Any organization that takes risk management and security information and event management (SIEM) seriously must embrace routine cybersecurity controls and data breach prevention. That means integrating vulnerability scanning into your cybersecurity program. 

Ignoring the potential new vulnerabilities your IT systems face can result in hefty penalties, expensive repair costs, and the loss of business. Indeed, the 2018 IBM Data Breach Study found that on average, the total cost of a data breach can reach nearly $4 million, or nearly $150 per lost record.

Vulnerability assessments are one method your cybersecurity program can adopt to prevent such costsly incidents from happening. Scanning lets you remediate potential security risks before someone exploits them, and helps you to improve your overall security posture.

What is vulnerability scanning, exactly? It’s the process of identifying security holes (that is, vulnerabilities) within your network, information systems, and hardware; and then applying remediation actions to mitigate them. 

The remediation of common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs) may include adding a firewall, correcting a misconfiguration, patching a bug, or increasing the security of network endpoints. 

Typically the security team uses vulnerability scanning tools to facilitate this process. The threat intelligence obtained during scanning can be used by the tester and IT security teams to improve the organization’s overall security protocols and to eliminate the attack surface present in its systems.

What are the benefits of a cyber vulnerability assessment?

Vulnerability scanning and management have several benefits. The first is that threats are often in your system long before you notice the damage. You can’t mitigate those threats if you’re not aware that they exist; scanning brings threats into the light so you can address them before they cause serious harm. 

One axiom of cybersecurity is that the more proactive you are toward the threat landscape, the less reactive you need to be — and the better positioned you’ll be to avoid potential damage. Vulnerability scanning can also help you to prioritize the risks that need your immediate attention.

Another benefit: after your security vulnerabilities have been exposed and your organization has implemented new and improved security controls, penetration testing teams can then test your improvements by trying to exploit that vulnerability. Such techniques assure that your controls are up to snuff.

How does vulnerability scanning work?

Scanning often combines vulnerability assessment tools plus an element of human intervention, depending on how mature your organization’s risk management program is. However your vulnerability assessments are conducted, they should always include four main components that enable you to be as efficient and productive as possible.

Step 1: Planning

What type of scanning does your organization require? Are you scanning an operating system or web server? Are you looking for gaps in your internal network security or web application security? Where does your sensitive data live, and which systems are the highest priority? Also, who will be involved in the process, and what is everyone’s role? These are all key elements of the planning process.

Step 2: Scanning

Then it’s time to implement the vulnerability scanner, whether that happens via a human, a tool, or both. It’s important to note that there will be false positives from time to time, so enlist qualified, reputable services that can distinguish between a true threat and a false positive. 

Step 3: Analysis

After the threats have been identified, study them. Where are your vulnerabilities exactly? What is their cause, and how can you eliminate it? Multiple threats will be ranked by severity and categorized based on their system of origination. This step will guide the order in which you address threats in Step 4.

Step 4: Remediation

Begin patching flaws and eliminating any existing malware or any other unauthenticated components found during the scan. 

How often should I scan for vulnerabilities?

Remember, the management of security vulnerabilities doesn’t end with only one scan. Scanning should be repeated routinely —  ideally on a quarterly, monthly, or weekly basis, depending on what you believe is best for your organization given its level of risk. 

What are the types of vulnerability scans?

The extent of your vulnerability scans will depend on the types of information systems your company uses and where your sensitive data lives. Common types of vulnerability scans include: 

  • Network vulnerability scans
  • Application vulnerability scans
  • Host-based scans
  • Wireless router scans
  • Database scans

Conducting internal scans or external scans can have different benefits and objectives. External scans can detect vulnerabilities in your open ports or firewalls, whereas internal scans can harden your defenses to assure those defenses can withstand threats that have already penetrated the network.

Who should conduct the vulnerability scan?

You can either conduct scans in-house, or outsource the task to a third-party organization that does the vulnerability scans on your behalf.

Hiring a third party to conduct vulnerability scans may have its appeal, but your compliance requirements might dictate that you keep cybersecurity activities in-house. Whatever the case may be, it’s important that the person or people involved have an intimate understanding of your systems and the data your company uses.

For smaller companies that use tools to conduct their vulnerability scans, there are many on the market. Some popular open-source options include:

  • OpenVAS
  • OWASP 

Other leading security tools include:

  • Netsparker
  • Tenable Nessus Professional
  • Tripwire IP360

Should I use vulnerability tools or hire a management company?

The choice between using vulnerability tools or hiring a management company will depend on your budget, needs, existing IT security team, and level of risk. Some circumstances may dictate that you use both types of scanning.

Furthermore, vulnerability scans should only be one element of a robust cybersecurity and compliance management program. Vulnerability assessment, scanning, and penetration testing should all be done consistently to improve your organization’s security stance over time as the risk environment evolves. 

ZenGRC is a governance, risk management, and compliance tool with a variety of solutions to fit your needs. It can help to automate and facilitate the documentation and workflows involved in these routine tasks and eliminate the burden that comes along with following-up on outstanding tasks to ensure they’re being done. 

ZenGRC can also trace your compliance stance across multiple frameworks such as PCI DSS, HIPAA, FedRAMP, and more, in real-time, showing you where your gaps are and what’s needed to fill them, improving your overall security stance in the process.

Not only does this help compliance officers feel more effective at their jobs; it also makes organizations more efficient at the ongoing task of governance and continuous monitoring.

To see how ZenGRC can improve your cybersecurity strategies, schedule a free demo today.