What is Vulnerability Assessment? Its Importance, Types and Procedure
Most of the businesses small and large rely on the internet to track their orders, inventory, financials, etc. The companies are responsible for maintaining own security as well as their customers’. But how do they know which loopholes can be exploited to gain unauthorized access?
Today, I will share everything related to vulnerability assessment in the easiest way possible. If you are a fresher in this industry, be with me till the end of this article, and you’ll end up learning a lot of interesting and useful things. So, without any further ado, let’s get started..!!
What is Vulnerability Assessment?
Vulnerability assessment is a process of identifying risks and vulnerabilities in computer systems, networks, hardware, applications and other parts of the ecosystem. These assessments are very important. They provide the required information about the incident to security and response teams. This further helps them in analyzing and prioritizing risks for potential remediation.
Vulnerability assessments are a crucial part of IT risk management lifecycles. It helps in protecting systems and data from unauthorized access and breaches. The security professionals use vulnerability scanner tools to identify threats and flaws within the organization’s infrastructure that represents potential risks.
Why Vulnerability Assessment is important?
With the increasing cyberattacks and online threats, it’s very important to have a constant check on the security loopholes that could become a pathway for hackers. Vulnerability assessments allow security teams to apply a comprehensive and clear approach to identify and resolve security threats and risks in the IT infrastructure.
It helps in identifying threats and weaknesses at the earliest time possible and work on remediation actions to close any gaps present in the infrastructure. Vulnerability Assessment also plays an important role in ensuring that an organization meets cybersecurity compliance and guidelines of HIPAA and PCI DSS.
A vulnerability assessment involves various methods, tools and scanners to find grey areas in a system or network. The type of vulnerability assessment depends on how well the weakness in the given systems is discovered. Let’s have a look at some common types of vulnerability assessment scans.
Host-based scans involve detailed examinations of processes, ports, and services. These scans are used to find vulnerabilities in servers and network hosts. Host-based scans also provide great visibility into the configuration settings and patch history of systems.
Wireless Network Scans
Wireless network scans are another type of assessment that works around a wireless system and helps in validating the security of a company’s network.
As the name suggests, these scans help in identifying possible network security attacks. Just like other scans, it also involves several methods but helps to reduce the potential risks in the vulnerable systems on wired or wireless networks.
Database scans are very important to find pain points in the database and fix them before they become known to cybercriminals. These scans help the security team to take proper measures to avoid SQL injection attacks and others.
How Vulnerability Assessments Relate to IT Risk and Vulnerability Management?
Vulnerability assessments are essential for every IT company these days. It involves scanning of the multiple networks, systems and other parts of the IT ecosystem to find possibilities of issues. VA identifies the weaknesses in both on-premises and cloud that need correction. It also explores misconfigurations and policy non-compliance issues that are not possible to solve just by patching and maintenance. Considering the real-life situation, your IT security team may be running on a sort of time and resources. That’s why most vulnerability assessments assign a risk to each threat. These risks can have a priority or urgency assigned to them. And ultimately, it makes easier for the team to make proper plans to deal with the areas that have the potential to cause the most damage to your business.
The information gathered from vulnerability assessment helps security teams and automated third-party tools to prioritize vulnerabilities and plan remedy actions for them. Sometimes, the teams also prefer to avoid the low potential impact of the threat in comparison to the downtime of ongoing IT operations. This is how vulnerability assessments come under the IT risk management framework.
Why Do Companies Need Vulnerability Assessment?
When it comes to privacy and security of your company’s data, systems, and network, you can’t sit back and assume everything is fine and protected enough. The best way to safeguard the whole IT ecosystem is to constantly look for weaknesses and eradicate it. Here are some important reasons why every company needs a Vulnerability Assessment.
Identify Vulnerabilities in the Network Perimeter:
If you’re running a company more than five years old, you must know the benefits of periodic network scans. These scans also test your systems against the latest hacker strategies. Vendors also release patches, updates and firmware upgrades frequently to decrease the risks of newly found security vulnerabilities. Overall, using vulnerability assessment you can ensure everything is updated for the recent changes.
Verify that Change Management Processes are Following the Security Standards:
Vulnerability assessment confirms that your company’s change management processes have covered every critical patch. The fact is the more you work on modifying the system for maximizing the operational efficiency, the harder it becomes to keep up with changes from your IT vendors.
Businesses and consumers are becoming aware of the importance of data protection. Thanks to the various data exploit cases, they now demand a high degree of online protection and risk awareness from their suppliers. We’ve seen people winning and losing project contracts on the ability to safeguard customer information. Periodic vulnerability scans will always help you stand out from your competitors.
Vulnerability Assessments vs Penetration Testing
When it comes to cybersecurity, people usually confuse vulnerability assessments with penetration testing. So, let’s first try to understand the difference between these two common terms.
A vulnerability assessment is a process of identifying and measuring security vulnerabilities using proper scanning tools in a certain environment. It’s a detailed assessment of the information security position. Vulnerability Assessment also helps the security team to plan proper mitigation measures. They can either eradicate the weaknesses or reduce the level of risk.
On the other hand, Penetration Testing is used to test the insecure areas of the system or application. The main goal of this testing is to find all the security vulnerabilities try to break the information security, hack the valuable data or disrupt the normal operation of the company.
So, with the help of techniques and some advanced tools, an ethical hacker or pen-tester makes an effort to acquire access to sensitive data.
How to Perform Effective Vulnerability Assessment?
The vulnerability assessment procedure may vary from company to company depending upon their infrastructure and requirements. Here’s the proposed step by step method to perform an effective vulnerability assessment.
