Vulnerability Assessment 101
Best Practices & Solutions for Assessing Vulnerabilities.
Vulnerabilities are common to any business. And judging by the pace at which threat actors are advancing in their technologies, it is crucial for businesses to have the right security protocols implemented before its too late. Today, we will take the look at the process of vulnerability assessment, what are the types of assessment, why is important, and how you can do it.
What Are Vulnerabilities?
According to our glossary, a vulnerability is a hole in computer security, that leaves the system open to damages caused by cyber attackers. Vulnerabilities have to be solved as soon as they are discovered before a cybercriminal takes advantage and exploits them.
I have previously written an article regarding vulnerability management that goes more in-depth into the process of implementing an efficient vulnerability management system, that should help businesses keep cybercriminals at bay
Common Types of Vulnerabilities
Vulnerabilities can be of multiple types, and they can be found in the:
- Software: present in the code or design of the program. These may give the attackers the ability to gain remote control of the machines, execute illegal operations, or get access to sensitive data.
- Hardware: errors in the design of devices such as smartphones, laptops, and other machines, that allow threat actors to gain access to sensitive data or resources.
- Network: weaknesses in network protocols. These may allow the attackers to intercept data sent over the Internet, or to eavesdrop on email conversations.
What Is Vulnerability Assessment?
A vulnerability assessment can be simply described as a testing process, intended to locate and rate the seriousness of as many security flaws as feasible in a predetermined time. This procedure could include both automatic and manual methods, with different rigor levels and a focus on thorough coverage. Vulnerability assessments may focus on various technological layers using a risk-based methodology, with host-, network-, and application-layer assessments being the most popular.
A comprehensive vulnerability analysis will identify, prioritize, and assign security levels to the weaknesses it identified, after which it will come up with solutions and recommendations to mitigate or remediate the vulnerabilities.
Types of Vulnerability Assessments
Different kinds of system or network vulnerabilities are found by vulnerability assessments. This means that a range of tools, scanners, and procedures are used during the assessment process to find vulnerabilities, threats, and hazards.
- Network-based scans: this type of scan, as its name implies, aids in identifying potential security holes in wired and wireless networks.
- Database assessment: in order to stop malicious attacks like distributed denial-of-service (DDoS), SQL injection, brute force assaults, and other network vulnerabilities, this assessment entails finding security gaps in a database.
- Application scans: has the purpose of identifying vulnerabilities found in web applications and their code, by initiating automated scans on front-end or static/dynamic analysis of source code;
- Host-based assessment: This kind of analysis looks for any vulnerabilities or dangers in server workstations and other network sites. It also entails a careful analysis of ports and services.
Vulnerability Assessment Stages
In order to perform an efficient vulnerability assessment or analysis, you must take into consideration the following four steps:
Step 1: Defining the scope of testing and developing a plan
Before starting the vulnerability assessment, a clear methodology must be established first, to streamline the entire process:
- Determine the location of your most sensitive data storage.
- uncover obscure data sources.
- Recognize the servers that host vital applications.
- Decide which networks and systems to access.
- Examine all ports and processes for configuration errors.
- Create a map of all the IT resources, digital assets, and any hardware that is being used.
Step 2: Scan and identify the vulnerabilities
Your IT infrastructure should be subjected to a vulnerability scan. Compile a comprehensive inventory of all the security threats that are there. In order to complete this phase, you must conduct both an automated vulnerability scan and a penetration test, in order to verify results and minimize false positives. We will be talking about the differences between the two, as the implication of both processes is often misunderstood and overlooked.
Step 3: Analyse and priorities the vulnerabilities found
A scanning tool will provide you with a thorough report with various risk ratings and vulnerability scores.
The majority of tools assign a score using the CVSS (common vulnerability scoring system). These scores can be carefully analyzed to reveal which vulnerabilities need to be fixed first. They can be ranked in order of importance based on things like severity, immediacy, risk, and possible harm.
Step 4: Remediation and mitigation
After conducting the previous steps, you have all the information necessary to act against the vulnerabilities. There are two ways in which you can do this, based on the severity of the vulnerabilities: remediation and mitigation
To fully address a vulnerability and stop any exploitation, remediation is necessary. It can be accomplished by installing security tools from scratch, updating a product, or doing something more complex.
When there are no proper ways to fix or patch the vulnerabilities, the mitigation process is used. This should help reduce the prospect of an attack until remediation is possible.
Final Step: Repeat
I know that I said there are only four steps to conduct a vulnerability assessment, but keeping your company safe is a full-time job. Vulnerabilities can appear out of nowhere, and temporary or old solutions may become obsolete, as threat actors are on constant watch to find ways to break into your systems.
This is why the vulnerability assessment must be conducted regularly.
Vulnerability Assessment vs. Penetration Testing
Vulnerability assessment encapsulates a penetration testing component, which is responsible for identifying vulnerabilities in an organization’s personnel, procedures, or processes. The process encompassing the two is often referred to as VAPN (vulnerability assessment/penetration testing).
The two are actually separate processes, but executing penetration testing is not as complete as a vulnerability assessment.
The vulnerability assessment uses automated network security scanning tools to uncover vulnerabilities present in a network and to recommend the appropriate mitigation steps to reduce or even remove the malware.
The findings are listed in a vulnerability assessment report, which provides businesses with a comprehensive list of vulnerabilities in need to be fixed. However, it does so without considering certain attack objectives or scenarios.
Contrarily, penetration testing is a goal-oriented strategy that examines how a hacker might get past protections by simulating a real-world cyberattack in a controlled environment. Both automated tools and human acting as an attacker are used in this testing.
Why It’s Important to Regularly Assess Possible Vulnerabilities in Your Organization?
Assessing vulnerabilities regularly is critical to a strong cybersecurity position in your business. An organization is nearly certain to have at least one unpatched vulnerability that puts it at risk due to the sheer amount of vulnerabilities that exist and the complexity of the typical company’s digital infrastructure.
It can make the difference between a successful assault and a pricey and embarrassing data breach or ransomware outbreak to discover these vulnerabilities before an attacker does.
And with the right tools in place, vulnerability assessment can become an easy process through automation.
We know that it’s always better to prevent than to fix, therefore you might employ continuous patching and updating to keep your digital assets safe.
Heimdal® Threat Prevention might be the right choice for your business. Heimdal® Patch & Asset Management, as our auto-patching engine, will ensure that your favorite apps (i.e. Windows, 3rd party, and proprietary) are up-to-date and risk-free. Heimdal® Threat Prevention also packs the most advanced DNS traffic-filtering technology on the market. No malware escapes Foresight’s watchful gaze.
This article was originally written by Dora Tudor on February 15th, 2022, and updated by Cristian Neagu on November 11th, 2022.
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