A network vulnerability assessment is the review and analysis of an organization’s network infrastructure to find cybersecurity vulnerabilities and network security loopholes. The evaluation can be carried out manually, or by using vulnerability analysis software. Software is the preferred method because it’s less susceptible to human error and delivers more accurate results.

A vulnerability assessment determines the strength of a company’s network security. Along the way, it uncovers any security vulnerabilities that might compromise the overall business operations, cybersecurity, and privacy of the network.

Vulnerability assessments should not be confused with penetration tests (also known as pen tests), which simulate a cyber attack. A penetration test typically focuses on firewalls and their vulnerabilities, as it attempts to gain unauthorized access to your computer systems via phishing emails, malware attacks, or other tactics to install malware.

It may help think of a network vulnerability assessment as inspection done from the inside, searching for and reporting vulnerabilities in your networks and operating systems. A penetration test is more like a mock cyberattack conducted from the outside to see how well your defenses work.

Many businesses conduct both pen tests and vulnerability assessments on an ongoing basis to comply with regulations. For example, this is true for credit card and payment processors that must comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

What Risks Do Network Vulnerabilities Cause?

Network vulnerabilities are the entry point of threat actors to your internal network and can generate a variety of risks for your organization. For example, network vulnerabilities can cause operational disruptions by preventing communication among departments or with customers.

Network vulnerabilities can also lead to data breaches, which significantly affect the reputation of your business and can expose it to hefty fines over protected sensitive data.

Finally, these vulnerabilities expose your organization to non-compliance fines and penalties with data protection regulations such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, GDPR, CalOPPA, and COPPA.

How Can a Network Vulnerability be Exploited?

Cybercriminals are skilled at identifying and exploiting network security vulnerabilities with tools such as malware. Malware is software that masquerades as legitimate apps or software. It can open a backdoor for other malicious activities.

This backdoor can be the key to running spyware undetected while attackers extract potentially sensitive information from a device or an entire network. Hackers can also exploit misconfigured firewalls to execute a DDoS attack that renders a website or server inaccessible; or, with the help of leaked credentials, accesses other devices to extract information or run programs.

Malware can have different targets and functions. Ransomware is a form of malware that disrupts an organization’s operations by extracting or encrypting information from a network to demand a ransom payment.

A variety of vulnerabilities leave entire networks susceptible to common cybersecurity threats.

What Are Common Network Vulnerabilities?

2021 has been a challenging year for cybersecurity worldwide. With attacks on several critical infrastructure sectors in the United States (many due to poor cybersecurity practices and little cybersecurity awareness), companies must be aware of known vulnerabilities affecting organizations across the globe.

Susceptibility to Social Engineering Attacks

Social engineering attacks are a set of malicious schemes that seek to deceive their victims with bogus messages. After the victim opens a file or clicks on a link in the message, the hackers are able to extract information or run programs on the victim’s devices.

Phishing emails are the most common social engineering scheme, but several methods take advantage of personal information collected from the victim to achieve their ends. Sometimes, this kind of attack results in the execution of malware or credential leaking, which drives other types of security risks.

Unpatched and Legacy Software

All software will encounter new vulnerabilities and zero-day attacks, so systems must be updated and patched constantly.

Legacy software is any outdated software that doesn’t receive new security patches. It is a vulnerability that increases in severity as time goes by, as hackers and threat actors can find new vulnerabilities that will remain active over time, putting your organization at risk.

Similarly, unpatched software is a risk if vulnerabilities are found. A delay in applying patches results in extended exposure to vulnerabilities.

Misconfigured Firewalls

Your network firewall monitors inbound and outbound network communication. It allows you to configure access rules to prevent unauthorized individuals from entering your network and accessing potential security risks. An effective firewall will also block blacklisted IP addresses to prevent distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS).

Sometimes it is difficult to define “safe traffic.” For example, the Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) is used to evaluate the fundamental connection of devices in a network. ICMP traffic, however, is often restricted on a firewall and router because threat actors might make a ping request to test the connection between two computers to find devices on a network.

Weak Authentication Methods

No security control is enough without the use of robust user authentication methods. Unfortunately, credentials are being leaked daily, and users’ habit of reusing passwords makes it easy for cybercriminals to break into internal networks.

Without the use of multi-factor authentication methods, strong password policies, or credential scouting on the internet, your network can be vulnerable to brute-force attacks.

