hacker needs to possess a comprehensive knowledge of various programming and hardware techniques|
|Anyone who is familiar with penetration testing can perform pen tests||Usually is required an obligatory certification of ethical hacking|
|Access is required only to those systems on which the pen testing will be conducted||Access is required to a wide range of computer systems throughout an IT infrastructure|