Vulnerability assessment (VA) is a control that most organisations implement and is a requirement for many security schemes such as PCI DSS. However, many organisations focus on the vulnerabilities themselves, which can mean they’re missing out on some of the possible security benefits.
One way to secure IT assets, maintain an awareness of the vulnerabilities in an environment and respond quickly to mitigate potential threats is through regular vulnerability assessment (VA). A VA is a process to identify and quantify the security vulnerabilities in an organization’s environment.
Benefits of Vulnerability Assessments
Organizations of any size, or even individuals who face an increased risk of cyberattacks, can benefit from some form of vulnerability assessment, but large enterprises and other types of organizations that are subject to ongoing attacks will benefit most from vulnerability analysis.
For organizations seeking to reduce their security risk, a vulnerability assessment is a good place to start. A regular assessment program assists organizations with managing their risk in the face of an ever-evolving threat environment, identifying and scoring vulnerabilities so that attackers do not catch organizations unprepared.
Steps of vulnerability assessment scans
Vulnerability assessments often follow 5 steps:
- Determine the hardware and software assets in an environment
- Determine the quantifiable value (criticality) of these assets
- Identify the security vulnerabilities impacting the assets
- Determine a quantifiable threat or risk score for each vulnerability
- Mitigate the highest risk vulnerabilities from the most valuable assets
Different types of vulnerability assessment scans
Network based scans are used to identify possible network security attacks
Used to locate and identify vulnerabilities in servers, workstations or other network hosts.
An organizations Wi-Fi networks usually focus on point of attacks in the wireless network infrastructure and scans are highly important for protecting the network.
Used to test websites to detect known software vulnerabilities and erroneous configuration in network or web applications.
Used to identify the weak points in a database to prevent malicious attacks
Vulnerability Assessments vs Penetration tests
A vulnerability assessment often includes a penetration testing component to identify vulnerabilities in an organization’s personnel, procedures or processes that might not be detectable with network or system scans. The process is sometimes referred to as vulnerability assessment/penetration testing, or VAPT.
Penetration testing involves identifying vulnerabilities in a network, and it attempts to exploit them to attack the system. Although sometimes carried out in concert with vulnerability assessments, the primary aim of penetration testing is to check whether a vulnerability really exists and to prove that exploiting it can damage the application or network.
While a vulnerability assessment is usually automated to cover a wide variety of unpatched vulnerabilities, penetration testing generally combines automated and manual techniques to help testers delve further into the vulnerabilities and exploit them to gain access to the network in a controlled environment.