What is a Vulnerability Assessment?
Vulnerability Assessment (VA) or Vulnerability Testing is the process of assessing risks to the security of organisational hardware, network, software, and data systems to mitigate threats. The objective of VA is to maximise the efforts & difficulty for intruders and hackers to access internal systems and applications in an unauthorised manner.
In the process VA, security experts locate and report system-wide vulnerabilities covering all aspects of the organisation. This offers a way to detect and quickly resolve security issues that make your organisation vulnerable to cyber-attacks before someone can exploit them.
Operating systems, application software, database systems, public and private networks, and open wireless access points are all scanned to find any loopholes or vulnerabilities. The problems can range from problematic access policies to inappropriate software design, insecure authentication processes to grant access to secure sections, and so on.
- Granting access to secure sections to unauthorised personnel due to lax authentication mechanisms.
- Frequent escalation of problems like blocking out of authorised users by the system.
- Accessing a secure company database over an insecure public network.
Why is Vulnerability Assessment critical?
The primary objectives of VA are to:
- identify any systemic vulnerabilities.
- Document and report them, and
- provide solutions to resolve such vulnerabilities.
If your systems are vulnerable and fail to identify and fix them timely, you can face too many financial, business, and even legal troubles. Sample some of them:
- Data breaching resulting in leakage of confidential client & employee data and business secrets on the dark
- With leaked data, it is easy for criminals to steal the identities of people affected.
- Copies of malicious code on your machines can wreak havoc – making them cyber zombies or locking you out entirely and demanding ransom from you.
- Your business secrets can fall into the hands of your rivals, exposing you completely.
- The public affected parties and government can sue you for damages that can ruin your financial health.
- The trust that you earned over decades will evaporate in a matter of seconds, and everyone will start avoiding you.
Types of vulnerability scans
Scanning software is installed on the host machines – web servers, network servers, router, workstations, etc. – to locate and identify vulnerabilities in them. Their configurations, settings, firewalls, anti-malware software, etc., are checked against known threats.
A network monitor will capture all traffic coming in or leaving the network, including all the network devices – routers, modems, hubs, intelligent switches, etc. Security experts can identify possible network security loopholes with a network scan like open directories, open ports, lax policies, unmanaged services, and unauthorised accesses.
Wireless scans are required for wireless communication devices such as smartphones, WiFi access points, Bluetooth devices to identify any rogue device and contain the threat from it.
A single database server stores the organisation’s complete data and can prove to be the single point of failure. The scanning database systems for vulnerabilities include improper configurations, unnecessary users with access, rogue tables and stored procedures, unaccounted for connections, and the practice of storing confidential data in plain text. It can also help prevent SQL Injections attacks.
Desktop and web applications, web services, and mobile apps have complex interfacing with each other, and they also frequently use third-party APIs. An application scan can reveal security vulnerabilities in any of them, their source code, settings, or run-time behaviour.
When to undertake Vulnerability Assessment?
Vulnerability Assessment is a continuous process because the environment in which systems operate continually evolve. Therefore, if the systems are continuously under the threat of cyber-attacks or malware, one must keep up their guard and regularly check the perimeter.
DigiAlert Technologies strongly suggest that you must undertake a VA exercise once a year at an organisational level. If there has been a significant change in the systems and configurations during the year – addition of new server, shifting of their location, acquisition of another business, etc. – then another supplementary VA can be carried out.
For individuals, a periodic VA every six months is necessary involving all the devices where they access the Internet – their smartphones and tablets, home and office PC, laptops, home and office Internet routers/modems, and removable devices.
Who needs a Vulnerability Assessment?
Every organisation – private or public, minor, or large, or local or multinational – and every person who has an iota of digital presence needs Vulnerability Assessment. If you see anyone using their smartphone, email, WhatsApp, or another messenger service, pay using mobile wallets, eCommerce, online music, or videos, then they all are vulnerable.
Similarly, all organisations need Internet access – periodically or continually – to file tax returns, make bank payments, access the corporate dashboard, check inventory status, or virtually meet stakeholders.
How to carry out a Vulnerability Assessment?
A certified security expert at DigiAlert Technologies can carry out VA in the following five steps. Remember, on paper, these steps may seem simple but require thorough training and expertise.
- Define goals & objectives of the proposed Vulnerability Assessment.
- Vulnerability Detection and reporting with the help of specialised tools called scanners.
- Define the scope – what to test and what is off-limits. VA usually has the following three areas: