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Vulnerability Scanning—How to Start Strengthening Your System (Updated)
- By ALCiT Team
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While technology such as your IT infrastructure has many potential benefits for your business, it requires meticulous management to ensure it doesn’t create risks and problems. One essential task you can’t go without is managing your network’s vulnerabilities. As part of this process, vulnerability scanning must be an important topic in your organization. Let’s guide you through its basic elements.
What is Vulnerability Scanning?
Firstly, vulnerability scanning is part of vulnerability management with the goal of improving your security posture. Scanning is the ‘before’ step, taking place ahead of any other tasks. You need to know where your vulnerabilities are before you can effectively manage them.
You can perform scanning via applications that scan all components and systems that form part of your network. These scans can be automated, routine scans of items including:
An application can list all these components and collect information, for example, the software and operating system on each device. It can even try to log in to the component and throughout it collects data and compares each item to known vulnerabilities.
Types of Vulnerability Scanning
Within vulnerability scanning you can use different types to determine a variety of possible challenges:
External vulnerability scan: To gauge whether there’s a possibility of easily entering your company’s network, a scan can be performed from outside. This can pick up issues in perimeter defenses such as your firewall. With cloud storage becoming so popular, you now have to include scanning cloud assets.
Internal vulnerability scan: This is done inside your organization and its network, with the goal of knowing how easy it is to navigate your system once someone broke into it. It also shows how vulnerable you are in the case of an insider threat such as a disgruntled employee.
Unauthenticated and authenticated vulnerability scans: Using valid credentials the application scans for misconfigurations or weak passwords. Also, if someone without credentials does access the system, how far into your system will he or she get? All users shouldn’t have automatic access to everything on that network, so a segmented network is vital to avoid vulnerabilities. A scanning app will tell you all about these potential problems.
Network vs web vulnerability scanning: Scanning network tools, websites and web apps looking for flaws.
Why is Vulnerability Scanning Important?
Vulnerability scanning shows where your network can easily be exploited. If a hacker uses this vulnerable spot to enter and abuse your network, the outcomes for a business can be disastrous. In an age where cyber crime is on the rise, scanning for possible weaknesses has become essential.
A recent example is the Log4Shell (CVE-2021-44228) (Log4j) vulnerability that was discovered in late 2021. It was officially a zero-day vulnerability since no patch was available when it was disclosed, but the biggest challenge for most companies was knowing if they were affected or not (Log4j is not often used directly, but it is a very popular module inside other applications). Vulnerability scanning systems were updated promptly by their respective vendors and could be leveraged to identify systems that were affected.
Benefits & Limitations
With vulnerability scanning in place, your business benefits in the following ways:
Stay one step ahead of cybercriminals
Saving time and money since you’re avoiding problems like your data being taken hostage
Help your company maintain data protection guidelines for legal and insurance purposes
Unfortunately, no scanning process is 100% effective, so be aware of and prepare for these limitations:
There will be false positives
Not all vulnerabilities will be identified
Vulnerability Scanning vs Penetration Testing
There are many types of security practices and often penetration testing gets confused with vulnerability testing. They’re not the same, as these differences show:
Vulnerability scanning: It will identify your network’s potential vulnerabilities.
Penetration testing: Focuses on weakness in your system’s configuration or the way it’s organized. The process includes elements like social engineering and sending phishing emails for testing purposes.
How to Get Vulnerability Scanning Right
How to Use it
Of course, scanning is only part of the process. Vulnerability scanning must form part of vulnerability management in order for its results to be useful. As part of the entire management process, you need to:
Identify vulnerabilities—scanning forms part of this step
Determine the risk of each vulnerability
Take action on the vulnerabilities
Do reporting on the action taken
During the process, you may also be overwhelmed by the magnitude of vulnerabilities you face. In that case, it’s essential to prioritize them and take care of the greatest risks first. By using triage, priority items will be determined by looking at what is exposed by the vulnerability and whether there’s another safeguard in place.
Also, know that not all vulnerabilities will require action. In a false positive scenario, a certain vulnerability may be found harmless in the grand scheme of things, since other security features are in place that alleviates the risk.
Important: regular scanning, weekly or even more often is essential and advised even by experts at the CIS (Center for Internet Security). Pair with patching for optimal results.
Not all entities’ vulnerability scanning will look the same. It’s essential to modify it to your context, otherwise, you run additional risks:
You can negatively impact system operations if you do aggressive scanning on a very weak system
Issues with bandwidth
Destabilizing a system
Limiting the system’s performance
Inefficient scanning if it’s not done while all systems and devices are connected to the network
If you’re worried about the safety of your network, vulnerability scanning is the first and very necessary step to securing your system. Just remember it must form part of an ongoing vulnerability management process. You can find more guidance in our Cybersecurity 101.
Scan from both inside and outside your network so you know your weaknesses and can take action before hackers and other criminals do. The benefit is that in the process you’re helping your organization become compliant and align with regulations.
Need a vulnerability scanning plan that’s relevant to your unique business? We can Help