What is Vulnerability Assessment
It is an excellent method to highlight the inherent weaknesses and security gaps within the systems, applications and networks. Vulnerability assessment tools include web vulnerability scanners, network scanning computer code, protocol scanners, assessment computer code, manual pen-testing, etc.
Vulnerability assessment involves:
- Scanning the application and its various elements.
- Proactive identification of vulnerabilities.
- Assessing the nature and potential magnitude of an exploit of each vulnerability.
Scanning is followed by testing to simulate attacks and understand how an attacker may exploit vulnerabilities. Based on the findings, the security/ IT/ development team will prioritize important vulnerabilities and focus on fixing them while placing a security resolution to secure the remainder of the vulnerabilities until they are fixed.
Why is Vulnerability Assessment Important?
Vulnerability assessment is important because it provides you with information about the security weaknesses in your environment and provides direction on how to remediate or mitigate the issues before they can be exploited.
This method provides a more robust understanding of your IT infrastructure, security flaws and overall risk, which greatly improves information security and application security standards while reducing the chance that attackers will gain unauthorized access to your organization.
Types of Vulnerability Assessments
There are several types of vulnerability assessment:
Network-based assessment is used to identify potential network security problems and detect vulnerable systems on wired and wireless networks.
Host-based assessment: Used to locate and identify server vulnerabilities, workstations, and different network hosts. This scan usually examines open ports and services and can provide visibility into scanned systems’ configuration settings and patch management.
Wireless network assessment: Used to scan Wi-Fi networks and attack vectors within the wireless network infrastructure. It can validate your company’s network is securely configured to forestall unauthorized access and can additionally identify rogue access points.
Application assessment: The identification of security vulnerabilities in internet applications and their source code by using automatic vulnerability scanning tools on the front-end or static/dynamic source code analysis.
- The assessment of databases or data systems for vulnerabilities and misconfiguration.
- Identifying rogue databases or insecure dev/test environments.
- Classifying sensitive data to boost information security.
How to Conduct a Vulnerability Assessment?
A typical vulnerability test has five steps in which the team inspects the system, assesses the risks, and makes recommendations for improvements.
This step is the planning stage. The team decides the scope and, therefore, the goal of the upcoming test. Once the setup is prepared, the testers examine the hardware and software system within the test environment. The team performs the subsequent tasks:
- Identify all subject assets and important devices.
- Define the value, access controls, and capabilities of all subject systems.
- Establish where sensitive information resides, and the way information moves between systems.
- Make a list of all the services, processes, and open ports on the device in question.
- Map all endpoints.
- Inspect operating systems (OS).
- Get to know risk mitigation practices and policies for every setting.
This step’s information helps the team develop attack eventualities and build a sound remediation strategy. The testing team typically makes a central document to structure the process throughout this step.
Vulnerability Assessment Testing
The team starts running scans on subject devices and environments. Analysts use both automated and manual tools to test the security health of systems. Teams rely on the following assets for flaw identification:
- Vulnerability databases
- Vendor vulnerability announcements
- Asset management systems
- Threat intelligence
- Network security audits
Testers need to identify the root cause of each vulnerability they discover. Determining the flaw’s root cause allows testers to understand the vulnerability’s scope and the best methodology to fix the problem.
Prioritize System Flaws
The team prioritizes defects per the threat level. Most testers verify risk by allocating a severity score. Some factors that impact the score are:
- The consequences of a possible attack
- How simple it is to exploit the weakness
- The age of the difficulty
- Whether the flaw could be a common downside or a rarity
- The room for lateral movement
- The business functions and sensitive information or data at risk
- Patch availability
- Whether the fault could be a matter of knowledge
The team should ensure to separate false positives throughout this step. A false positive occurs when a scanning tool incorrectly flags a security defect that results in unnecessary remediation work.
Create a Vulnerability Assessment Report
Testers compile an analysis report that outlines the uncovered flaws and instructs how to fix the problems. While minor issues do not require an in-depth rationalization, a tester should provide the subsequent information for each medium-to-high risk weakness:
- The name of vulnerability
- The date of discovery
- The method by which the team found out about the threat
- A detailed description of the flaw
- Details related to the affected systems
- The amount of damage an attacker could do if they exploited the flaw.
- Instructions on how to correct the vulnerability
Quantifying the threat provides a clear sense of the extent of urgency behind every flaw. The team should also provide a Proof of Concept (POC) for each vulnerability.
Implement Changes per the Report
The information from the report is used by the company to close security gaps in its IT systems. Changes are frequently implemented in collaboration with security, development, and operations teams.
The risk ranking allows the company to prioritize the remediation method and handle critical threats first. Ignoring low-risk flaws is common as some threats have a little impact, and fixing them isn’t well worth the value or the mandatory period.
The most common remediation actions are:
- Introduction of new procedures and measures
- Installation of recent security tools
- Software updates
- Custom patches
- Addition of zero-trust security
- Operational and configuration changes
- Network segmentation
- Firewall updates.
- Improvements to the cyber kill chain.
Depending on the arrangement, the employed team that ran the vulnerability test can participate in this step.
If the team makes important changes to the system, a subsequent test is highly recommended. If the team adds minor updates, the next regular round of testing can evaluate the improved system’s health.
What Can Potential Threats Be Prevented by Vulnerability Assessment?
Examples of cyber attacks that can be prevented by vulnerability assessment include:
Privilege escalation attacks
Privilege escalation exploits a programming error, vulnerability, design flaw, configuration oversight or access control in a software system or application to gain unauthorized access to resources that are restricted from the application or user.
SQL injection attacks happen when invalid or untrusted information is sent to a code interpreter through form input or another data submission field in a web application. Injection attacks can result in information leaks, data corruption, data breaches, loss of accountability, and denial of access.
Cross-site scripting (XSS) is a variety of security vulnerabilities usually found in internet applications. XSS allows attackers to inject client-side scripts into websites and web pages viewed by different users and may be accustomed to bypassing access control, like the same-origin policy. The impact of XSS will vary from a small nuisance to a vital cyber security risk, depending on the sensitive data handled by the vulnerable website and, therefore, the nature of any mitigations enforced.
It is common for software and hardware to ship with insecure settings, like simply guessable passwords, to make boarding easier. While this is often sensible from a usability perspective, many of us leave these default configurations intact, which can leave them exposed.
What are the Different Types of Vulnerability Assessment Tools?
Vulnerability assessment tools are designed to automatically scan your IT infrastructure for new and existing threats. The following are examples of tools:
- Web application scanners that plan the attack surface and simulate known attack vectors
- Protocol scanners that search for vulnerable protocols, ports, and different services
- Network scanners that help visualize networks and find out network vulnerabilities like stray IP addresses, spoofed packets, and a suspicious packet generation
Its best practice to schedule regular, automatic scans of all infrastructures and use the results as a part of your current vulnerability assessment process.
Vulnerability Assessments vs. Penetration Testing
Both vulnerability analysis and penetration testing detect weaknesses within an IT system and improve the overall security posture. A penetration test also includes a vulnerability scan by default.
However, there is a distinction between the two testing processes. A vulnerability scan aims to find and fix system flaws, whereas a pen test involves actual attempts to exploit flaws. Pen testers (also known as ethical hackers) try to hack a system by simulating a real cyber attack in a controlled environment. The objective is to demonstrate that:
- A system has a vulnerability that can be exploited.
- An attacker can use the vulnerability to damage the system.
- Small-scale pen tests can be included in vulnerability scans. Penetration testing tools are used by analysts to detect specific flaws that are undetectable by standard network or system scans.