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What Is a Vulnerability Assessment?

Bugs are an unavoidable element in all software code written by humans. While most of these bugs are harmless in nature, some can be widely exploited and can pose a significant risk to the security and privacy of the entire network. A vulnerability assessment helps companies take stock of all such vulnerabilities in their IT systems. The idea behind conducting a vulnerability assessment is to get to a system’s vulnerabilities before hackers can find and exploit them. While both vulnerability assessment and penetration testing sound similar, they perform different functions in the measures deployed to ensure an organization’s security. Vulnerability assessments are generally automated. They are conducted using tools that ultimately put out a report for human system administrators to review. This is very different from penetration testing which is almost entirely manual and relies on the ability (and experience) of the pen tester to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities. The two processes are generally combined in order to achieve the best results in identifying vulnerabilities and mitigating them. There are some cases, however, where one might serve a specific use case better than the other. In this article, we will try and enumerate the steps involved in conducting a vulnerability assessment. IT Support Houston specializes in providing Vulnerability Assessment Services to local businesses.

Steps to Conduct a Vulnerability Assessment

Discovery of Assets

The first step to conducting a vulnerability assessment is to know which parts of the system you want to scan. This can be harder to identify than it seems. For organizations already suffering from a lack of visibility in their systems, it can be very hard to keep track of what’s essential and what isn’t in processes and systems that are constantly changing and moving. The complicated enterprise infrastructure of today’s modern work environments is composed of digital infrastructures and an array of connected devices including mobile devices such as smartphones, laptops, wearables/ handhelds, IoT devices, and cloud infrastructure and services. While each of these technologies has its advantages, they also make the overall corporate infrastructure very hard to monitor. There could be vulnerabilities lurking in each of the systems that simply go undetected for months or years simply due to a lack of visibility. The best way out for organizations in such a situation is to automate the process of discovery of assets. With the right service provider such as IT Consulting Houston and modern vulnerability assessment solutions, it’s very easy for companies to conduct discovery of assets in public-facing systems and even connect directly to the cloud to spot gaps and vulnerabilities in a company’s cloud-based infrastructure.

Know your priorities

Once you know which assets you need to scan, the next order of business is to gauge whether you can afford to conduct a vulnerability assessment on all of it. If not, it’s time to prioritize. Typically, service providers and vendors charge for vulnerability assessment on a per item/ asset basis. For companies on a tight budget, it makes sense to prioritize the assets that they need to protect first. These can include servers deployed for Internet-facing assets, applications that deal with customer services, databases that contain highly valuable or sensitive information, and more.

Make use of vulnerability scanning

This type of scanner automatically detects known security weaknesses and can even help companies with strategic inputs on how best to manage or mitigate them. Vulnerability scanners typically make use of public databases of known vulnerabilities and are quite capable of addressing all of them. These probes can help companies detect vulnerable devices and software with security weaknesses in open ports and services, software versions, configurations, and more. These probes can also be leveraged to identify specific known vulnerabilities through safe exploit probes. This is a popularly used method to detect common vulnerabilities like ‘Command Injection’ or ‘cross-site scripting (XSS)’, or default user credentials.

Analyzing results and mitigating threats

Depending on the results found in the assessment report of the vulnerability assessment process, companies need to come up with an appropriate remediation plan. For the best results, companies should consider the severity of the threat and the vulnerability exposure. While companies should always focus on the most severe vulnerabilities first, they can’t afford to ignore the rest. Modern vulnerability scanners are capable of suggesting appropriate timelines to remediate all vulnerabilities. Companies also need to remember the prioritization that they have already done and focus more on remediating the threats to public-facing systems. Chances are always higher than a hacker will exploit Internet-facing vulnerabilities first, followed by devices used by employees such as laptops and smartphones with vulnerable software. Databases or systems with particularly sensitive information that are prone to vulnerabilities also need to be prioritized.

Constant vigilance

Companies need to keep in mind that vulnerability scanning only provides them with the vulnerabilities present in their systems at a particular point in time. As their systems and technologies change and evolve, so will the vulnerabilities. The list of changes can include anything from a range of new deployments, changes in configuration or misconfigurations, vulnerabilities that have only been identified recently, and more. Companies can never afford to rest on the laurels of a single vulnerability assessment. They need to approach vulnerability assessment as a continuous process that needs to be implemented periodically. This is particularly true of dynamic software development companies that need to integrate vulnerability assessments into their workflows. This can be done through the integration of automated vulnerability scanning in their continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD) pipelines. This effectively minimizes the scope of vulnerabilities being introduced with new software releases. This can also help companies minimize the scope of subsequent patching and development resulting in better efficiencies. In order to understand the Vulnerability Assessment Methodology in more detail, please contact Disaster Recovery Houston.

Scott Young

Scott Young, is the president of PennComp LLC, an IT Support Houston company. Being a CPA, Six Sigma Master Blackbelt, Change Management Certified and Myers Briggs Qualified, Scott’s expertise is reflected in PennComp as a leading IT company for computer services and network integration. PennComp utilizes Six Sigma methodologies and practices in their service delivery and offers state-of-the-art monitoring and management tools to their clients.