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Introduction to IT Security Vulnerability Assessments

A vulnerability assessment, also known as vulnerability testing, is the practice of detecting, classifying, prioritizing, and remediating security vulnerabilities in IT infrastructure and applications. Regulatory compliance, which commonly requires a documented security process, is a considerable driver for vulnerability assessments. Even if your company is not bound by any regulations, a vulnerability assessment should be a regular activity of every organization’s security policy.

What are the objectives of a vulnerability assessment?

The objectives of a vulnerability assessment include:

  • Documenting the state of security for audit and compliance with laws, regulations, and business policies.
  • Understanding the overall security posture of your organization and identifying known security exposures before potential attackers do.
  • Proactively tackling software configurations and patches to make the systems less susceptible to attack.
  • Implementing practices that improve the management of IT security risks and developing staff expertise.

What does a vulnerability assessment entail?

The description of specific phases of a vulnerability assessment may differ slightly from provider to provider, however, a vulnerability assessment is typically performed according to the following steps:

  • Discover and inventory IT assets.
  • Assign importance to those resources.
  • Identify the vulnerabilities or potential threats to each resource.
  • Remediate or mitigate the most serious vulnerabilities for the most critical assets.

What to assess?

A vulnerability assessment can be completed against your network, systems and applications using automated software. You will want the vulnerability scan to be comprehensive. Everything that is connected to your company’s network should be scanned. The tools provide a list of identified vulnerabilities sorted by asset, with vulnerabilities ranked by overall risk and recommendations for remediation.

A vulnerability assessment should be part of a structured approach to addressing security vulnerabilities that may include implementing perimeter defenses such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems and anti-virus/malware scanning software.

To learn more about how to complete a successful vulnerability assessment, download the Best Practices Guide: Vulnerability Assessments.

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