How to Perform a Vulnerability Assessment For Network Security

Ayush Parti
August 8, 2022

A vulnerability assessment is a cyber security exercise to review new and existing threats in a system. It is a comprehensive method of identifying and classifying vulnerabilities in digital infrastructure. 

Software is written by humans and humans are bound to make mistakes sooner or later. Over time it is inevitable that a system will develop security vulnerabilities. Even though many engineering teams prioritise security, proper cyber security measures must be in place. It is important to be proactive and close any security flaws before an outside party can do so.

This is where a vulnerability assessment helps. Vulnerability assessments provide organizations with insights into their current web application security and what threats they may encounter.

Vulnerability assessments are a cornerstone of digital security. A vulnerability assessment report assigns a level of severity to identified threats and also recommends appropriate security measures. Automated testing tools are typically used for conducting vulnerability assessments.

What are the Types of Vulnerability Assessments?

There are five major types of vulnerability assessments. These tests target specific parts of vulnerability points in a network or system. Different tests also require different tools to conduct assessments. Thus, it is necessary to distinguish between them.

A few of the most important vulnerability assessments are: 

  • Wireless network scans: Wireless network scans specifically target the Wi-Fi infrastructure of an organization. They focus on points of a system, which can be accessed through the local network. The key area in a wireless network assessment test is rogue access points.
  • Besides serving as a test to uncover vulnerabilities, a wireless network scan also confirms the strength of a system's wireless network.
  • Web application scans: Web application scans test websites to detect software vulnerabilities in web applications. 
  • Database scans: Database scans are an in-depth assessment of system databases to identify vulnerabilities and potential attack points. This includes persistent cross-site scripting, SQL attacks or others. A database assessment seeks to eliminate all common vulnerabilities detected.
  • Network-based scans: Network-based scans are used to assess an entire network for potential security breaches. This type of assessment includes both wired and wireless networks. 
  • Host-based scans: Host-based assessments primarily analyse known vulnerabilities in workstations or servers. Although this type of scan usually examines areas that may also be visible to network-based assessments, there are important differences.
  • For example, it provides strong insights of patch history and configuration settings of the systems being scanned. Furthermore, it offers a high degree of insight for legacy systems.

What is the Vulnerability Assessment Process?

A vulnerability assessment is carried out in four main steps:

Identification

Before beginning a vulnerability assessment, the first step is to identify which section of a system you will scan. Is it the wireless network or the database? Perhaps the entire system needs to be analyzed? Once you have identified your scope and assets, only then can you conduct a vulnerability assessment.

vulnerability-assessment-process
Vulnerability assessments are usually carried out by cyber security professionals. 

Scanning

After the identification process, a scan of the target system takes place. Vulnerability databases are leveraged to look for potential threats and filter out false positives.

This vulnerability scan is often performed with automated tools as they are more efficient and fast. A comprehensive vulnerability assessment aims to identify threats in a company's network.

Vulnerability Analysis

Once a vulnerability assessment has been completed, a risk assessment report is made. The goal of this report is to provide a complete overview of the vulnerabilities identified. This includes a report of exploitable vulnerabilities such as:

  • Cyber threats
  • Ports susceptible to code injection attacks
  • Rogue databases
  • Suspicious packet generation
  • Stray IP addresses

And other security gaps. Depending on the system you are using, a vulnerability analysis may take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Once security testing is complete, the remediation process occurs.

Remediation

Remediation occurs once a complete vulnerability assessment has been made. In the remediation process, security analysts work with IT managers in a joint effort. Any known vulnerabilities are fixed by security teams to improve security posture.

Appropriate mitigation procedures are made to protect sensitive data. This is also known as vulnerability management. Identified vulnerabilities usually need immediate attention.

Some remediation procedures for security weaknesses are:

  1. Updated security procedures for vulnerable systems.
  2. Patch management solutions (such as automated scans) to check system health.
  3. Configuration of security controls.

The vulnerability assessment process cannot be seen as a one-and-done activity. As potential threats evolve, so does vulnerability scanning.

To ensure your systems are safe, you must conduct a vulnerability assessment regularly.

What Metrics are Used in a Vulnerability Assessment?

The impact of vulnerability testing can be measured through a few metrics. Here are some ways to quantify its effectiveness:

  • Number of Security Breaches/Success Rate of Data Breaches: How many security breaches has your business encountered? How many of them led to significant loss?
  • Mean time between failures: How often have security attacks taken place?
  • Mean time to detection What is the delay between a vulnerability emerging and its detection?
  • Mean time to resolution: After an attack has been identified, how fast does remediation occur? Is your security team able to fix problems?
  • Points of access: Usually, this refers to the number of users in a system or the number of devices. The more points of access a system contains, the more likely it is to have security weaknesses.

What is the Difference Between a Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing?

A vulnerability analysis is often confused with penetration testing. Most online resources fail to explain what the key differences are, which is why we are here!

A vulnerability assessment primarily involves vulnerability identification. A penetration test is a simulated cyber attack on a system. While both aim to identify security vulnerabilities, a pen-test tries to gain maximum access to your system.

Secondly, a vulnerability assessment is almost always carried out with automated tools. Penetration testing may be carried out using both automated and manual techniques.

Here is an analogy to illustrate this difference: penetration testing is like breaking into your own house. A vulnerability assessment is like simply checking to see if the door to your house is unlocked.

What Are the Types of Vulnerability Assessment Tools?

vulnerability-assessment-tools
Vulnerability assessment tools help you make quick and proactive decisions!

There are three main vulnerability assessment tools that scan for various security vulnerabilities. They include:

  1. Web application scanners: Tools that simulate common attacks to detect vulnerable systems.
  2. Network scanners: Tools that visualize big data systems to detect suspicious activity from IP addresses or network hosts. This type of vulnerability scanner is particularly useful for issues like spoofed packets.
  3. Protocol scanners: Tools that particularly look for vulnerabilities in infrastructure. These include critical servers, ports, or any other critical component of a system.

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We go one step beyond simply performing a vulnerability assessment– we provide detailed insights, monitor your website constantly and more!

If you'd like to know more, get in touch and we'd be glad to help. Say goodbye to all your network vulnerabilities and upgrade your web application security now!

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