Vulnerability Scanning, Vulnerability Assessments, and Vulnerability Management: What You Need to Know

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As cybersecurity threats rise, the stakes get higher for businesses worried about continuity, reputation, profitability, and the protection of customer data. There are many layers to a good cybersecurity strategy, but identifying vulnerabilities and shoring them up before an incident occurs is far preferable to reacting to an attack. This article looks at vulnerability scanning, vulnerability assessments, and the bigger picture of vulnerability management to help explain the different approaches.

What is Vulnerability Scanning?

Vulnerability scanning is the automated detection of potential flaws, breaches, and vulnerabilities that might become threats. The process uses tools to analyze network ports and communication equipment to look for any broken authentication, cross-site scripting, security misconfiguration, or password breaches—essentially, weaknesses malicious actors can exploit for an attack.

Vulnerability scanners like Acunetix, Burp Suite, and Nexpose look for potential threats by comparing the “target” against a list of known vulnerabilities, called the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) database. Most of these tools collect real-time data to generate a Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) rating and risk assessment for present vulnerabilities.

Security teams can use the results to take proactive approaches, including patching vulnerabilities, conducting ad-hoc security audits, or fixing misconfigurations.

Types of Vulnerability Scanning

Vulnerability scanning comes in different shapes, sizes, and approaches depending on an organization’s needs, and capabilities. Here are some common types of vulnerability scanning that teams can use to thwart cyber attacks:

Bug Bounty Programs

In a bug bounty program, white-hat or “ethical” hackers are invited to try to attack a system as a means of exposing its weaknesses and reporting security vulnerabilities in return for academic or monetary incentives. These programs are often ongoing initiatives and involve continuous testing and continuous improvement.

These programs run widely across tech companies. For example, Mozilla pays a flat fee of $3,000 for detecting system-critical vulnerabilities, while Microsoft pays $20,000 for flaws detected in Xbox and live networks, and up to $60,000 for Azure cloud-related bugs.

External Scans

External scans use software to detect potential vulnerabilities in external infrastructure and public-facing systems. These are particularly useful to help a business understand and prevent direct launch attacks or attacks that exploit confidentiality breaches, open ports, or unauthorized access.

Internal Scans

Internal scans assess the security capabilities of a business’s internal networks, databases, servers, and system devices. Internal scans are especially important as they cross-check scans performed during external audits. A good combination of regular internal and external scans can help teams to ramp up cyber initiatives against rising attacks.

App-Based Scans

App-based scans look for weaknesses in such operational assets as source code, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and web servers. App-based scans help organizations in shielding input validation, coding practices, and authentication mechanisms from exploitation. Widely used app-based scanning tools include Drozer and AppScan.

Continuous Scans

Continuous scanning tools like Nessus and Qualys run automatic, periodic scans every quarter to check for security threats. These scans have an edge over others as they detect vulnerabilities at the source point itself, improving compliance and risk management.

See more: Vulnerability scanning trends

Once these vulnerabilities are well identified, the next step is to prioritize flaws and bugs that need urgent attention—a process known as vulnerability assessment.

What is a Vulnerability Assessment?

A vulnerability assessment offers actionable insights into security threats and ways to prioritize the most critical vulnerabilities. Organizations carry out vulnerability assessments using automated scanners, manual system configuration, and network and penetration testing. Once security teams have enough data on unhinged flaws, the next step is to create assessment reports and mitigation strategies.

Vulnerability assessment is an important step in reducing the vulnerability of an organization and eliminating openings for hackers to exploit. Tools like Nessus and OpenVAS provide customized reports, continuous monitoring, and periodic scans.

Types of Vulnerability Assessments

Here are some of the most common types of vulnerability assessments used in enterprise technology. 

Network Vulnerability Assessment

A network-based assessment audits and reviews network endpoints, switches, firewalls, and routers to detect and fix vulnerabilities. It helps detect vulnerabilities created by weak passwords, open ports, and unpatched software.

Web Application Vulnerability Assessment

A web application vulnerability assessment scrutinizes web applications for insecure session management, input validation flaws, and opportunities for SQL injection. These scans probe for vulnerabilities using such techniques as crawling and spidering, and analyze common content for weaknesses.

Wireless Network Vulnerability Assessment

A wireless network assessment looks at weak encryption, configuration issues, and unauthorized access points that might snowball into full-fledged cyber hacks.

Social Engineering Vulnerability Assessment

Social engineering looks into the risk of human-centric vulnerabilities—essentially, opportunities for a worker to be tricked into providing data or access to systems. The assessment helps respond to incidents caused by phishing, vishing, or physical manipulation.

Host Vulnerability Assessment

A host vulnerability assessment probes individual hosts, workstations, and critical servers for security anomalies. Most host-based tools also cover cloud support for individual accounts and uninstalled operating system (OS) version updates.

A good security strategy involves more than just running periodic scans. It also means managing and mitigating security flaws regularly to prevent hacker attempts to exploit them.

What Is Vulnerability Management?

Vulnerability management helps security teams to be a step ahead of black hat or malicious hackers by ensuring continuity in threat perception, analysis, detection, and management. A vulnerability management program begins with simple scans and involves creating customized reports, tracking issues, and performing root-cause analysis.

Vulnerability Management Steps

A robust vulnerability management program covers the total lifespan of a security flaw from detection to reporting and remediating a vulnerability. Most security teams have a customized management regime, but these are some common steps those routines should include.

Asset Inventory 

An asset inventory means creating a directory of a business’s assets—OS, software, hardware, network systems, and applied patches, for example—and performing a periodic risk analysis to figure out which of those assets are at higher risk.

Risk Assessment and Vulnerability Prioritization

The highest risk assets are identified and prioritized for remediation. Each flaw is assigned a unique value to calculate exposure of assets individually and as part of the whole. They are then grouped by criticality and risk ratings and a mitigation plan is created to address them. The crucial step that most teams miss is to use threat intelligence so the collated data is context-rich and provides 360 degree visibility into the entire threat surface.

Reporting

Reporting allows a business to track progress on the overall strategy. By creating metrics to reassess progress and documenting measures once they are implemented, the organization can ensure it is taking the right steps to protect itself. Continuous monitoring and security scans are common in this stage.

Remediation and Verification

In this stage, the security plan for critical assets is executed. This might mean updating key equipment, applying patches, and reconfiguring security keys. Once all available remedies are executed, a long term plan should be created to periodically detect and eliminate security flaws on an ongoing basis.

Bottom Line: Vulnerability Scanning, Vulnerability Assessment, and Vulnerability Management

A cyberattack on a business occurs every 39 seconds, and the average data breach can cost a business up to $3.8 million in losses. Organizations that do not prioritize vulnerability management can make themselves into easy targets, putting their business continuity, profitability, reputation, and client data at risk. Businesses of all sizes should take a security-first approach to their infrastructure. Vulnerability scanning, vulnerability assessment, and vulnerability management are all critical parts of this approach.

Avya Chaudhary
Avya Chaudhary
Avya Chaudhary is a contributor to Enterprise Storage Forum and Datamation. Previously she was an engineer with a history of experience working with NGOs and civil societies.
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