What Is Vulnerability Scanning?

J.R. Hernandez
Security Services Manager

On average, about 1,800 new vulnerabilities are detected in internal and external networks after every few months. Attackers always look for these gaps to exploit, especially in web-enabled systems.

Even worse, threat actors are getting better at weaponizing different tools and kits to make their remote attacks easier with each passing day. Therefore, it's essential for organizations to consistently identify and address security issues in their systems to minimize organizational risk.

The best way for companies to have better control of vulnerabilities in their environments is through vulnerability scanning. What is vulnerability scanning, you ask? In this post, we explain what vulnerability scanning is, its importance, and how to do it the right way.

What Vulnerability Scanning Is and Isn't

Vulnerability scanning is an automated process that proactively identifies application, network, and security weaknesses. Also known as the "vuln scan," security teams typically perform this process as part of an organization's vulnerability management program to help protect sensitive data and prevent breaches.

Still, vulnerability scanning isn't the same as penetration testing. Vulnerability scanning is an automated process that locates points of entry into a network that attackers might explore, while penetration testing involves an actual person manually testing a network's complexities.

Also, vulnerability scanning involves much more than just identifying security weaknesses in systems and networks. The process helps organization's to locate the actual root causes for their security weaknesses and suggest remedies or changes for the vulnerabilities.

Scanning tools also helps test if the security countermeasures will be effective in case of a threat or attack. As a result, companies can minimize or avoid potential threats even before they occur.

Types of Vulnerability Scanning

Vulnerability scanning tests vary depending on where they are applied. The different types of vulnerability scanners include:

  • Internal Scanning:  An internal vulnerability scan looks at the internal network infrastructures to help determine where an organization's internal attacks are coming from, whether from unhappy or rogue employees, or other threat actors that have penetrated an organization's network.
  • External Scanning:  External scans focuses on the external threats to an organization's internal network, from its firewalls to web apps and internal applications. It also helps detect vulnerabilities to data ports, especially the underutilized and open ports, plus other network elements.
  • Source Code Scanning: This vulnerability scanner regularly examining software to help identify potential anomalies in source codes that attackers may exploit.
  • Web Application Scanning: Web application scanners scan web applications and analyze files and entire web servers to identify software weaknesses that attackers may exploit to gain illegal access.
  • Network Scanning: Network scanners conduct limited pen testing to identify vulnerabilities in a network and exploit the weaknesses to spot the areas of attack. They also work with port scanners to detect questionable and weak passwords. All this is done without disrupting system functions and network devices.
  • Cloud Vulnerability Scanning: Cloud scanning evaluates an organization's potential anomalies in the cloud-based environment. These range from problems with authentication and access control to conflicts with cloud users and incorrect cloud setting configurations.

Benefits of Vulnerability Scanning

Vulnerability scanning provides several benefits to an organization's vulnerability management program and its overall bottom line. These include:

  • Spots Weaknesses before Attackers: Vulnerability scanning tools do a thorough scan of open ports, cloud, networks, and other systems to find the same vulnerabilities attackers exploit and address them before they utilize them. As such, organizations can stay one step ahead of cybercriminals.
  • Boots Operational Efficiency: Automatically scanning an organization's network and system vulnerabilities frees security teams from doing the same work manually. That allows them to focus on applying remedies or fixes to the identified vulnerabilities.
  • Saves Money: Automated vulnerability scanning tools help prevent data breaches that cost organizations a lot of money in terms of applying remedies and fighting court cases. The process also ensures companies can provide vulnerability scan report to their cyber insurance as proof of compensation after an attack.
  • Helps Keep Pace with Ever-Changing Security Standards: Vulnerability scanning helps organizations stay updated on new attack vectors and vulnerabilities attackers may exploit to gain unauthorized access. This way, companies can constantly change strategies and configurations to maintain the integrity of their networks.
  • Maintains Data Protection Compliancy Requirements: Vulnerability scanning helps credit card companies stay compliant with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. It also helps companies not obligated to have vulnerability scanning to meet the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and ISO bare minimum security measures for protecting personal data.
  • Maintains Goods Reputation: Regular vulnerability scans help organizations, stakeholders, and partners prevent scandalous scenarios and maintain a good rapport with customers as one of the most secure companies in the market.

