Your guide to performing vulnerability assessments

Cybersecurity is a serious business, since enterprises from all kinds of industries are regularly subject to attacks from cybercriminals. Vulnerability assessments (VAs) are among cybersecurity’s main defenses against them. This brief overview will assist you in performing your own VA or requesting a managed services provider (MSP) for one.

What is a vulnerability assessment?

VAs allow an enterprise to gain a strategic perspective of cybersecurity threats to its network environment and to respond with a solution. It’s a must for any IT infrastructure or network, since this preventive strategy highlights weaknesses that may be exploited by cybercriminals. It’s one of the primary measures to prevent business data from being hacked.

VAs are also used to comply with security standards like HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) to avoid regulatory fines.

What are the main advantages of doing a vulnerability assessment?

The following advantages help high-level decision-makers chart company-wide directions in IT security within an organization.

  • Awareness – It identifies, quantifies, and ranks vulnerabilities found in network infrastructure, software and hardware systems, applications, etc.
  • Foresight – It can be used to create hypothetical scenarios involving the discovered vulnerabilities, so that security threats can be foreseen.
  • Amendment – It helps develop a strategy to tackle the discovered vulnerabilities or threats.
  • Enhancement – It provides recommendations to further improve cybersecurity.

What are the types of vulnerability assessments?

Five types of VAs are classified according to the different systems they scan. They are based on the complexity of your IT infrastructure.

  • Network-based scans assess the security of networks and discover vulnerabilities on either wired or wireless networks.
  • Host-based scans assess the security of servers, workstations, and other network hosts. These are used to examine ports and services, as well as the configuration settings and the patch history of a system.
  • Wireless network scans examine Wi-Fi networks and validate their security. They examine points of attack and reveal rogue access points.
  • Application scans test websites and detect software vulnerabilities and faulty configurations in network and web applications.
  • Database scans identify weaknesses to prevent attacks.

There are three methods of doing these scans.

  • White box vulnerability assessments – Security engineers have full access to a network and test its security “from the inside.”
  • Black box vulnerability assessments – Security engineers act like hackers and try to get into a network without security privileges “from the outside.”
  • Gray box vulnerability assessments – This VA methodology combines both white box and black box VAs. Security engineers test the security of a network with only partial access to it.

What are the tools for assessing vulnerabilities?

VAs are done with automated testing tools or software that use a database of known vulnerabilities. Test results are shown as a list of vulnerabilities ranked according to severity. You can choose between open source and commercial tools according to the needs and budget of your organization.

An open source VA tool is cheaper and does not require licensing. Though automated, it may also require manual work with the results from security engineers, since these can bring up false positives or vulnerabilities that do not actually exist. Open source tools also do not receive frequent database updates for security risks and vulnerabilities.

Commercial VA tools are more expensive. The MSP pays for a tool, personal training, and the license. These expenses will naturally increase the price of the service. MSPs that use commercial tools enjoy more frequent security updates, are more likely to find vulnerabilities, and are less prone to identifying false positives.

For companies interested in protecting their security and business reputation, VAs are a must-do. No cybersecurity is complete without regular VAs. Contact Spectrumwise today to find out more about securing your organization’s IT infrastructure properly.


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