The Role of Vulnerability Scanning in Identifying and Mitigating Risks

Vulnerability scanning is one of the most effective strategies to reduce risk for your organization. Unpatched vulnerabilities are a significant attack vector, and many cybersecurity regulations require regular vulnerability scans to maintain a strong security infrastructure.

Vulnerability scanners use publicly available information about known vulnerabilities to search for flaws in a network or system. They identify these weaknesses and generate reports that help teams take the next step to remediate them.

Identifying Risks

Vulnerability scanning looks for weaknesses in your networks, systems, and software that hackers can exploit. These internal or external scans identify potential threats and can help guide remediation processes, including patching, updating systems, or reconfiguring software.

Authenticated vulnerability scans require a user to log in with credentials and provide a “user’s eye view” of the environment for a more comprehensive and accurate picture. On the other hand, non-credentialed vulnerability scans do not provide trusted access and can often miss vulnerabilities visible to a user on an organization’s network.

Using a combination of techniques, hackers can exploit these weaknesses to gain access and move discreetly through the network, eventually gaining sensitive data or a higher command level. Various factors, from weak passwords and IoT devices to phishing emails and social engineering, can trigger these attacks. As such, your vulnerability management solution must be integrated with a privileged account management tool to ensure these scans do not use stale credentials.

Prioritizing Mitigation

A vulnerability scanning solution must offer several essential features to deliver value and help security teams reduce risks. These include scalability to scan large networks, asset discovery to create an inventory of network devices, customizable scanning policies to reflect compliance standards and business requirements, and risk assessment and prioritization capabilities to help users make the right decisions about how to remediate vulnerabilities.

External scanners scan your IT ecosystem to identify vulnerabilities that attackers could exploit from the outside of your organization. This includes applications, ports, services, and networks exposed to the internet or other publicly accessible areas of your network that don’t require internal authorization.

Regular vulnerability scanning allows you to spot changes in your IT environment that may increase your exposure to cyberattacks. For example, implementing new servers or services, changing software versions, or enabling deprecated ciphers or protocols may leave your environment vulnerable to attacks. Regular scanning helps ensure these vulnerabilities are addressed, and your systems are secure.

Monitoring Remediation

As you implement remediation processes to close the vulnerabilities discovered in vulnerability scans, monitoring those actions is crucial to ensure they are successful. Vulnerability scanners should provide a logged summary of alerts that should be investigated, and some offer guidance for the proper repair process.

Unlike penetration testing, which provides a deeper look at the security weaknesses in an environment by directly examining them, vulnerability scanning is non-intrusive. It uses automated tools to search for flaws in your networks and systems, leaving them susceptible to exploitation by malicious cyber attackers or malware.

There are many reasons to conduct regular vulnerability assessments. Significant network changes, such as adding new devices, systems, applications, or third-party components, could introduce new vulnerabilities into your IT architecture. And with the constantly evolving nature of cyberattacks, it’s essential to test your ecosystem to identify and fix these vulnerabilities regularly. This is why it’s essential to use a vulnerability scanner with scalable scanning capabilities, customizable scanning policies, and actionable advice for remediation.

Tracking Remediation

It’s crucial to know what vulnerabilities you’re dealing with and how they’re being addressed. To do this, you need to be able to run vulnerability scans and understand what the results mean for your cybersecurity posture.

Vulnerability scanners can help you identify different systems on your network and probe them for various attributes like operating systems, software installed, open ports, user accounts, file system structures, and more. This helps you create a comprehensive inventory of your systems and gives you an idea of what cyberattackers might find when they try to breach those systems.

Internal and external vulnerability scanning are two essential types of scanning for your IT ecosystem. To get the best results, using a scanner that integrates seamlessly with your existing security platforms, produces thorough reports for analysis and compliance, offers custom checks for vendor products and compliance, and conducts continual monitoring and scans is essential. This allows you to quickly catch new devices on your network and reduce the attack surface available for exploitation by attackers.