Why Security Vulnerability Assessments Are Necessary

The growing menace of cybercrime has necessitated vulnerability assessments and testing. They help organizations understand their security flaws and work toward mitigating them.

To understand the immediacy of the issue, think about these statistics:

  • Hackers attack every 39 seconds, which is an average of 2244 times per day (University of Maryland).
  • 57% of companies have experienced phishing attacks (Ponemon Institute).
  • Data breaches exposed 4.1 billion records in the first half of 2019 (RiskBased).
Global spending on cybersecurity is projected to touch $133.7 billion by 2022 (Gartner).
53% of companies have over 1000 sensitive files open to every employee (Varonis).

These statistics are a testimony to the growing menace of cybersecurity threats and how individuals, businesses, and entities are increasingly at risk. To be complacent about the whole thing would mean being vulnerable to the machinations of hackers and cybercriminals. Hence, it is important to undertake vulnerability assessments on a continuous basis to protect critical data, networks, and systems. Further, with the adoption of cloud, IoT, and big data, and the stringent security requirements for compliance, organizations are soliciting vulnerability testing services.

What Is a Security Vulnerability Assessment?

A security vulnerability assessment is the process of identifying the resident vulnerabilities in your software applications, systems, databases, hardware configurations, and networks. The information gleaned through a vulnerability assessment can help IT security experts understand the threats and work toward mitigating them. The process involves prioritizing the mitigation process wherein the high-risk vulnerabilities are dealt with early. It helps an organization to move from a reactive cybersecurity approach to a proactive one and strengthens the security architecture. It reduces the chances of a hacker or cybercriminal breaching an organization’s IT infrastructure and sensitizes stakeholders to the inherent risks.

The Importance of Vulnerability Assessments and Testing

Security threats are rising, and organizations are at a greater risk than ever before. No one is completely safe from these threats, not even governments. Look at the very recent cyberattack on Australia where every level of Australian government was under attack by hackers.
If technology has enabled enterprises to achieve a host of benefits, including competitiveness, it has exposed them to the menace of cybercrime as well. To address the issue, organizations should first understand and quantify the risks confronting them and then strengthen their defenses. Security testing specialists can take the necessary measures only when they are aware of the risks to the IT environment.
The process can help enterprises in identifying gaps in their IT infrastructure. Instead of waiting for the bad guy to strike and siphon off data, they can plug the gaps in time, before anyone discovers them. A vulnerability testing method may involve carrying out simulated attacks on the application or system to identify the gaps or flaws. The security gaps may be caused by configuration issues or programming errors of the system. And should these gaps be exploited, the IT system’s integrity, confidentiality, and resource availability can be compromised.

Types of Vulnerability Assessments (VA)

There are two types of vulnerability assessments—automated testing and manual testing.
Automated VA Testing: Security vulnerabilities, such as SQL injection, path traversal, cross-site scripting, and command injection, can be discovered using automated vulnerability scanning tools. As part of dynamic application security testing, automated VA testing helps in identifying security threats, such as the presence of malicious code in the IT environment. Even though automated tools may be quick to assess vulnerabilities or are less resource intensive, they are not particularly good at detecting false positives and false negatives.
Manual VA Testing: This process involves conducting manual penetration testing. Even though this is time-consuming, it can be more effective and accurate than using VA scanning tools. The various types of manual VA testing involve testing security of an organization’s server, infrastructure, different applications, cloud-based infrastructure, and connected IoT network.

The Benefits of Vulnerability Assessments and Testing

An extensive security assessment, combined with structured testing to exploit the detected vulnerabilities, can help distinguish the true positives and true negatives from false positives and false negatives.
Vulnerability assessment and testing allow organizations to:

  • find security gaps in the IT infrastructure before cybercriminals exploit them
prepare an inventory of devices, software and hardware, and any associated vulnerabilities
prepare an inventory of devices, software and hardware, to help enterprises plan upgrades
determine the level of risk across the IT infrastructure and the potential consequences
  • conduct a risk-benefit analysis and optimize security-related costs

The Vulnerability Testing Process

The various steps involved in conducting vulnerability testing are planning and scanning, analysis, and remediation or mitigation.

Planning and Scanning: Begin by identifying the devices, systems, databases, applications, and networks that should be assessed for vulnerabilities. These should be the most critical ones for the organization. The process involves network scanning to determine hosts, port scanning to determine vulnerable protocols and services, and reviewing the directory service and DNS information to identify the hosts that are likely to be targeted in the event of a cyberattack.

Analysis: The analysis process offers insight into the causes and impact of vulnerabilities and methods of mitigation. Each vulnerability is prioritized per its risk perception, severity, and damage likely to be caused in case a hacker finds and exploits it. The analysis phase quantifies the threat and gives the security testing specialists a clear idea of the threats and their likely impact.

Remediation or Mitigation: The VA and testing process leads to providing security patches to plug the gaps and more. These include a product update, installing a security tool, or enhancing security procedures. Here, the most severe flaws are remedied first.
Organizations must up their ante when it comes to dealing with security threats. They should make vulnerability assessments a prominent and continuous activity to preempt cybercriminals from breaching their sensitive data or destabilizing their systems. A thorough vulnerability assessment helps avert serious brand damage by preemptively exposing serious vulnerabilities and aiding in timely remediation. A secure application ultimately also improves the confidence of end users.

Originally published on StickyMinds.