How to Perform a Vulnerability AssessmentMaintaining cybersecurity is a critical component of any business model, and most companies take steps to protect their proprietary and consumer data from cyberattacks. Traditionally, the evolution of cybersecurity has been reactionary, evolving in response to successful attacks after data has already been stolen. As data breaches become more common and attacks more sophisticated, the business world has come to recognize the need for a more proactive approach to risk mitigation.

For new businesses trying to determine their IT network security needs or established companies that wish to keep their security measures up to date, performing a vulnerability assessment is one of the most powerful tools available when attempting to protect sensitive data. Read on to learn more on how to perform a vulnerability assessment and we will also provide tips on how to remediate any identified vulnerabilities.

What Is a Vulnerability Assessment?

Vulnerability assessment is the use of software designed to detect security breaches on a network. These breaches can be caused by both internal and external sources, meaning its usefulness cannot be confined to an office setting but must cover all possible entry points, including wireless networks. The period of time in which these vulnerabilities are found is known as the assessment window. The assessment window can last anywhere from a few hours to weeks or even months depending on how widely connected you are.

A vulnerability assessment is exactly what it sounds like. Companies put their systems through a comprehensive evaluation to determine if there are any security weaknesses that can be exploited or create a risk for data loss. The assessment should be performed to help guide security decisions for new enterprises, any time a system experiences significant changes or additions and on a periodic basis to consider new criminal tactics or changing environmental factors. There are several options available to identify information security vulnerabilities, and businesses can attempt to perform the assessments themselves using web applications, hire outside help or take a blended approach.

automated scanning tools help security teamsThe Idea Behind the Vulnerability Assessment

The main idea behind the vulnerability assessment is to find out possible threats before they are being exploited. Once vulnerabilities are identified, administrators have more control over their systems.

They can identify where they need to be fixed or patched and what actions should be taken in order to avoid unauthorized access. Vulnerability scanning alone will not solve your problems; it is just a starting point in an overall process that should be followed by system hardening and monitoring.

A Vulnerability Scan is a primary weapon in your security arsenal, but it’s no magic bullet for dealing with vulnerabilities. It can help you prioritize your efforts based on what are the most severe issues within your environment at any given time so that you can address the biggest problems first.

Identifying vulnerabilities in your infrastructure is challenging, but it will pay off with better security in the long term. Once you understand where the risks are and what measures should be taken to fix them, you can be more confident when looking at your overall security posture. Vulnerability assessment requires careful study and continuous attention, but with appropriate monitoring, it can be used to your advantage. On the other hand, failing to conduct vulnerability assessments regularly can cause you to lose data and sensitive information to cybercriminals.

Benefits of Vulnerability Analysis

Performing regular vulnerability assessments will provide a business with far-reaching benefits that go beyond updated security measures. Companies that examine their systems closely will have a better understanding of how those systems work, granting them the ability to react quickly and effectively if a breach does occur. Reducing the risk of exploitation will also have a positive financial impact, saving the company money by eliminating outdated security measures and protecting revenue by preventing the negative reputation that comes when unauthorized access is discovered. The assessment can also ensure your organization is compliant with any regulatory requirements, such as HIPAA or PCI DSS, and will provide a baseline to which future assessment results can be compared. Finally, the measures put in place in response to the vulnerability assessment can help your company avoid going off-line due to a cyberattack and help protect your data from competitors.

Improved security posture

Vulnerability Assessment is an important first step to protect critical infrastructure, government organizations, and other high-value targets from cyber attacks. A vulnerability assessment can be considered as a close cousin to penetration testing, but it is not the same thing. Penetration tests are carried out with malicious intent to exploit vulnerabilities that were identified during the vulnerability assessment process. The vulnerability assessment process identifies the possible attack vectors to potentially exploit vulnerabilities.

The key difference between penetration testing and Vulnerability Assessment is that, in Penetration Testing, you are trying to find security flaws (weaknesses in the architecture of your IT network) on a system or network. In Vulnerability Assessments, you scan for known vulnerabilities within the systems and networks of your organization, and produce a report listing these vulnerabilities. This will help you in improving your security that will prevent cyberattacks from being successful.

