Continuous Monitoring vs Network Penetration Testing: What’s the Difference?


One of the questions we’re asked quite often here at TLR Global is what is the difference between continuous monitoring and network penetration testing?

Before we go any further, understand that both of these things are more than beneficial for any organization looking to strengthen its cybersecurity.

When paired together, both go a long way in keeping attackers at bay, or, more specifically – ensuring that vulnerabilities are found and resolved before they even get a chance to do something harmful.

That is one of the main connecting threads between the two.

That being said, there are differences, which we’ll get into in this post. If you don’t know a lot about continuous monitoring or network penetration testing, don’t worry. We’re going to look at definitions of both before delving deeper into the differences.

Let’s begin with continuous monitoring.

What is Continuous Monitoring?

Continuous monitoring (CM), often referred to as continuous control monitoring (CCM), is a fully automated process that detects compliance and security threats in an organization’s infrastructure.

In the past, businesses relied heavily on periodic manual or computer-assisted assessments to provide insight into the overall health of their IT and its security. Continuous monitoring changed all that for the better, helping DevOps teams identify and track risks in real-time (once software is released into production).

When utilized, continuous monitoring assists IT organizations and DevOps teams in acquiring real-time data from public and hybrid environments. In other words, it helps outline what is needed in order to fortify an organization’s security.

There are three main types of continuous monitoring to know about:

  • Application Monitoring: Monitors the performance of released software based on metrics such as uptime, transaction time and volume, system responses and general stability of the back-end and front-end.
  • Infrastructure Monitoring: Monitors/manages the IT infrastructure required to deliver products and services. This covers data centers, hardware, software, networks, storage and more.
  • Network Monitoring: Monitors and tracks network activity, which includes the status and functioning of firewalls, switches, routers, and servers. Network monitoring detects possible and present issues and then alters the correct personnel.

person typing on laptop

Benefits of Continuous Monitoring

Easily one of the main benefits of continuous monitoring is how better off organizations are in terms of network visibility and transparency. CM gives teams total clarity on the state of their IT infrastructure, allowing them to analyze outages, weaknesses, and important trends.

Another benefit is how rapid you can be with these systems in place. With continuous monitoring, your system is always ready and alert. Think of it as a sort of security watchdog that monitors the perimeter and barks should it see anything too suspicious.

It goes without saying that the quicker you are to respond to these threats the better. Responding to threats in a timely fashion minimizes the amount of damage caused, and brings you back online a lot faster should you be attacked!

A byproduct of that is you save your organization quite a lot of money, allowing everyone to go about their day as normal.

To recap, the benefits of continuous monitoring include:

  • Better visibility and network transparency
  • Encourages a faster response time
  • Minimizes system downtime
  • Saves your organization money

What is Network Penetration Testing?

Network penetration testing is slightly different to continuous monitoring, despite both being a greater effort at protecting you and your organization from external threats.

Penetration testing, or pen testing as some might refer to it, involves legally penetrating a system in an attempt to locate weaknesses within that same system. From there, a network penetration testing report is put together, outlining any issues and the steps that follow.

We have a full blog on what is included in a pen test report if you’re interested in finding out more.

Network penetration testing is typically handled by an external team – a team that has full permission to infiltrate the network. Do keep in mind that while a pentest report highlights problems, it doesn’t solve them there and then.

It’s an observation, one that does provide a solution, but how that solution is executed is completely separate.

A series of blue lights representing a network

Benefits of Network Penetration Testing?

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that some of the benefits of network penetration testing do align with those we’ve mentioned above when talking about the benefits of continuous monitoring.

For example, pen testing is one of the most thorough ways of understanding the security posture of your network and your organization, in general.

Yes, the delivery is slightly different, but both are highly effective at outlining any vulnerabilities or risks facing your organization. This is something we’re going to talk more about in the next section where we isolate the main differences between the two.

For now though, let’s run through the main benefits of network penetration testing:

  • Reveal Vulnerabilities: Network penetration testing is highly effective at exploring and identifying existing weaknesses within your system. From there, a pen test report is generated which outlines the next steps.
  • Test Cyber Security Strength: Hackers are always finding new and innovative ways to harm your organization, which is where pen testing can come in handy. Third-party service providers will try to infiltrate your network in the same ways to identify gaps.
  • Ensure Organization Continuity: Penetration testing ensures that your network is practically bulletproof, thus allowing you and other members of your team to go about their work as normal.
  • Maintained Trust: Cyber attacks can affect how customers deal with and think of certain organizations. A company known for its sturdy and secure security will reassure everyone that does business with them that they’re to be trusted.

The Differences between Continuous Monitoring and Network Penetration Testing

Of course, from a technical level, there are differences between the two, but rather than bore you with the finer details, we thought it was best to look at both of these cyber security solutions through a much broader lens.

It’s something you’ll understand a lot better. Besides, we can talk specifics should you talk to us directly if you end up deciding that you need help with network pen testing or continuous monitoring.

