How to use vulnerability assessment to quantify & reduce cyber risk
March 31, 2020

Vulnerability assessment refers to the method of identifying and analyzing cyber risks and vulnerabilities in computer networks, systems, hardware, applications, and other IT assets, both on-premise and within the cloud. Vulnerability assessments provide operation security teams with the knowledge they have to assess and prioritize risks for potential remediation within the proper context.

Vulnerability assessments are a fundamental piece of the vulnerability management and IT risk assessment, helping protect systems and data from unauthorized access and data breaches.

Vulnerability assessments typically leverage tools like automated vulnerability scanning software to spot threats and flaws within an IT infrastructure that represent potential vulnerabilities.

What is Vulnerability?

First, an essential IT definition of vulnerability as a security weakness or flaw that would potentially be exploited by a threat actor like malware, external attacker, or malicious insider. Some common sorts of vulnerabilities include bugs in code, configuration weaknesses, weak passwords and hardcoded credentials (especially people who are vendor-deployed defaults), excessive privileges, and other defects or deficiencies.

Known, unpatched vulnerabilities still rank because of the leading point of compromise for the initial exploit stage of just about all cyberattacks.

Zero-day vulnerabilities are particularly dangerous because they’re vulnerabilities that are published and known, except for which no patch yet exists.

Key Benefits of Vulnerability Assessments

Vulnerability assessments enable IT, operation security teams, to use a uniform, comprehensive, and precise approach to identifying and resolving security threats and risks. This confers several benefits across the organization, including:

  • Early and consistent identification of threats and weaknesses in IT security
  • Remediation actions to fix any gaps and protect sensitive systems and knowledge
  • Addressing cybersecurity compliance and regulatory needs for areas like HIPAA and PCI DSS
  • Protecting against data breaches and other unauthorized access

Vulnerability assessments can even help a corporation make adjustments to mitigate the impact of a zero-day vulnerability. as an example, with knowledge in hand regarding a zero-day, the organization could segregate applications or parts of the affected system and layer on additional controls (i.e., implementing other restrictions around privilege elevation) to bolster its cyber resilience within the interim until a patch is out there.

How Vulnerability Assessments Relate thereto Risk and Vulnerability Management

Most vulnerability assessments assign a risk-level to every cyberthreat. These risks can have a priority, urgency, and impact assigned to them, which helps to channel specialize in those cyber threats that would create the foremost impactful issues for a corporation. this is often an important part of vulnerability management, because its security teams are typically stretched for time and resources, and must consider the areas that would cause the foremost damage to the business.

Vulnerability assessment data helps IT teams, also as automated third-party tools (i.e., patch management), to prioritize vulnerabilities and chart the trail for action, which frequently means remediation. However, sometimes organizations prefer to accept continuance of the danger . as an example if the uncovered vulnerability is of low potential impact and low likelihood for occurring, but on the opposite hand, fixing it might require downtime or potential breaking of various systems, it’s going to determine the vulnerability risk itself is a smaller amount than the danger posed to ongoing IT or business operations. this is often how vulnerability assessments fall under an overarching IT risk management framework.

How Vulnerability Assessments are Performed

One of the foremost common approaches to performing vulnerability assessments is by using automated vulnerability scanning software. These tools leverage databases of known vulnerabilities to spot 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 problems discovered and suggest actions to get rid of threats. The more full-featured tools may quantify the tradeoffs to security and business operations of remediating the danger versus accepting the danger. Organizations commonly integrate vulnerability scanning into a SIEM, which mixes it with additional threat data to supply more holistic threat analytics.

Since IT environments are in constant flux (for example, software updates or system configuration changes could end in a replacement vulnerability), vulnerability assessments and scans should be performed regularly.

Vulnerability scanning is merely a part of a vulnerability assessment — other processes, like penetration testing, can identify different types of threats thereto in your organization. Penetration testing complements vulnerability scanning and is beneficial for determining if a vulnerability is often acted on and whether that action would cause damage, data loss, or other issues. Some organizations also apply a typical vulnerability assessment methodology. The more overlapping methods utilized in vulnerability assessment, the upper the likelihood loopholes, backdoors, software and application flaws, and other threats are going to be uncovered.

Overview of Vulnerability Assessment Tools

The most vital part of a vulnerability assessment may be a vulnerability scanning tool. This tool is often wont to execute various sorts of scans, such as:

  • Credentialed scanning
  • External vulnerability scans
  • Internal vulnerability scans
  • Environmental scans

When evaluating a vulnerability scanning tool, consider the subsequent characteristics and capabilities as well:

  • Frequency of updates of tools and signatures
  • quantity and numbers of vulnerabilities, including minimizing false positives and false negatives.
  • Number of false positives and false negative alarms
  • Actionability of results
  • Integrations with other vulnerability management and IT security tools (patch management, SIEM, etc.)

Vulnerability assessments should provide clear, actionable information on all identified threats, and therefore the corrective actions which will be needed. this enables IT, security teams to prioritize fixes against the general cyber risk profile of the organization. A mature vulnerability assessment approach will significantly minimize your cyber risk exposure, and enhance your baseline of protection across your organization’s systems and data.