Cyber threats constantly evolve, making it crucial for digital businesses to adopt and practice best security testing practices. It includes regularly performing vulnerability assessments.
Using an automated tool, vulnerability assessment identifies and reports vulnerabilities in your IT environment. It provides important context to help teams prioritize, remediate and manage risks.
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Fortinet’s article on vulnerability assessment has helped organizations keep up with today’s rapidly changing threat landscape. Threat actors are constantly searching for weaknesses they can exploit. These weaknesses may be in hardware, software or the human element – unpatched operating systems, programs and applications plugged into modern networks, lost or stolen devices carrying sensitive information, or even employees sharing company assets or data improperly. Regardless of the method used for finding and reporting vulnerabilities, each identified weakness should be prioritized based on its likely impact on an organization’s mission and resources. Two factors are often used to determine the priority – likelihood and severity. A potential and critical risk should receive the highest priority, while a low probability and a minor impact might be considered tolerable.
A standard way of prioritizing risks is using a risk matrix, where each risk is ranked on one axis according to its probability and on the other axis according to its severity. The chances are then ordered from most to least important – with those in the upper right corner being the most critical. Some teams may also choose to organize their risks by the remediation cost. While this could be better, it might be necessary when a limited budget limits the amount of work that can be done.
Vulnerability assessments are necessary for any organization to protect its data, systems, and assets from digital attacks and threats. Without them, businesses could experience costly breaches and security incidents that compromise the integrity of their networks, expose confidential information, and harm business operations and finances. The vulnerability assessment process involves several phases. Gathering and analyzing data to comprehend the environment, including hardware and software, is the initial step in identifying potential vulnerabilities that attackers might use in a threat event. This phase can include intelligence gathering to understand existing threat activities, a discovery effort to understand the scope of live systems and hosts, and an enumeration of all operating systems, applications, ports, protocols, and services to determine the full extent of the attack surface.
Once the vulnerability assessment has gathered and analyzed all this information, it can use an automated scanning solution to scan the IT environment to find and report any identified vulnerabilities. As a result of the findings from this phase, IT teams may more easily address the vulnerabilities that pose the most risk to the enterprise. Vulnerability ratings are based on technical impact and the likelihood of an attacker exploiting a weakness to achieve a malicious outcome, such as a data breach or cyber attack. Because the security landscape is constantly changing, vulnerability assessments should be performed continuously to ensure that new vulnerabilities are detected and remediated as they are discovered.
Identifying the risk, prioritizing vulnerabilities, and remediating threats are all critical elements of vulnerability assessment. However, other crucial steps go into keeping your company or organization safe from cyber attacks. For example, it’s important to regularly update software and hardware components that can contain security weaknesses and vulnerabilities. It ensures the latest versions are being used and reduces the risk of exploitation. In addition to updating and improving systems, it’s essential to implement a threat remediation system. It allows you to address threats that have been identified quickly and prevents them from impacting your business. The threat remediation process can include various countermeasures, from patching software and devices to retraining staff or altering business processes to mitigate the impact of attacks.
The threat landscape changes daily—if not minute-by-minute—so performing regular scans and assessing your vulnerability status is imperative. Vulnerability assessments act as early warning systems that help you spot and seal any gaps in your digital infrastructure that could expose data, allow unauthorized access or otherwise put the integrity of your information at risk. It’s worth mentioning that vulnerability assessments are also a great way to comply with certain regulatory standards like HIPAA and PCI DSS. Many standards demand a robust cybersecurity foundation, which vulnerability assessments provide.
The vulnerability assessment process uses automated tools to examine systems, networks, and applications, comparing their configurations and software versions against known vulnerabilities. The scans can be focused, looking at a small set of assets or broad, covering an entire network or organization. Vulnerabilities in the software programs and digital assets that run a company can leave it exposed to malware, ransomware, and other threats that result in a data breach or disruption to business operations. Identifying these vulnerabilities is key to reducing the risk of cyber-attacks and protecting valuable information. A vulnerability assessment includes three steps: identification, analysis, and remediation. It includes identifying the critical assets, determining their impact if compromised, and creating guidelines for developers to help mitigate the risks.
Using these guidelines, the team can use various tools and scanners to identify vulnerabilities in the identified assets. It can include web application scanners that test for and simulate known attack patterns, protocol scanners that discover open ports and services, and network scanners that visualize networks and detect warning signs like stray IP addresses or suspicious packet generation from a single source. The last stage is to review the findings and evaluate how a vulnerability might affect the asset’s security, what kind of attackers it would draw, and how quickly it might be exploited. From there, the vulnerabilities can be ranked and prioritized to determine which should be addressed first.