A woman typing on her computer next to a server room

Continuous Monitoring is Great for Prioritizing Efforts

The first benefit we’d like to draw your attention to is an important one as organizations are put in situations where multiple things are happening at once, making it difficult to assign importance based on severity.

Continuous monitoring providing you with frequent updates allows security directors to keep a running list of issues, stack rank them, and then plan to address them. They are then able to prioritize the rest of the team’s efforts based on these findings.

This is a lot more helpful when compared to the occasional pen test, where you only know about potential vulnerabilities every 6 months or so.

Network Penetration Testing is Less Frequent

In a lot of cases, network penetration testing is run only a handful of times a year. Some organizations actually choose to run this type of cyber security test once a year, which might come as somewhat of a surprise.

How often you choose to run this test is completely up to you and your organization. Although, we do recommend that you run at least one test once every quarter.

We say that, as hackers are constantly evolving, finding new ways to be a nuisance. Finding holes early ensures that you plug them as soon as possible, thus giving these hackers no way to enter.

Continuous Monitoring is More Receptive

This point leads on from the last point we’ve just made about pentest reporting being a lot less frequent. Essentially, on the other side of the coin, you have continuous monitoring – which, like its name suggests, is never off the clock as far as scanning goes.

It’s a lot more receptive because it’s able to find and alert you of any issues in real-time. It’s like we said before, it’s a watchdog that feeds off of keeping your organization as safe as possible.

Don’t get it twisted either.

Network penetration testing is pretty receptive in its own right, but it doesn’t run all year round. If you’re conscious of your organization being under fire from hackers, then it might be time to set up some monitoring protocols.

man coding on computer

Pen Tests are a Lot More Targeted

Another notable difference is how network penetration testing is a lot better at really drilling down into any gaps in your current security setup. They can be hyper-specific, leveraging the latest techniques to test the posture of your cyber security.

Constantly monitoring your security, while helpful, tends to not be as focused. It simply sits on standby as a precaution to keep watch.

Think of the relationship between these two methods like this:

Network penetration testing is the master and continuous monitoring is his noble guard dog. One has a greater capacity to think about what to do should they be attacked, whereas the other simply monitors and barks when they find something or someone (a hacker) sniffing around.

Continuous Monitoring Doesn’t Always Come with a Report

With network penetration testing, reports are always generated to map out the next steps for that organization; detailed steps that give the individuals reading a better understanding of what happens then.

Continuous monitoring doesn’t follow in the same way, although some security providers might create a report once an incident has been found, but this isn’t always the case.

Not reporting on these issues does make it harder to track or keep logs and protect your organization from any future attacks. Again, most cyber security professionals will report on these things, but that isn’t always the case.

Continuous Monitoring vs Network Penetration Testing: Which is Better?

You don’t know how easy it would be for us to pick one over the other as a winner, but it’s not that simple.

While both serve a different purpose and have their own set of characteristics, you’ll find that having both benefits you a lot more compared to choosing just one. Especially if you’re only running a handful of pen tests a year.

There’s also the question of “what happens if an attacker exploits an existing vulnerability in between pen tests?”

This question, in particular, is the reason why so many organizations are double-loading their cyber security efforts and leveraging continuous monitoring and network pen testing to keep the company safe from outside threats.

By that same token, network pen testing needs continuous monitoring to provide a comprehensive overview that outlines any potential holes in the cyber security of a single organization.

This information is priceless to security teams, managers, and any external parties responsible for keeping things afloat and free from hackers.

Again, you’ll find that the two security methods share quite a lot in common. Rather than pit the two against each other, let’s consider the similarities:

  • The two are very effective at identifying threats and notifying the relevant individuals.
  • Both strengthen the cyber security posture of a single organization, helping it run without worry.
  • Both monitor for some of the latest attacks and software used by hackers to infiltrate your organization.
  • Organizations can quickly find their footing again should they be subject to a cyber-attack thanks to these methods.
  • Both continuous monitoring and pen testing can be handled by an external third party – such as TLR.

Do you see the benefit in having both at your disposal now?

Continuous Monitoring vs Network Penetration Testing: What’s the Difference?

Hopefully, you now understand the fundamental differences between continuous monitoring and network penetration testing – not to mention, the benefits that each possesses when protecting your organization from cyber threats.

We also hope that you recognize the importance of leveraging both to help straighten your cyber security posture.

Not sure what your next steps are? No problem, let us take care of it. At TLR Global we offer a range of cyber security services – services that include (but are not limited to) penetration testing, vulnerability scanning, and incident response.

If we’re talking about our list of services, we need to mention Cavalry too.

Cavalry is our answer to continuous monitoring, an automated solution which constantly analyses and detects security or vulnerability issues within your organization’s network.

This option is more than just a vulnerability scanner. It’s a complete enhancement of your team and your cyber security, period.

To find out more, simply get in touch.

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Get in touch today to see how we can make you more cyber resilient. Empowering you to lead from the front.

Written by

Dave Roberts