In the current technology landscape, as hackers devise increasingly sophisticated methods to target potential flaws of a system, organizations are always at risk of cyberattacks. To mitigate such risks, organizations use vulnerability assessment (VA) as the process of reviewing security threats and the risks such threats pose to the environment.
This allows organizations to remediate weaknesses in infrastructure and application security before threat actors can exploit them. Additionally, by using automated scanning tools to identify and report potential entry points, VulnerabilityAssessment offers deeper insights into the organization’s existing assets and associated threats that can be used for cyber attacks.
This article delves into the importance of vulnerability scanning while highlighting various ways and tools to perform an effective Vulnerability Assessment.
Table of contents
The Importance of Performing Vulnerability Assessments
Vulnerability Assessment employs the scanning of systems, machines, and networks to outline a high-level view of an application’s security status. These tools analyze and assess security risks along with offering remediation recommendations. Regular Vulnerability Assessment is essential in modern applications and enterprises for various reasons, including:
Identifying vulnerabilities before attackers can exploit them
By providing software teams with information on security posture and weaknesses, likelihood, severity, and effects, Vulnerability Assessment allows organizations to define action paths to mitigate attacks. VA tools also employ a consistent threat detection mechanism that reduces the chances of a threat actor penetrating the application ecosystem. This makes regular vulnerability assessments a great starting point for any organization looking to boost its security stack since it provides an insight into the structural weaknesses of software platforms. Besides this, VA assigns risk levels and priorities to potential threats, allowing security teams to focus on patching software vulnerabilities that add the most value for money.
Evaluating the security performance of third-party solutions
An Application Programming Interface (API) acts as a major entry point for most breaches, making API-integrated third-party vendor solutions a potential security risk. Therefore, the VA process undertakes a third-party risk assessment program that detects, identifies, and classifies third-party plugins’ regulatory and financial risks. A comprehensive vulnerability assessment also includes tools to gain full visibility into third-party risk levels to help teams derive efficient threat modeling.
Compliance and Regulatory Requirements
With the growing cyberattack landscape, there is a consistent rise of regulatory standards that issue guidelines on protecting consumer data and privacy. To meet such mandatory compliances, every software organization must administer appropriate security measures and the right tools to test and evaluate their effectiveness. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) is one such standard that helps maintain the policies, technologies, and processes to protect sensitive financial data from breaches. In addition, the standard ensures financial institutions understand and implement evaluation procedures to ensure security for financial solutions. Other compliance and regulatory frameworks that necessitate Vulnerability Assessment include:
- The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
- Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
- NIST Cybersecurity Framework
- ISO 27001/27002
- Service Organization Control (SOC2), among others
With the right assessment approach, organizations can detect policy and compliance breaches proactively. A thorough policy-level assessment also enables a robust audit framework that ensures application codes are written as per the regulatory guidelines and follow a pre-defined change control.
Mitigating financial risks
A successful security breach often costs the company time, money, and labor. Once a threat actor has infiltrated a system, they could make its services unavailable, cutting off the organization’s revenue streams and causing considerable damage to reputation. Additionally, hackers aim to destabilize infrastructure, which costs money to bring back up. VulnerabilityAssessments pre-empt such cyber attacks, saving costs, confidential business data, and, more importantly, the organization’s long-standing reputation.
Proof of system security for end-users
With a proper Vulnerability Assessment, an organization can maintain an up-to-date inventory of every component in the application’s ecosystem and the cyber risks associated with each. While this allows software teams to debug, patch or reconfigure assets, it also gives end-users confidence that their data is confidential. This also protects the organization from regulatory penalties enforced through cybersecurity frameworks such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) act.
How to Perform a Vulnerability Assessment
The technical Vulnerability Assessment process typically follows a 4-step cycle: Testing, Analysis, Risk Evaluation, and Resolution. Each potential vulnerability is sequentially identified, tested, evaluated, and given a priority score based on several factors, including:
- The components it affects
- The data compromised
- The likelihood and ease of a hack
- How Severe the attack can be
- Potential losses that could arise from the vulnerability
After assessing and prioritizing the risk, the team determines the most appropriate path to mitigate the threat and closes the security gap.
An organization can typically perform assessments in two ways: Internally or Externally. Internal vulnerability scans are performed with full access to the network running the application being scanned. These are commonly thorough in-house vulnerability scans that highlight the complete landscape of an application’s security vulnerabilities. On the other hand, an external vulnerability scan tests penetration outside the system’s network. These scans typically uncover the ports exposed to the internet and are mostly used to examine how strong and secure externally facing services are.
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Types of Vulnerability Assessments
Vulnerability Assessment varies depending on the system component that is scanned for potential weaknesses. Though approaches to vulnerability analysis differ for different organizations, the following are the five commonly used assessment models:
Network-Based Vulnerability Assessment
Network-Based vulnerability scans probe geographically distributed machines and applications to detect security gaps in networks and communication systems. Network vulnerability testing tasks include:
- Detecting and prioritizing network threats
- Analyzing networking devices for compromised passwords
- Reviewing the system’s strength against common attacks
Network-based vulnerability assessment tools use automated capabilities such as Stack Fingerprinting to identify consistent properties of the networking stack in a remote host.
Some popular network-based vulnerability scanners include:
- SolarWinds Network Configuration Management (NCM)
- CyberCop Scanner
- Nessus Professional
- SyxSense Secure
- Intruder Vulnerability Scanner
These tools are used to detect incorrect configurations and open common vulnerabilities within the web and mobile applications. The scanner analyzes the application’s code against a database of manifested vulnerabilities and establishes how secure an application is. To ensure a Vulnerability Assessment comprises vulnerabilities arising from updates and application changes, it is recommended as a best practice that application scanning is performed after every such change.
