Why Vulnerability Assessments Are Important

September 8th, 2020 by admin

Lit match burning binary code illustrating poor internet security

Vulnerability assessment refers to the process of identifying risks and vulnerabilities in computer networks, systems, hardware, applications, and other parts of the IT ecosystem. Vulnerability assessments provide your IT team and organizational management with the information they need to analyze and prioritize potential security risks for remediation.

Performed on an ongoing basis, vulnerability assessments are a critical component of an overall IT risk management program; helping protect systems and data from unauthorized access and data breaches.

Vulnerability assessments typically leverage tools like vulnerability scanners to identify threats and flaws within an organization's IT infrastructure that represent risks and threat exposures.

Vulnerability assessments allow organizations to apply a consistent and clear approach to identifying and resolving bona fide security threats and risks. This has several benefits to an organization:

  • Providing a foundational, base-line picture of its security stance
  • Ongoing and consistent identification of threats and weaknesses in IT security
  • Visibility into threat severity levels enabling prioritization of remediation
  • Ability to close gaps and protect sensitive systems and information
  • Meet cybersecurity compliance and regulatory needs for areas like HIPAA and PCI DSS
  • Better protect against data breaches and other unauthorized access

Vulnerability Assessments and IT Risk and Management

A vulnerability assessment explores a wide range of potential issues across multiple networks, systems, and other parts of your IT ecosystem, on-premise and in the cloud. It identifies weaknesses that need correction, including misconfigurations and policy non-compliance vulnerabilities that patching and maintenance alone may not address.

Most vulnerability assessments assign a risk to each threat. These risks can have a priority, urgency, and impact assigned to them, which makes it easier to focus on those that could create the most issues for an organization. This is an important part of vulnerability management, as your IT team will have limited time and resources, and must concentrate on the areas that could cause the most damage to your organization.

The information provided by a vulnerability assessment helps IT, as well as automated third-party tools (i.e. patch management), to prioritize vulnerabilities and chart the path for action, which often means remediation. However, sometimes organization choose to accept the continuance of the risk. For instance, if the uncovered vulnerability is of low potential impact and of low likelihood, but on the other hand, fixing it would require downtime or potential breaking of other systems, IT may determine the vulnerability risk is less than the risk posed to ongoing IT operations. This is how vulnerability assessments fall into an overarching IT risk management framework.

How Vulnerability Assessments are Performed

There are various ways to perform vulnerability assessments, but one of the most common is through automated vulnerability scanning software. These tools use databases of known vulnerabilities to identify potential flaws in your networks, apps, containers, systems, data, hardware, and more.

The vulnerability assessment tool will comprehensively scan every aspect of your technology. Once the scans are completed, the tool will report on all the issues discovered, and suggest actions to remove threats. The more full-featured tools may offer insight into the security and operational impact of remediating a risk, versus accepting the risk. Vulnerability scanning data may also be integrated into a Security Incident and Event Management (SIEM) solution along with other data for even more holistic threat analytics.

A vulnerability assessment should be performed as part of an initial, comprehensive security evaluation with subsequent scans performed on a regular basis. IT environments are changing all the time (for instance, a software update or system configuration change could result in a new vulnerability), and new threats continue to emerge, so it’s essential to identify and address vulnerabilities quickly to limit exposures to cybersecurity risk.

Vulnerability scanning is only part of a vulnerability assessment – other processes, such as penetration testing, can identify different types of threats to IT in your organization. Penetration testing complements vulnerability scanning, and is useful for determining if a vulnerability can be acted on, and whether that action would cause damage, data loss, or other issues.

Get Help with a Vulnerability Assessment

Your IT security partner should be able to carry out various types of vulnerability scans, such as:

  • Credentialed and non-credentialed scans
  • External vulnerability scans
  • Internal vulnerability scans
  • Environmental scans

The results and feedback they provide you as a result of performing an assessment should include the following information:

  • Quantity and quality (severity) of vulnerabilities; excluding any false positives and false negatives.
  • Actionability of results.
  • Recommendations for ongoing vulnerability management including the use of other IT security tools (patch management, SIEM, etc.)
  • Frequency of updates.

Vulnerability assessments should always provide clear, actionable information on all identified threats, and the corrective actions that will be needed. This allows IT to prioritize fixes against the overall cyber risk profile of the organization. Vulnerability assessments, are a key component overall risk management that can significantly reduce your exposure to cyber threats, and boost your baseline of system and data protection across your entire organization.

Posted in: Security, Cyber Security, Managed Services