For many small to medium sized businesses, they may know that they have not done enough to protect their systems from attack, but are hoping to beat the odds. Unfortunately, the odds are officially against them…the majority of small to midsized businesses have already experienced attacks and it is not stopping any time soon. It is frustrating to see even basic cyber hygiene neglected by these organizations. One obvious protection that every company should have is a continuous vulnerability scanning program. While everyone seems to have gotten the memo that an anti-virus program is an essential, many have missed the latest memo…namely, that fileless attacks (which means the attacks that find the holes in all your systems and applications) are the primary form of attacks on your people and systems. The only way to close these security holes is to find the vulnerabilities before your attackers do. That is why the vulnerability scan is a must.
Vulnerability scanning involves defining, identifying, classifying, and prioritizing known weaknesses in your systems and applications. Known because these weaknesses have already been made public, to both the good guys and the bad actors. And no, just because it comes from Microsoft does not mean it is infallible.
Why Conduct a Vulnerability Assessment?
Attackers are always actively looking for your network’s “Achilles heel” to access your systems to steal data and other assets. For businesses, non-profit, and government organizations, a vulnerability assessment is mandatory since these groups handle massive amounts of personal data. The assessment is vital for securing your system’s assets and enhancing system operations.
Organizations also conduct a vulnerability assessment to ensure they are compliant with set security standards such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) for consumer financial services and healthcare industries, respectively. These two industries handle critical personal information and are a favorite target of cybercriminals.
Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing
Vulnerability scanning inspects systems for weaknesses based on published criteria that need further assessment. In penetration testing, one actively tries to exploit a system’s weakness and identify the nature of the vulnerability. Testing exploits the known vulnerability to determine the possibility of a successful breach and identify the weak points that will facilitate a successful breach. Many times the issue is misconfigured system settings. Vulnerability scans are usually automated and use software tools. Penetration testing is an active process that simulates real-case scenarios of possible hacks. To be diligent in protecting your systems, testing and scanning should be done regularly.
The Process of Vulnerability Assessment and Testing
First, we identify the system’s assets and define potential risks for each component. Next, we gather information on the state of your system and its environment. We collect information regarding the system, including device IP address, installed software version, and the vendor. The report helps you understand the basic configurations of the system and is also crucial in the next stage – detecting vulnerability. From the information collected, we will then carry out vulnerability scans on your system. In the final stage, we conduct an analysis of the scan results. We then present you with a report detailing the vulnerabilities and necessary remediations. We detail risk mitigation strategies and rank them by order of severity. Report will also identify any misconfigurations noticeable from the difference in scan results and information previously gathered from the system. In the report, you will see the name of the vulnerability, its date of discovery, a description of the vulnerability, components of the network at risk, and mitigation procedures against the weakness.
The overall goal of a vulnerability assessment is to secure systems and their components. Inspection of the system will provide insight into what points may be exploited by cybercriminals. Further analysis of these weaknesses provides additional information on the properties of the vulnerability. By describing the vulnerability, the cybersecurity team can determine the system components exposed by the potential risk. For example, a bug causing the website to crash may be regarded as less severe than an exposed database with valid user login information. The classification is important when establishing a risk mitigation process, helping to prioritize responses from the most critical to the least. This prioritization is crucial in enhancing the efficiency of the risk mitigation process by limiting consequences from attacks to manageable degrees and quickening effective response to significant threats.
It is also quite easy to evaluate the score of vulnerabilities and determine their potential threats to your system using a catalog of known vulnerabilities. These reference systems provide the identification and standard descriptions for a vulnerability. One such system is the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE®), which is a standard reference for identifying and describing vulnerabilities. The catalog creates a uniform description eliminating confusion in the ways used to describe the threats across multiple platforms.
Vulnerability scanning should be conducted more than twice a year since they are defensive measures. The process is less time consuming with automated assessment tools. By implementing the report from the vulnerability assessment using technology combined with competent and skilled professionals, your organization’s system will be secure against attacks from identified weak points.
It is essential to manage the vulnerability assessment and penetration testing process to ensure that the procedures deployed are efficient, up-to-date, and comply with internal and external regulations. Using an effective cybersecurity plan, your company can adopt a regular schedule for conducting these tests without interfering with other business operations.
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