Application Scanning is broadly categorized into:
Static Application Security Testing (SAST)
SAST models on a multiform of Source Code Analysis, Binary Analysis, and White Box Testing Techniques. At a glance, SAST tools examine an application’s source code for security vulnerabilities, usually before the code is pushed to production. For example, through Static Analysis, SAST involves testing static code for defects as input validation, race conditions, numerical errors, and more. On the other hand, Binary Analysis tests code defects that are already built and compiled.
Commonly referred to as Black Box Testing, DAST involves Vulnerability Scanning tools within a compiled code. These tools test an application from an outsider’s perspective with limited knowledge of the written source code. DAST tools simulate the action of an attack vector while testing the application during runtime to uncover potential security loopholes. DAST tools explore a wide range of vulnerabilities including, memory corruption, cross-site request forgery, remote file inclusion, buffer overflow, and denial-of-service.
Host-based scanners detect and analyze weaknesses in machines such as workstations, servers, and other network hosts. These scanners use a manager/agent structure to scan and report how the system complies with organization-wide security standards.
Some popular host scanning solutions include:
The database represents the most crucial layer of an IT infrastructure that remains a prime target for threat actors. Database vulnerability scanners audit database security, helping teams to assess risks in the data layer and prioritize identified risks for remediation. These tools identify default vendor accounts, misconfigurations, missing patches, excessive privileges, and other external database threats.
Wireless Network Scanning
Because of the rise of IoT devices and Wireless Networks (WLAN), there is an emerging trend of attackers exploiting compromised wireless networks to infiltrate a system. To help mitigate such attacks, wireless network scanning tools test connections between different devices connected to the system and identify susceptible entry points. While using such security tools, organizations can simulate cyberattacks and devise techniques to deal with threats as they arrive.
The 6 Steps to Effective Vulnerability Assessment
The Vulnerability Assessment (VA) approach follows a sequence of steps to provide administrators helpful insights on possible security threats. The steps typically involve:
The planning phase involves characterizing system components by defining their risk and critical value as the first step. In this phase, software teams achieve details of the critical business factors that drive the organization’s security landscape, such as:
- The Firm’s risk appetite
- Migration practices and policies for all devices
- Residual treatment of risk
- Countermeasures for device vulnerabilities
- An analysis of the business impact
This step involves using automated vulnerability scanning tools or manual processes (such as penetration testing) to identify vulnerabilities within the entire tech stack. Scanning tools rely on security vulnerability databases and threat intelligence to point out unusual patterns in systems. This phase also relies on advanced analytics and security protocols to identify system weaknesses and susceptible entry points.
Once threats are identified, those are examined and assessed to establish the possible root causes. While doing so, software teams identify the infrastructure components responsible for vulnerabilities and where the threat is bound to arise. As part of a comprehensive Vulnerability Assessment, a diligent analysis is a huge factor when determining the most suitable path for remediation.
This step combines the efforts of DevOps teams and security experts to determine the best threat mitigation method. Remediation mostly include tasks, such as:
- Introducing new security measures
- Updating application configurations
- Implementing a vulnerability patch
Reporting & Documentation
This is one of the crucial phases of the vulnerability management chain that proactively adds value to remediation recommendations. The VA report boosts scanner recommendations by including data from the initial assessment. The same report also structures the information processed by VA scanners so that future users can easily comprehend and take countermeasures to mitigate cyber risks.
Cyberattack vectors consistently conceive new methods to penetrate systems and networks. This requires VulnerabilityAssessment to be a Continuous Process – which is equally innovative and performed regularly to allow software teams to do efficient threat modeling while calculating the robustness of their security systems. Additionally, VA should be repeatedly carried out after every system upgrade or configuration change as a thumb rule.
The Top Vulnerability Assessment Tools
Many third-party solution vendors offer managed vulnerability assessment solutions with an increased focus on cybersecurity and threat intelligence. Read more about choosing and implementing a vulnerability assessment tool here.
Some of the most popular VA tools include:
This is a popular commercial-grade security issues automated vulnerability assessment tool that offers advanced crawling to detect vulnerabilities within applications. By seamlessly integrating into the application’s development pipeline, Crashtest Security combines high-grade, industry-standard scanning power with a user-friendly interface for efficient application and API testing.
The platform uses a daily security vulnerability scanning schedule to detect security threats and assure users that the web application meets security standards. In addition, Comodo HackerProof provides a Trustmark that can be displayed on a website to increase user confidence. As an additional feature, the HackerProof Trustmark provides real-time scanning information, helping users get more confidence and trust in the web application.
IBM QRadar Security Intelligence
The IBM QRadar platform offers a single pane of glass for security teams to get performance insights of applications running on multiple platforms. The system leverages Artificial Intelligence to identify and prioritize potential data breaches, reducing analysis time by 50%. Besides this, IBM QRadar leverages a closed-loop feedback mechanism to automate the mitigation process.
The SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager is an automated network configuration management and backup solution that saves time and reduces labor costs while maintaining compliance standards. For Vulnerability Assessment, the platform offers network scanning and discovery to maintain updated information on all network devices.
Some key features of SolarWinds NCM include:
- Network compliance and automation
- Vulnerability Assessment
- Configuration Backup
- Network Insights
- Integrated Network Performance Monitor
Given that up to 60% of breaches in modern systems involve unpatched security gaps and unidentified entry points, vulnerability assessment is an essential practice to safeguard an organization’s cybersecurity landscape.
Furthermore, as regular assessments help organizations harden critical systems and ensure compliance with data protection regulations, organizations improvise risk mitigation while keeping operations unimpacted and efficient.
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