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Vulnerability assessment

Why is a vulnerability assessment so important? writes cyber services company SRM Solutions.

Regardless of the industry your business operates in, the importance of cybersecurity is increasing every year. While there are often many layers to a cybersecurity program, this still doesn’t make us invincible.

A good starting point for any business wanting to improve its cybersecurity is to conduct a vulnerability assessment on all of the computers and networks in use. These assessments have the added benefit of being easy to organise because they run automatically. They can, therefore, be scheduled to take place at specific times or on specific days each month. Organising a vulnerability assessment every three months can easily be arranged and should provide a comprehensive report on the security of your assets throughout the year.

The importance of a vulnerability assessment is that it highlights the issues and subsequently recommends patches to your system. While it does not fix the issues and identifies those only known to a database, a vulnerability assessment can be a sure-fire way of calculating the risk vs reward when it comes to creating a proactive cybersecurity strategy.

Running an assessment is straightforward; you simply need to enter the details of your infrastructure to the automated tool of choice and let the assessment take place. As such, the staff hours and cost involved are comparatively low to other forms of penetration testing.

Once finished, a vulnerability assessment can be analysed by cybersecurity professionals, either in-house or via a trusted third party. A plan of action can then be generated to show which areas need the most work and which can be quickly improved.

Another useful benefit of a vulnerability assessment is that an inventory of all devices can be produced. Having a regularly updated list of all devices and information about them is helpful from a business viewpoint when planning any upgrades for devices and also aides in keeping your business continuity plan up to date. Making sure the vulnerability assessment provider you choose has the most up-to-date software and database of issues is vital. Without a regularly updated database to draw from a severe false sense of security could be produced and major new issues missed.

Vulnerability assessments may provide part of the story, but they do not provide a complete picture. By their very nature, they cannot understand or anticipate the complex ingenuity of sophisticated human hackers. It simply shows you where your weaknesses may be.

A manual penetration test on the other hand, simulates a hacker attempting to get into a system through the exploitation of vulnerabilities, which is why the process is sometimes referred to as ‘ethical hacking’. But unless properly scoped by experienced professionals, a penetration test is limited in the sense that it cannot think for itself. This is where the value of ‘scoping’ comes in.

A correctly scoped penetration test utilises the most important tool in the penetration test armoury: the human mind. A manual penetration tester will often start out with a similar set of tools, including the use of a vulnerability assessment but this is where the penetration test deviates and begins to delve much deeper in the security of a network, applications and the underlying operating systems.

While it may seem that running vulnerability assessments and fixing the highlighted issues are just papering over the cracks, it is also worth remembering that hackers will be using vulnerability scans on your systems to find their weaknesses. If therefore, you identify the same issue and fix it before a hacker can exploit it, the vulnerability assessment has proved its worth.


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