What’s the Difference Between a Security Assessment and a Vulnerability Assessment?

security risk assessment vs vulnerability scan
Network security is imperative to protecting yourself from evolving threats.

With how common security attacks are becoming, ensuring your IT network is secure is becoming more and more important. 

At The KR Group, when discussing our security assessment — a Purple Team Hive Assessment — we are often asked how it is different from other security products on the market, specifically vulnerability assessments. 

Our security advisers have experience with both types of assessments. However, they are not one and the same. 

There are three main differences between a security assessment and a vulnerability scan: 

  1. A vulnerability assessment is a component of a security assessment.
  2. A security assessment requires manual investigation and testing, but a vulnerability scan is automated.
  3. A security assessment looks for current and future vulnerabilities, and a vulnerability scan is only a point-in-time snapshot.

Without knowing what one or the other looks like, it’s easy to mistake the two, and we hope this article will give you an idea of how they’re different from each other.  

1. A vulnerability assessment is a component of a security assessment.

Both security assessments and vulnerability assessments help you protect your data. 

A vulnerability scan scours your network and looks for misconfigurations, missing patches, and active attacks that put your information at risk. 

When the scan is complete, it provides a list of issues it found, and you’ll have to do your own research to resolve them. 

A security assessment, on the other hand, takes a deeper look at your network and provides you with risk reduction techniques for each vulnerability. 

With a vulnerability assessment, you’ll have the knowledge of some of the issues in your network, but you’ll need a security assessment for a more thorough overview and for easily accessible solutions.   

In fact, a vulnerability scan is a tool used during a security assessment, specifically the defensive part of a security assessment. 

Besides scanning for vulnerabilities, a security assessment looks for vulnerabilities, such as: 

  • DNS risk
  • Poor mail hygiene 
  • Lacking endpoint protection
  • Active Directory misconfiguration
  • Firewall incapabilities
  • Penetration accessibility

When your security adviser finishes their assessment, you’ll have a complete picture of the strengths and weaknesses in your IT system.

A vulnerability assessment simply doesn’t offer the same breadth of information as a security assessment. 

2. A security assessment includes manual investigation, but a vulnerability assessment is automated.

At some point, an English teacher told you not to rely on spellcheck to catch all the writing errors and to physically go through your essay and check for errors. 

Likewise, an automated vulnerability assessment may highlight some of the problems in your IT environment, but it probably won’t catch all of them. 

Spellcheck doesn’t always catch misused words or grammar nuances, and a vulnerability assessment doesn’t always pick up on network misconfigurations and security best practices. 

security assessment vs vulnerability assessment
Security assessments rely on manual labor to identify the majority of your network vulnerabilities.

A good security assessment will only be about 25% automated, but most vulnerability scans are completely automated. 

By manually crawling through your IT environment and looking for weaknesses or misconfigurations, your security adviser is able to pick up on detailed information. 

Artificial intelligence can’t outcompete human advisers quite yet.

For example, a vulnerability assessment can look through your active directory and check if there are any malicious users. A security assessment, though, goes a step further and looks for inactive users and appropriate role-based access. 

By doing a vulnerability scan in place of a security assessment, you miss so much information on your security posture. 


A vulnerability assessment only provides a point-in-time snapshot of your IT environment. 

3. A security assessment looks for current and future vulnerabilities, but a vulnerability scan’s results are limited.

You can take the results of your vulnerability assessment and come up with a list of patches or changes to make to your IT environment, but in a month, you’ll have new vulnerabilities and will have to repeat the process.

A security assessment is a program that looks at your security posture and then provides recommendations to current issues as well as policies to implement in order to reduce repeat vulnerabilities. 

In the security assessment report, your security adviser will break down your security posture.

1. You’ll have information about how likely your assets are to have a security incident. 

2. You’ll have a high-, medium-, and low-risk prioritization of the vulnerabilities your security adviser found. 

3. You’ll have recommendations for risk reduction of each vulnerability. 

When is and isn’t a vulnerability assessment appropriate?

If you’re in the market for a full security assessment, a vulnerability scan is not what you need. 

Vulnerability assessments are a piece of a security assessment and can’t replace the value of a full assessment. 

Vulnerability scans are a good way to continually monitor your security posture, and they offer some insight during the months between your security assessments. They don’t provide you with the same depth of information as a security assessment, though. 

At the end of the day, a security assessment – not a vulnerability assessment – is going to show you how you can fix and avoid vulnerabilities and provide recommendations for patches, policies, and continuous monitoring.

Are you wondering which security assessment is best for you? Download our free security assessment flowchart to find the best fit for your business.

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