Protecting corporate networks and IT assets is paramount in today’s ever-evolving cybersecurity threat landscape. Cyber criminals use every tactic to discover weaknesses in an organization’s IT architecture — and something as simple as a routine security vulnerability assessment can be a crucial frontline defense.
A security vulnerability assessment identifies the vulnerabilities in an organization’s network software and hardware, ranking each vulnerability based on its degree of severity. The assessment then recommends remediation steps to fix the vulnerabilities and secure the network environment.
Conducted properly, a vulnerability assessment provides vital information that security teams can use in their network risk assessment and threat mitigation efforts, allowing them to prioritize which weaknesses to address first.
Vulnerability assessments typically work by scanning the network using automated tools. Those scans can uncover a wide range of vulnerabilities, including system misconfigurations, firewall breaches, SQL injections, cross-site scripting, and other known vulnerabilities.
One important point to understand is the difference between threat and vulnerability. A threat is a possible event that has yet to occur; a vulnerability is a current weakness that threat actors could exploit. Vulnerability assessments search for both.
Another consideration when organizations conduct a vulnerability assessment is the distinction between hardware and software vulnerabilities; each comes with its own set of challenges and concerns. For example, there can be thousands of software vulnerabilities for every hardware vulnerability. There were more than 26,000 known software security vulnerabilities in 2022.
IT teams do update software more frequently, but software vulnerabilities tend to be more immediate and have shorter-lived security harm than hardware vulnerabilities. In contrast, hardware vulnerabilities are more difficult to patch than their software counterparts.
What Is the Difference Between Vulnerability Assessment and Security Assessment?
Vulnerability and security assessments are essential for protecting sensitive data, but they serve different purposes. Let’s explore how they differ.
Scope and focus
- Vulnerability assessments scan your network for misconfigurations, missing patches, and active threats, providing a list of issues.
- Security assessments offer a deeper analysis, providing risk reduction strategies for each vulnerability and comprehensive solutions.
Automation vs. manual investigation
- Vulnerability assessments are mostly automated (think spellcheck for your network), but they can miss complex issues (such as using the wrong word in a sentence even though it’s correctly spelled) and security best practices.
- Security assessments involve manual investigation to uncover subtle weaknesses and misconfigurations that automated tools might overlook.
Time horizon and long-term approach
- Vulnerability assessment provides a point-in-time snapshot, identifying immediate security issues but not future vulnerabilities.
- Security assessments take a more active approach, addressing current problems and developing long-term policies to minimize recurring vulnerabilities. They offer recommendations to strengthen your security posture.
What Is the National Vulnerability Database?
The National Vulnerability Database (NVD), operated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), is a comprehensive database of known vulnerabilities. It provides valuable analysis by:
- Assigning a Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) score to reported vulnerabilities
- Identifying vulnerability types using Common Weakness Enumerations (CWE)
- Defining applicability statements with Common Platform Enumeration (CPE)
- Offering other relevant information about the vulnerabilities, including how cybercriminals can exploit them
Organizations can leverage this information to prioritize patches and safeguard their IT infrastructure.
What Are the Stages of Identifying Vulnerabilities?
Methodologies used to identify vulnerabilities can vary from one environment to the next, but most follow four main stages:
- Identifying vulnerabilities that could affect networks and systems
- Evaluating vulnerabilities based on their degree of severity
- Remediating vulnerabilities to prevent exploitation
- Reporting on vulnerabilities to improve future security responses
Vulnerabilities come in many forms. Some of the most common are SQL injection, cross-site scripting, malware, social engineering attacks, and outdated or unpatched software. Perhaps the most common is misconfigured systems, such as firewalls and operating systems.
How Do You Conduct a Security Vulnerability Assessment?
A comprehensive vulnerability management program follows a pattern similar to that used in identifying vulnerabilities. It consists of four steps:
Identifying the issues to consider is the first and most crucial step. Teams can find vulnerabilities using a web application vulnerability scanner and penetration testing, or react on a case-by-case basis.
Once identified, vulnerabilities need to be ranked according to severity. Teams create criteria to assess a particular vulnerability’s harm. This step helps in prioritizing the vulnerabilities to address first.
The most critical vulnerabilities demand immediate remediation. Those determined to be less severe can be placed in a queue to address later.
Security teams should keep reports detailing identified and remediated vulnerabilities. A detailed assessment report provides a record of remediation steps that worked previously in the event a vulnerability reoccurs.
A network security vulnerability assessment process is typically followed by penetration testing (commonly referred to as “pen testing”), where a team tries to hack into your network. In theory, if you have correctly patched all the vulnerabilities your vulnerability assessment found, their job will be harder to do.
Keep in mind that unlike pen testing, a vulnerability assessment only identifies security weaknesses and takes steps to fix, not exploit them.
A network vulnerability assessment is generally conducted via automated network vulnerability scanning tools. In contrast, pen testing requires manual intervention by a qualified pen tester.
Once teams complete the network cybersecurity vulnerability scans and penetration testing, the assessment offers an action plan to mitigate and fix the identified cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
What Are the Stages of Security Vulnerability Remediation?
The process of security vulnerability remediation involves four key stages, each crucial for addressing and mitigating vulnerabilities effectively.
This stage begins with an automated vulnerability scan that identifies well-known vulnerabilities but may miss all possible vulnerabilities. Consider conducting a more comprehensive vulnerability assessment to evaluate your system thoroughly, finding weaknesses and bugs that automated scans might overlook. This will help you prioritize and remediate vulnerabilities.
Vulnerabilities are prioritized based on their severity and characteristics. This can be done automatically using tools or manually during the discovery phase. The Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) is often used to determine priority by considering factors like the attack vector, complexity, and impact of each vulnerability.
Assign specific staff members to relevant systems to fix the vulnerabilities. For example, database admins should address database-related vulnerabilities, while development teams tackle application vulnerabilities.
Common vulnerabilities include unpatched operating systems, SQL injection, weak account credentials, cross-site scripting (XSS), and device misconfigurations.
It’s crucial to note that remediation times vary based on impact, and careful planning is essential to avoid unintended consequences, as patches may require downtime or have unintended effects. You can use temporary patches or workarounds when more time is needed for effective resolution.
Effective vulnerability management systems offer different ways to visualize and export vulnerability data, but you also need live alert systems and manual reviews using log collection to continuously monitor threats.
Ongoing monitoring may involve retesting specific systems through vulnerability scans. Additionally, some compliance standards (such as HIPAA, the law governing personal health data in the United States) require organizations to generate reports documenting the patching process and demonstrating ongoing compliance.
ROAR Helps Protect You Against Vulnerabilities
Comprehensive vulnerability management is important for maintaining an organization’s cybersecurity and peace of mind. For risk management, remediation, and security vulnerability analysis and control, ROAR actively helps reduce the likelihood of risks.
The RiskOptics ROAR Platform is an industry-leading information security risk and compliance solution. It combines risk and compliance management to allow security teams to identify, monitor and mitigate risks, threats, and vulnerabilities quickly and efficiently. The platform minimizes manual effort, increases visibility and reporting, and directly integrates with critical business applications.
To discover the full power of ROAR, schedule a free demo today.