Reduced risk of data loss or theft

Computers are often targeted by malicious actors, whether it is to steal information for profit or simply because they can. These attacks can be devastating and may lead to loss of data or even a total shutdown of the system if not detected in time. There is one way that you can protect yourself from these cyber-attacks known as vulnerability assessment.

Increased confidence in the security of information systems and data

Through cybersecurity vulnerability assessment you will be able to improve your security procedures and in turn, will bolster your confidence in the security of your system.

How to Conduct a Vulnerability Assessment?

Effective vulnerability assessment

Before an assessment can be scheduled, it’s important to have a conversation with the stakeholders who may be affected, such as management, board members, the IT department, your security team, or anyone else in a relevant position. This is an opportunity to discuss the size and scope of the vulnerability assessment process, identifying all the systems that will be included and determining when and how often the vulnerability scans should take place. Since some portions of the assessment may require certain systems to go off-line, communicating with any stakeholders who use those systems is critical to limit any disruption to their productivity. This is also the time to discuss whether the company will conduct its assessments in-house using vulnerability assessment tools or choose to outsource them. Then you can begin working through the five basic vulnerability assessment steps.

1. Identify Assessment Targets

When prioritizing elements to be included in the assessments, start with parts of the system that contain sensitive data, the systems that are most critical to daily operations, and any known vulnerabilities such as points of access. If your company relies heavily on mobile devices to conduct business or stores data on the cloud, these areas will need to be included in your assessment plan.

2. Conduct Scans and Testing

Scans can be conducted using an automated vulnerability scanner or manually by professional security analysts. Open source vulnerability scanning tools are available for companies with a tight budget. The scanner is simply a program that takes inventory of any systems within your network, such as desktops, printers, servers, and firewalls. It then determines the operating system for each device along with any installed software. Once it’s mapped out your network, it will begin testing the system by checking everything inventoried against known vulnerability databases. This will help identify any common vulnerabilities, like viruses and malware, that will need to be addressed.

The next step is penetration testing. While vulnerability scans can help identify known security risks that are common to a particular system component, OS, or software, a penetration test will actively test for weaknesses and misconfigurations created within your organization’s particular setup. These vulnerabilities will be unique to your system and are a product of how the various components interact with one another.

3. Perform a Full Analysis

Once you’ve completed your scans and tests, you’ll be left with a list of areas that need to be addressed. If this is your first risk assessment, the list is likely too long and overwhelming. This is the point when your vulnerabilities must be analyzed for potential exploitation risk and prioritized by threat level. Determine how easily each flaw can be exploited and the damage to your company and customers should a breach occur. This is also the time to identify any false positives in your assessment results. Sometimes assessment tools will identify a security threat that either isn’t there or is insignificant. Although identifying tiny threats can seem like a more thorough approach, it can become a waste of time and effort when there are larger network security issues that must be addressed.

4. Implement Remediation

This is the vulnerability management phase of the process. Work through your prioritized list and identify the source of each vulnerability along with the action needed to correct it. Sometimes this can be as simple as updating your OS or software. Other times it may require the addition of security tools or a change in security protocols. Focus on the most urgent vulnerabilities first and weigh the cost and downtime of the resolution against the threat level the flaw presents.

5. Schedule Your Next Assessment

Vulnerability assessments must be repeated on a regular basis to keep up with evolving cybersecurity trends. You should have already determined how often your organization will conduct the assessments, so now is the time to schedule your assessments accordingly. This can be done as often as you’d like, but you’ll get the most benefit if you conduct them weekly or monthly. Keep in mind that scheduling them less than once per quarter increases network vulnerability and puts your organization at serious risk for data loss. Continue to work through your assessments and address new vulnerabilities as they arise to ensure your system is most protected from the threat of malicious actors.

Prevention is Always Better

Some vulnerabilities may be difficult or impossible to fix in a timely manner, it is important to ensure that you are not leaving any other routes for attackers. By preventing that from happening, you are able to safeguard your precious data and information.

So there you have it, a quick overview of vulnerability assessment. If you’re not sure where to start or if you need help getting your security program up and running, don’t hesitate to contact us. We would be happy to assist you in any way we can.