When it comes to online security, you want to find the issues before cyber criminals figure it out for you. Penetration tests, or pentests, are annual tests that use social engineering and other rigorous testing methods to find exploitable vulnerabilities in your systems. However, what about the months, or years, in between full-scale pentests?
This is where a vulnerability assessment comes into play. These quarterly scans and recommendations help to catch glaring threats before your organization conducts its annual pentest.
Let’s discuss what a security vulnerability assessment is exactly and how it can help protect you from high-level security vulnerabilities.
What Is a Security Vulnerability Assessment?
The short definition is that a cyber security vulnerability scan assesses your network for high-level security weaknesses. Then, a cyber security professional takes the results of these scans and weeds out the false positives, investigating the results and offering recommendations for improving your defenses. That’s the difference between a vulnerability scan and an assessment: expert analysis behind the data.
Which Threats Do Vulnerability Evaluations Catch?
An IT vulnerability assessment can help you to detect threats such as:
- Code injection.
- Faulty authentication mechanisms.
- Insecure settings, like admin passwords.
A typical assessment identifies these risks and vulnerabilities in computer networks, systems, hardware, applications, and other parts of the IT ecosystem.
The Parts of a Vulnerability Assessment
The vulnerability evaluation consists of four steps: testing, analysis, assessment, and remediation.
1. Vulnerability Identification (Scanning)
The objective of this step is to draft a comprehensive list of an application’s vulnerabilities. Security analysts test the security health of applications, servers, or other systems by scanning them with automated tools and evaluating them manually. Assessors also rely on vulnerability databases, vendor vulnerability announcements, asset management systems, and threat intelligence feeds to identify further security weaknesses.
2. Vulnerability Analysis
A vulnerability analysis aims to identify the source and root cause of the weaknesses identified in step one. The system components responsible, as well as the root cause, are identified. For example, the root cause of a vulnerability could be an old version of an open-source library.
3. Risk Assessment
The objective of this step is to prioritize vulnerabilities. Security analysts assign a rank or severity score to each weakness found through vulnerability scanning, based on such factors as:
- The affected systems.
- The data and business functions at risk.
- Ease of attack or compromise.
- The severity of the attack.
- Potential damage as a result of the vulnerability.
The objective of remediation is the closing of security gaps. It’s typically a joint effort by cyber security staff, development, and operations teams who determine the most effective path for remediation or mitigation of each vulnerability.
Specific remediation steps might include:
- Introduction of new security procedures, measures, or tools.
- The updating of operational or configuration changes.
- Development and implementation of a vulnerability patch.
Why Is Vulnerability Scanning So Important?
Routine automated scans help to continuously monitor for hidden vulnerabilities in between more robust pentests.
Although many companies rely on Network Security Assessment Software (NSAS) to scan their system for security issues, it’s not up-to-date, because more vulnerabilities are discovered every day.
Software, no matter how “innovative,” isn’t designed to do the kind of persistent, up-to-date lateral thinking that is possible with a security expert behind the keys. And of course, software may not prioritize your security vulnerabilities in a way tailored to your needs.
How Do I Know if My Organization Needs Vulnerability Scanning, and How Often?
A cyber security vulnerability assessment should be done any time an application is upgraded, put on a network with new equipment installed, or new ports are opened. It should also be done if you haven’t conducted an assessment for some time.
A vulnerability assessment cannot be a one-off on your to-do list. To be effective, organizations must operationalize this process and repeat it at least quarterly. It is also critical to foster cooperation between security, operation, and development teams — a process known as DevSecOps — to keep the process active and effective.
Avoiding Cyber Security Threats, the Easy Way
While pentesting and vulnerability scanning are vital to maintaining a secure work environment, you need more to keep your users and organization safe around the clock.
Learn how to avoid cyber threats in 5 ½ easy steps with our complimentary checklist.