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Vulnerability Assessments: Best Practices Guide

Vulnerability assessment is an important part of running a company. Virtually every organization, large and small, uses software programs and online assets controlled by third parties to connect with the outside world. But many of these programs and digital assets often come with vulnerabilities that can leave companies exposed to all kinds of threats, including malware, ransomware, the release of sensitive information, and other disruptions to their operations. That’s why every company needs to assess its programs based on vulnerability. They can then identify potential security issues and flaws before they get attacked.

What is a Vulnerability Assessment?

A vulnerability assessment, also known as vulnerability testing, is the practice of detecting, classifying, prioritizing, and remediating security vulnerabilities in IT infrastructure and applications. These vulnerabilities come in many different forms. They fall into one of three categories: vendor, system, and user originated.

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There may be flaws with the open-source code used to develop the program. The software itself may not have the proper security requirements. Digital hackers often rely on human error when trying to gain access to the system. Employees may accidentally click on links or share their login information with a hacker by mistake, which leaves the system vulnerable to attack.

Hackers and cyber criminals use more advanced methods every year. The technology used to manufacture these threats is becoming increasingly widespread, increasing the rate of reported cyber attacks across all industries. Companies need to regularly assess for vulnerability as these threats continue to evolve. As soon as the company patches one issue, another may arise. Once hackers gain access to a particular property, they can exploit this vulnerability to wage additional attacks on the system.

What Does a Vulnerability Assessment Include?

There are various ways to carry out a vulnerability assessment, but every approach should include the following:

  • Organizing and identifying all IT assets
  • Assigning importance to each of those assets
  • Identifying all possible threats each asset could face
  • Remediating or mitigating the most serious security vulnerabilities of the most critical assets

Organizations must first keep track of all the IT assets in the company’s possession as well as those that have access to the system. They should then rate each asset based on how critical it is to the organization. Critical assets include those that contain sensitive customer or employee information and key assets the company uses to carry out its operations. If any of these assets were to be compromised, operations would likely grind to a halt. The company would also have to notify its customers and business partners that their data has been compromised.

When identifying potential vulnerabilities, the company will need to document the state of security for audit and compliance purposes. If the company uses a wide range of assets or identifies a large number of potential security vulnerabilities, it will need to focus its efforts on remediating the most serious threats facing its most critical assets. The company may not have the time or resources to address every vulnerability simultaneously.

It’s important to understand that vulnerability testing isn’t the same as penetration testing, which is when a security professional simulates an attack on the company’ system in order to highlight potential vulnerabilities and show the company how the system can be improved.

Vulnerability risk management usually involves the scanning of a particular asset for potential vulnerabilities using automated tools. These tools will also gather information about the scope of the system, including the overall layout of the network. Automated programs can also be used to automatically assign asset prioritization based on the information it contains or how it fits into the overall IT infrastructure.

Automated vulnerability assessment software programs probe a wide database of reported vulnerabilities, such as those listed on The Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) and Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE).

Threat and Vulnerability Management Best Practices

Vulnerability management and assessment can be time consuming and costly for many companies, especially if they have a wide range of assets to manage. Here are a few tips that companies can use to manage the process:

Use Multiple Scanning Devices

Using a single automated vulnerability assessment tool may not be enough for some organizations. More comprehensive scanners take longer. Companies can speed up the process by using multiple scanners and then aggregating the data on a single user interface.

Having access to more than one type of vulnerability assessment scanner can also help the company spot potential errors. While most tools are considered reliable and comprehensive, some may report false positives or fail to identify potential vulnerabilities. Comparing the results of more than one program can help companies keep track of how well these programs are working.

Scan Everything

Companies need to start the process by identifying every possible asset that could be seen as vulnerable, including any network connected to the internet, web applications, and networks that can be penetrated through weak internet-facing security controls. Focus areas should include DNS servers, FTP servers, intrusion detection systems, routers and switches, HTTP/HTTPS servers, VPN servers, load balancers, firewalls, and mail servers.

Vulnerability Remediation

Companies should also put in place a vulnerability remediation strategy for quickly patching the system once vulnerabilities have been identified. Many IT teams use a ticketing approach to list all potential vulnerabilities discovered. It’s also helpful to assign a project manager with the authority to implement the necessary patches.

Consistent Reporting

Reporting is a key aspect of the vulnerability assessment process. Organizations often generate different types of reports based on the target audience. One may be directed toward shareholders, another toward regulators, and another toward IT professionals. Companies should catalog as much data as possible about the assessment process, what the assessment included, which vulnerabilities were found, and whether the issue was remediated.

Vulnerability assessment can be challenging, but it’s the only way to protect these assets from potential hacks. Download the full Vulnerability Assessments: Best Practices Guide from NopSec to understand your choices and implement a robust security vulnerability management system.

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