Vulnerability Assessment: What Does It Really Assess?

Vulnerability Assessments:

Vulnerable: susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm. Synonyms: defenseless, powerless, weak, susceptible.

I’m sure your initial thoughts, like mine, personified the word. But today this term is used to describe an organization’s cybersecurity posture. Maintaining an awareness of your organization’s vulnerabilities is one way to protect yourself from a cybersecurity attack. But how do you know what the vulnerabilities are? It starts by performing a regular vulnerability assessment, which not only will aid you in identifying your organization’s vulnerabilities, but it will also put you in a better position to prevent potential threats.

What is a vulnerability assessment?

Avulnerability assessmentis a process of identifying, quantifying, and prioritizing (or ranking) thevulnerabilitiesin a system. The intent of vulnerability assessments is to identify known security weaknesses within a computer system, network, or application. It involves running software that scans the target(s) in order to identify vulnerabilities to known security weaknesses that are within the scanning software’s database.

The two key elements to reducing cybersecurity risk are to understand the vulnerabilities present in your environment and then to respond accordingly to mitigate the risk associated with them.

Many individuals use the terms vulnerability assessments and penetration testing interchangeably; however, these are not one and the same. Vulnerability assessments identify known vulnerabilities within your systems, while penetration testing helps to identify unknown weaknesses within the environment. Deep dive into the differences by downloading our whitepaper.

Similarly to the concept of having an oil change on your car every 5,000 miles, a vulnerability assessment is one of the necessities for maintaining an organization’s information security program. Without one, your organization’s technology may be easily exploitable without you knowing any better.

How Does It Help Your Organization?

There are many benefits to having a vulnerability assessment run regularly. These benefits include:

  • Identifying known security weaknesses before they are found by potential attackers
  • Defining the level of risk within the IT infrastructure and applications
  • Assessing the effectiveness of the organization’s patch management practices
  • Identifying outdated technology
  • Ensuring that resources (both from a monetary and effort perspective) are deployed based on the criticality or importance of the identified vulnerabilities
  • Creating a log of all devices on the network and including the vulnerabilities and updates that have been made to each device
  • Utilizing that inventory log of all devices in the company to plan upgrades and future assessments
  • Saving the organization money and their reputation by being aware and fixing vulnerabilities before your systems are compromised.

What does the report tell me and what do I do next?

Deciding to, and doing, a vulnerability scan is the first step. Knowing, understanding and acting on the results is part two.

The scan will go through an information gathering and discovery effort to 1) identify the hardware and software assets within the environment, and 2) identify the vulnerabilities within those assets identified. This report includes scores and risk information that aid the readers in understanding what systems are vulnerable, the criticality of those vulnerabilities, and how to address those vulnerabilities.

The report then can be used to address questions such as; are your systems generally protected against known vulnerabilities? Where are the weak areas? Where do resources need to be deployed to address the issues?

It’s best to involve IT specialists or third party advisors in understanding the results of these reports to analyze the results, including to help weed out the numerous “false positives”, or findings that don’t actually pose a security risk.

Remediation tools can be used to patch and debug areas as necessary to reduce or eliminate the security risks that were detected.

How does one get started?

The first step to improving the security posture of your organization is to find a trusted cybersecurity advisor who can guide you through the process. By working with a cybersecurity partner like Withum, you gain access to experienced specialists equipped to perform both vulnerability scans and penetration tests. We work with internal teams to help them to understand exactly how the scans contribute to risk mitigation and work with them to identify tools to adhere to industry and organizational compliance requirements.

How Can We Help?

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