Hackers are always looking for new ways to breach the security systems of companies with valuable data. And no matter how much the cybersecurity measures can be improved, those with malicious intent will always be a step ahead, developing new ways to break into the systems and access sensitive data.
There were over 23,000 vulnerabilities disclosed during 2020 alone, and with software tools being continually released and updated, this list is sure to evolve this year as well.
Because of that, savvy companies must always be on the lookout for the main vulnerabilities they might be exposed to, as that’s the only way to develop effective risk assessment and plans for dealing with issues if they were to arise.
To help you get on the right track with vulnerability assessment, let’s look at its definition, importance, and key steps.
What is a Vulnerability Assessment?
A vulnerability assessment is the process of identifying the biggest bugs and other vulnerabilities in software, systems, and work processes in your company. Specifically, its primary purpose is to look at any weak areas that hackers might exploit so that they can be identified, analyzed, and addressed before they can cause damage.
The assessment also looks into the severity of the security weaknesses and whether they are likely to be exploited. It can also highlight how these weak areas could cause damage if used by hackers, allowing a company to prioritize the most critical areas that need to be addressed the soonest.
There are four different types of vulnerability assessments you can do:
- Network-based, which are used to identify potential wired or wireless network security attacks.
- Hots-based, which identifies vulnerabilities in your servers and network hosts, allowing you to see how the configurations and updates impact security.
- Database, which looks over your database security against attacks.
- Application, which looks at the vulnerabilities in the network or web applications your company is using.
Importance of Vulnerability Assessments
The only way to resolve vulnerabilities is to understand them. The worst outcomes usually occur when companies are ambushed by a vulnerability they weren’t prepared for, which can cause immense damage that might not always be repairable.
Meanwhile, when you perform regular vulnerability assessments:
- You can identify threats and weaknesses early, developing mitigation plans, and assessing the risks and their likelihood.
- You can take steps to update your systems to remove the vulnerabilities and even update your entire infrastructure if you decide that the vulnerabilities cannot be resolved.
- If you have to meet compliance regulations, performing vulnerability assessments can be an integral step in ensuring you don’t face legal issues down the line.
- Minimize the risk of vulnerabilities being exploited, preventing damage to your reputation, disruption to your work, and loss of revenue.
Steps to Performing a Vulnerability Assessment
Today, vulnerability assessments are usually performed using scanners that can identify the biggest issues automatically. But despite that, it still makes sense to take a structured approach that will help you get the most of the insights that you discover.
Let’s go over the key steps below.
- List Your Assets. Even though the vulnerability assessment is basically a scan, you still need to know what to scan. And that isn’t as easy if you have an extensive digital infrastructure. Therefore, start by listing your digital assets and looking into how you could perform scans for all of them.
- Prioritize. Performing vulnerability assessments takes time, so you need to figure out which assets to prioritize and scan first to minimize the cybersecurity risks your business is facing. Consider prioritizing systems that use internet-facing servicers, contain customer data, and use sensitive business data that would be devastating to lose or have breached.
- Decide on the Scanning Process. There are different scanning tools that can perform a vulnerability assessment. You can use cloud-based, host-based, network-based, and data-based scanners to determine the weak areas in your current infrastructure. To make the most of the different available tools, consider your priorities and look over some of the top vulnerability assessment tools in the main categories you want to cover.
- Perform the Scan. When you choose the right process and tool, the scanner will usually take over the process for you, probing into your open ports, running services, software, and configurations to determine any weak areas known to be vulnerabilities.
- Evaluate Risks. After the scan is complete, you should be able to generate a report that lists the biggest threats, recommendations, and steps to mitigating the risks. When creating the report, you should enhance it with detailed descriptions of each vital vulnerability, including the process of how it might be addressed.
- Create a Mitigation Plan. Finally, it’s essential to understand that a vulnerability assessment is only a temporary, albeit highly effective, way to mitigate risks. As you create a mitigation plan for the current threats, make sure to schedule new vulnerability assessments and expand the scope and type of scans you perform to get more detailed insights.