What to Expect from Vulnerability Scanning

Vulnerability scanning can help organizations strengthen their security. If you've been considering a vulnerability scan to identify potential vulnerabilities in your organization's network devices, have the following in mind:

What Do You Need to Get Started with Vulnerability Scanning?

A vulnerability scan aims to identify vulnerabilities within applications, web servers, software, and other systems in an organization. However, before getting started with vulnerability scanning, there are essential elements to have. These include:

  • A defined scope - Before doing an internal or external scan, know what you want to scan in the first place to avoid overlooking essential aspects in a network that need scanning and get a scanner that provides exactly what you need.
  • Managed assets – Your organization should have a database of networks and systems managed by an IT department, plus a list of all digital assets under the business, like consumer data, for easier implementation of remedies.
  • Scoping strategies – Once you know your assets, you should have a system to prioritize assets to scan based on exposure, sensitivity, and overall security needs.

How Is Vulnerability Scanning Done?

Vulnerability scanning is done using specialized software. Basically, the software does an internal and external vulnerability scan of assets within a scope of engagement or network.

To identify potential security vulnerabilities, the specialized software uses databases with recognized anomalies, such as the common vulnerability and exposure (CVE) database of publicly disclosed threats.

This database helps them compare known bugs, flaws, default configurations, packet construction anomalies, and other potential paths of exploitation with those in an organization's network.

After the vulnerability scanning tools check for potential weaknesses in a network, it generates a vulnerability scan report. With this report, organizations can identify the potential paths that attackers can exploit and improve security measures to block them.

To further strengthen their security posture, organizations can also leverage tools such as Network Performance Monitoring (NPM) to monitor and manage their network performance. This article explains the key features, types, metrics, use cases, and best practices of NPM in detail.

What to Look for In a Vulnerability Scan Report?

A vulnerability scan report is divided into three crucial parts – the executive summary, vulnerability, and scanning details. The executive summary summarizes the vulnerabilities detected, their CVSS scores, and their potential impact on an organization.

On the other hand, the vulnerability section explains the technical details of various vulnerabilities detected and possible remediation solutions for a security team to apply or implement.

Lastly, the scanning details list all of the tests done, their categories, and the method they were done, whether manual or automated. This information can be useful for determining the validity of a vulnerability scan.

Vulnerability Scanning Best Practices

After a vulnerability scan, there are several best practices to apply to ensure networks and systems remain safe throughout. These are:

  • Assign a risk rating – give a risk rating to every vulnerability detected on the vulnerability scan report (if it's not already done) to help you with the remediation process.
  • Establish a Remediation process – design a remediation process where the high-risk vulnerabilities are first remedied to seal significant gaps in your network, followed by the medium and low-risk vulnerabilities.
  • Prioritize assets – once you've established a remediation process, prioritize the assents to scan, starting from production assets and going down the list.
  • Test frequently – consistently tests the remedies you put in place successfully by rerunning quick scans of the remediation to ensure they are effective. This is especially important if you made significant changes or remedies to your systems based on an earlier scan.
  • Keep all vulnerability scan reports – keep documents of all scans done for security teams to track trends and recurrences, which often signal susceptible systems.

Evolve Security's Vulnerability Scanning Service

With the increasing threat of cyber attacks, internal and external vulnerability scanning is fundamental for maximum protection. Therefore, companies must include vulnerability scanning as part of their vulnerability management program. It helps protect networks from internal and external attacks, boost operational efficiency, save money, and maintain its good reputation.

At Evolve Security, we have experienced security professionals who constantly look for the best vulnerability scanners to ensure our scanners serve different clients' security needs, including industries with compliance and service or system requirements.

We also provide a thorough analysis of vulnerabilities plus remediation and mitigation solutions. Our team continuously updates the Darwin Attack® platform to ensure clients have the most recent information, including evolving compliance requirements, to maximize chances of applying the fixes proactively with time. Book a strategy call with us to get started with vulnerability scanning.

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