A network vulnerability assessment reviews and analyzes an organization’s network infrastructure to find cybersecurity vulnerabilities and network security loopholes. The evaluation can be done manually or by using vulnerability analysis software. Software is preferred 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, compliance, and network privacy.
Vulnerability assessments should not be confused with penetration tests (also known as pen tests), which simulate a cyber attack. A penetration test does typically focuses on firewalls and their vulnerabilities, since those are the best ways to “crack” a secure network — but the simulated attacks of a pen test and the analysis of a vulnerability assessment are not the same thing.
It may help to think of a network vulnerability assessment as an inspection done from the inside, searching for and reporting vulnerabilities in your networks and operating systems. A penetration test is 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 Is Network Vulnerability Management?
Vulnerability management involves identifying, evaluating, treating, and reporting system vulnerabilities and software weaknesses to strengthen an organization’s security defenses. IT teams can prioritize threats and minimize their exposure to potential attacks by doing so.
Vulnerability management usually starts by systematically scanning and assessing an organization’s infrastructure for vulnerabilities. Once identified, professionals evaluate those vulnerabilities based on their severity and potential impact, prioritizing (and promptly addressing) the most critical vulnerabilities.
Treating vulnerabilities involves software patches, system reconfigurations, and security controls to mitigate the identified weaknesses. Additionally, clear reporting on the status of vulnerabilities and their remediation progress helps organizations to maintain visibility and make informed decisions.
What Are the 5 Steps of Vulnerability Management?
Experts typically rely on the following five-step approach to assure continuous monitoring and mitigate potential weaknesses.
Step 1: Assess
To assess vulnerabilities in your organization’s assets effectively, compile a comprehensive inventory including operating systems, cloud services, hardware, and software. Use specialized tools for automated vulnerability scans in cloud environments, and for legacy systems, opt for network-based solutions. You can also conduct isolated scans to assure thorough coverage across network sections.
Step 2: Prioritize
After obtaining the scan results, prioritize vulnerabilities based on their criticality and potential effect on your business. Classify assets according to importance, and assign a business value to each group. Evaluate the risk level associated with each asset, considering the business context to determine the priority for remediation efforts.
Step 3: Address
Take action to address identified vulnerabilities by implementing necessary updates, patches, and configurations. Examples include updating hardware or software, making secure configuration changes, or isolating vulnerable systems. Additionally, deactivate compromised user accounts, enhance employee training, and consider deploying automation technologies to streamline manual tasks.
Step 4: Re-scan
Scan your IT environment again after remediation, using the same method as Step 1. This will verify whether the actions taken have successfully resolved the identified vulnerabilities. If you discover any new issues, revisit the remediation process to address them promptly and assure comprehensive security coverage.
Step 5: Report
Maintain a detailed security log to track and document security issues, applied patches, and remediation efforts. This log is crucial for audits, compliance, and monitoring progress. By recording incidents and monitoring weaknesses, your team can continuously improve vulnerability management and enhance overall protection against potential threats.
What Risks Do Network Vulnerabilities Cause?
Network vulnerabilities are the entry point threat actors use to gain access to your internal network, so they pose a variety of risks to your organization. For example, network vulnerabilities can cause operational disruptions by preventing communication between departments or with customers.
Network vulnerabilities can also lead to data breaches, which significantly affect the reputation of your business and can bring hefty fines or litigation costs.
How Can a Network Vulnerability Be Exploited?
Cyber criminals are skilled at identifying and exploiting network security vulnerabilities with tools such as malware. Malware is software that masquerades as legitimate code, but works for malicious ends.
Malware can also 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, access other devices to extract information or run programs.
Malware can have different targets and functions. Ransomware is one 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?
Recent years have been challenging 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 seek to deceive their victims with bogus messages. After the victim opens a file or clicks on a link in the message, the hackers can extract information or run programs on the victim’s devices.
Phishing emails are the most common social engineering scheme, but several methods use 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 (so-called “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.
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
Robust user authentication methods are another vital security control. Unfortunately, credentials are leaked online every day. Given users’ habit of reusing passwords, that makes it easy for cybercriminals to swipe one set of credentials and use it to break into internal networks.
Without multi-factor authentication methods, strong password policies, or credential scouting on the internet, your network can be vulnerable to “brute-force attacks” where algorithms keep guessing credential combinations until they find a match.
Use of Insecure or Unauthorized Devices
The increase in employees bringing their own devices to work complicates matters even more. Now the vulnerabilities on their personal devices can become your networks’ vulnerability too. What’s more, using 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 technology tools designed to collect information about your network and identify possible vulnerabilities. They are an integral part of a vulnerability assessment and can be separated into active scanning and passive scanning.
Penetration Testing Plus Network Vulnerability Assessments
Typically a network vulnerability assessment is followed by penetration testing. During penetration testing, ethical hackers manually conduct a mock cyber attack against your network, system, or web applications.
The pen test aims to find cybersecurity vulnerabilities that a real hacker could exploit. Penetration testing can also be automated with software, but usually 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 has no 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:
- Identify risks. Analyze and rank the effect a worst-case scenario could have on your business.
- 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.
Identify the type of vulnerability scan you need. This sounds simple, but many different 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.
- Perform the scan and analyze the results. 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 assure the results are accurate.
- Develop a plan for mitigation and remediation. This can be done by your 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; it should be performed continuously.
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 ROAR!
When you can’t see the whole picture, managing security risks can become 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.
The RiskOptics ROAR Platform integrates risk and compliance management to enable compliance and security teams to identify, monitor, and mitigate risks, threats, and vulnerabilities. It keeps up with evolving compliance rules for you, in real-time. With ROAR, you always know where you stand, so you can address compliance gaps and cybersecurity risks as they arise.
ROAR also 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 the ROAR Platform. 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 to learn more.