You can’t protect your network from an attack or a breach if you don’t know where you are vulnerable. Some vulnerabilities are easy to see, like application patching, but others can be very difficult to spot if you don’t know exactly what you are looking for. Luckily, a piece of automation software called vulnerability scanning can help organizations detect and manage vulnerabilities across an entire network.
The scan works by first creating an inventory of servers, applications, devices, firewalls, operating systems, and anything else you include within the perimeters. The scan may also attempt to login to the network using default credentials. After completing an inventory, the scan will then cross check every item detected against a database and give a full list of known vulnerabilities.
By conducting regular vulnerability scans and including the information from those scans in a cybersecurity risk assessment, you’ll not only keep your networks more secure, but can also help reduce the cost of a breach should one ever happen. Here is a short overview of how to properly conduct a vulnerability scan and use it as a key tool for more effective risk assessments.
What to Include in Your Vulnerability Scan
When conducting a vulnerability scan, it’s important to set a scope that is appropriate for your business needs and network configuration. While every organizations should scan their entire network — along with external systems, vendor portals, and cloud services — it might be preferable to run more focused scans frequently and conduct a more expansive scan every quarter or twice a year.
Some scans can also run automatically when changes to the network are made or a new device is added. Because these scans can be intrusive, it’s possible they may cause temporary systems errors. You should also consider conducting scans after business hours or at a time when essential business operations will not be affected.
Putting Vulnerabilities into Context
The unfortunate reality is that organizations will always have some vulnerabilities. Vulnerability scans are the first part in a larger process that allows you to pinpoint your weak points and prioritize these vulnerabilities based on risk. It’s important to remember that vulnerabilities are separate from threats. A cybersecurity threat is a method of attack that exploits vulnerabilities. And fixing every single vulnerability is sort of like trying to plug a hundred of holes in a bucket all at once.
A risk assessment is therefore essential for putting your vulnerability scans into context and understanding where you need to focus your energy. When looking at a list of known vulnerabilities within your network, consider how much damage it would cause if the vulnerability is exploiting, assess the threat landscape to understand how likely an attack is, and explore what security controls are needed to fix the vulnerability. If a known vulnerability is easy to fix but would be costly if exploited, you will want to address that immediately. On the other hand, if a vulnerability would require a lot of time and money to fix, and the risk of an attack is very low, you may not need to focus on that right away. No matter what, the key is to have enough information on hand to make an informed decision on how best to protect or network and systems.