First of all, you have to identify the assets and define the risk value for each device. You need to at least identify the importance of devices present on the network. Then, it’s also important to understand if the device can be accessed by any member of your company or just administrators and authorized users.
You should have a clear understanding of Risk appetite, Risk tolerance level, Residual risk treatment, Business impact analysis, etc.
System Baseline Definition
The second step involves reviewing if the device has open ports, processes and services that shouldn’t be opened. You should also be able to understand the approved official drivers, software and basic configuration of the device.
The device shouldn’t have a default admin username configured. You should try to perform banner grabbing to see what kind of information is publicly available. What the devices are sending in the logs and whether they are stored in a central repository, etc.
Perform the Vulnerability Scan
Now, it’s time to start the vulnerability scan. But before that, always look for any compliance requirements according to your company’s position and business. It’s also important to know the best time and date to perform the scan.
You should try to understand the client’s industry to determine if the scan can be performed all at once or segmentation is needed. For the best results, you can use related tools and plug-ins such as:
- Best scan (popular ports)
- Most common ports best scan (i.e., 65,535 ports)
- CMS web scan (WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, general, CMS, etc)
- Firewall scan
- Stealth scan
- Aggressive scan
- Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP)
- Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) for web applications and more.
Vulnerability Assessment Report
The fourth and most important step is the report creation. Pay attention to details and try to add recommendations based on the initial assessment goals. Add risk mitigation methods based on the critical level of the assets and results.
You can also add findings related to any possible gap between the results and the system base configuration. Overall, you should focus on making this report as informative and valuable as possible.
Types of Vulnerability Scanners
Vulnerability scanners range from basic open-source tools to very expensive premium products. Types of vulnerability scanners include:
- Network Enumerator: A computer program used to retrieve users’ and groups’ information on networked computers.
- Network Vulnerability Scanner: A system that constantly checks for network vulnerabilities.
- Web Application Security Scanner: A program that analyses the web application to find potential vulnerabilities in the code or its architecture.
- Computer Worm: It’s a kind of self-replicating malware used to find out vulnerabilities
- Port Scanner: These are used to scan a server or host for open ports.
Best Tools for Vulnerability Assessment
Vulnerability assessment tools (also known as vulnerability scanners) play a vital part in your IT security. It automates security auditing and scans your network for different kinds of security threats. Let’s have a look at some popular and useful tools that helps a lot in these processes:
This is an open-source tool that provides vulnerability assessment tools for both vulnerability scanning and vulnerability management. It supports all the popular operating systems.
OpenVAS comes with a powerful scan engine that is frequently updated to find security issues in the servers and other devices on the network. This tool is available for free under the GNU General Public License (GPL).
Wireshark is one of the most popular network protocol analyzers that enables security professionals to look into the company’s networks at a microscopic level. It captures the vulnerabilities online and executes the offline analysis. Wireshark is currently used across different organizations including government agencies, enterprises, educational institutions, etc. It’s available for Linux, macOS, Windows, Solaris, etc.
Aircrack, also known as Aircrack-NG, is a set of tools used in WiFi network auditing. It focuses on different areas of WiFi Security such as monitoring the packets and data, replaying attacks, cracking, etc. You can also retrieve the lost keys by capturing the data packets using Aircrack. This tool is available for multiple operating systems such as Linux, Windows, OS X, Solaris, NetBSD, etc.
Advantages of Vulnerability Assessment
Vulnerability Assessment brings a lot of benefits to the companies. They analyze the risk of future cyberattacks and help the companies to come up with proper remediation plans. Here are some major advantages of Vulnerability assessment:
- Scan networks for known security exposures before they come in the attacker’s sight.
- You can create an inventory of all the devices in the network along with their vulnerabilities, purpose and system information.
- You can also create an inventory of all devices in a company for planning proper up-gradation and future assessments.
- It makes easier to define the level of risk exists on the network.
- Establish a business risk/benefit curve and optimize security expenses.
Disadvantages of Vulnerability Assessment
Vulnerability assessment indeed has many advantages. But as I am writing this article focusing on beginners, talking about disadvantages is also important.
Software Program to Discover Flaws
Vulnerability scanning usually makes use of a software program that identifies security flaws, based upon a preset database of all the flaws currently known. The scanner then tests the system by sending out remote threats to ensure that the system is capable of saving itself against major security threats.
Sometimes, the network administrators have no option rather than to depend on these software’s outcomes.
A high rate of false positives is another major disadvantage of vulnerability assessment. A vulnerability scanner only detects threats that have been previously discovered.
Hence, unless you have updated your scanner tool for almost every weakness, which is nigh impossible, it is not exactly capable of preventing any new attacks.
Best Vulnerability Assessment Service Providers
McAfee security services
McAfee provides all the services to match your global security needs. They are armed with the latest tools, strategies, and knowledge. The company offers comprehensive services including everything from incident response security risk assessments to deployment and training. McAfee’s security services are very popular for overall security. You can know more about it here.
Vulnerability Assessment service
ICSS Vulnerability Assessment Service
ICSS also provides a complete range of vulnerability assessment service. It’s knowledgeable team, advanced techniques and powerful tools perform every step of the assessment quite well. Whether it’s outlining the vulnerability management policy, discovering existing vulnerabilities or remediation. You will receive a detailed report of every action. You can know more about the vulnerability assessment service here.
I hope you found this article useful. Most of the freshers confuse vulnerability assessment with penetration testing. However, both are different things.
If you run a company and neglected this assessment for a long time, take the right decision and allot a significant budget for vulnerability assessment. For any other queries or suggestions, do let us know in the comments below.
Vulnerability Assessment service
Vulnerability Assessment service