Use of Insecure or Unauthorized Devices

The increase in bring your own device (BYOD) policies has added the vulnerability of your employees’ personal devices to your network’s vulnerability. In addition, the use of mobile devices or removable drives within the enterprise IT ecosystem can infect the entire network.

How Do I Prevent Exploitation?

These vulnerabilities can remain hidden without proper risk identification and mitigation processes. Therefore, consider the following best practices:

Vulnerability Scanning Software

Vulnerability scanners are technological tools designed to collect information about your network and identify possible vulnerabilities within it. They are an integral part of a vulnerability assessment and can be separated into active scanning and passive scanning.

Penetration Testing Combined With Network Vulnerability Assessments

Typically, a network vulnerability assessment is followed by penetration testing. During penetration testing, so-called ethical hackers manually conduct a mock cyber attack against your network, system, or web applications.

The goal of the pen test is to find cybersecurity vulnerabilities that a real hacker could exploit. Penetration testing can also be automated with software, but typically it involves people.

Once the network vulnerability scanning and penetration testing are completed, the combined assessment will show you where to mitigate cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

Unlike a network vulnerability assessment, a comprehensive network vulnerability management program doesn’t have a definite start and end date. Instead, it is a continuous process that aims to manage cybersecurity vulnerabilities over the long term.

How Do I Check My Network Vulnerability?

No matter what type of business is being analyzed, the assessment can be broken down into several steps:

  1. Identify risks. Analyze and rank the effect a worst-case scenario could have on your business.
  2. Develop procedures for how and how often you will perform vulnerability scanning. This includes researching and identifying which vulnerability assessment tools you’ll use, and how often to do so.
  3. Identify the type of vulnerability scan you need. This sounds simple, but many types of vulnerability scans are available.
    • Host-based vulnerability scan: Looks for vulnerabilities at endpoints and searches computers, laptops, and shared servers for misconfigurations and dormant vulnerabilities
    • Wireless-based vulnerability scan: Identifies vulnerabilities associated with devices connected to your WiFi systems and routers; this scan will expose unauthorized users and give you a chance to isolate and get rid of them
    • Application-based vulnerability scan: Many application vulnerability scanning tools exist, including some that are open source; application security should not be overlooked, and it can be automated with the right tool.
  4. Perform the scan and analyze the results of the scan. This may take hours or days, depending on the size of your system and how much detail your chosen vulnerability scanning tool provides.

    When you look at the results, be especially aware of false positives. False positives occur when the scanner doesn’t have the proper credentials to access all the data needed to complete the vulnerability tests. You may have to reconfigure the vulnerability scanning tool to make sure the results are correct and accurate.

  5. Develop a plan for mitigation and remediation. This can be done by your own IT staff or by hired security experts. It is essential to follow up on security issues detected by your scan and identify security measures to mitigate potential threats.

Ultimately, a solid network vulnerability assessment will help update and shape your security policy and leave your business better protected against data breaches.

What Are the Benefits of a Network Vulnerability Assessment?

A network vulnerability assessment provides a better understanding of a network environment and delivers feedback on any cybersecurity flaws. Like all risk analyses, this is not a one-and-done type assessment; rather, it should be performed on an ongoing basis.

The resulting assessment report will help the information security team improve its cybersecurity threat mitigation and prevention processes when conducted regularly. This leads to a high level of network security and significantly reduces the chance that unauthorized cybercriminals will gain access to your sensitive data.

In addition, you will also verify that your organization is complying with the cybersecurity standards applicable to your industry, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

Discover the Full Power of ZenGRC!

When you can’t see the whole picture, controlling your system’s weaknesses might be challenging. To comprehend your threat environment fully, you must be able to assess your business as a whole rather than merely the sum of its pieces.

ZenGRC integrates risk and compliance management to enable compliance and security teams to identify, monitor, and mitigate risks, threats, and vulnerabilities. ZenGRC keeps up with evolving compliance rules in real-time, so you don’t have to. With Zen, you always know where you stand, so you can address compliance gaps and cybersecurity risks as they arise.

ZenGRC provides a single source of truth that assures your organization is always compliant and audit-ready. Policies and procedures are revision-controlled and easy to find in the document repository. Workflow management features offer easy tracking, automated reminders, and audit trails. Insightful reporting and dashboards provide visibility to gaps and high-risk areas.

Let us help you track and mitigate network vulnerabilities with ZenGRC. Our easy-to-apply and intuitive software will keep a sharp eye on your IT security so you can focus on running your business. Schedule a demo today!