Vulnerability assessment services need to include more than just a periodic scan and a list of vulnerabilities. A successful program starts with technical tools and expertise, but it doesn’t end there. A vulnerability assessment also requires a risk-based approach. Scan results are one thing, but getting from there to actionable advice requires security experts who not only know how to gather that data but also interpret it and contextualize it in a way that helps your business prioritize remediation activities and secure sensitive data.
When choosing a vulnerability assessment solution for your organization, asking the right questions now can help you build the foundation for data security success in the future. Here’s how.
Every business needs a vulnerability assessment program, both to prevent data breaches and to form the foundation of a strong security program.
Vulnerability assessment helps prevent costly compromises.
According to the 2020 IBM Cost of a Data Breach report, the average data breach costs a business $3.86 million. Having a strong vulnerability assessment program helps you identify and fix vulnerable systems and services, as well as strengthen your defenses before attackers get in.
After all, every system matters. A single unpatched endpoint can give malware a foothold if an employee navigates to a malicious site or clicks a link in a malicious email. A single unpatched web server can give an attacker a foothold if they find an issue in a web application, and that can lead to expensive breaches. While you’ve got your entire business to secure, an attacker needs only to find one weak point. A strong vulnerability assessment program can help you root out those weak points first.
But, the need for a vulnerability assessment system goes beyond just the tactical aspect of finding those individual weak points. Vulnerability assessment also serves a strategic purpose. It helps your business build the backbone of a successful security program and a strong reputation.
A successful vulnerability assessment program gives you the visibility you need to better plan and focus other security initiatives like penetration testing. A mature vulnerability assessment program helps strengthen your foundation for reaching compliance goals. Vulnerability assessments can also help build trust with clients.
The foundation of knowing your vulnerability posture is knowing the systems and services on the network. This is not just a one-shot activity at the beginning of a vulnerability assessment program, but an ongoing aspect. After all, networks change. They can change as a result of planned adoption of new technologies, but also as a result of employees or malicious actors installing rogue devices or software.
The next step from asset identification is the identification of vulnerabilities on the network. A successful vulnerability assessment should attempt to find the full range of vulnerabilities that attackers could use to access systems and data on the network. Categories of vulnerabilities to be identified include:
Host-level vulnerabilities: assessment of operating systems, software, and services on servers and endpoints.
Network-level vulnerabilities: assessment of internal and external network design, configuration, policies, and implementation to ensure that network resources are properly assigned and segmented.
Web application vulnerabilities: assessment of web applications to find out whether common web application issues allow attackers to gain unauthorized access to parts of the web application, data stored behind the web application, or machines supporting the web application.
Database vulnerabilities: insecurely configured databases that allow attackers to access sensitive data as a result of weak authentication or poor patching.
However, an actionable vulnerability assessment does not stop with the identification of vulnerabilities. A list of vulnerabilities means little if they are not prioritized by their exploitability and their actual risk. And, even if a scanning tool comes up with a default severity level for a vulnerability, that level may not align with the actual risk to the business, based on their infrastructure design or relative value of data on different networks.
In summation, a vulnerability assessment program needs to provide context. It needs to put identified vulnerabilities in context of what data and resources the vulnerability threatens, in order to help your business make educated decisions about which issues pose the most urgent threats.
Vulnerability assessment solutions can include a program run by security experts on staff, or can be spearheaded by experts you bring in to run a vulnerability assessment program. No matter which model fits your business, however, certain classes of tools are common in a vulnerability assessment program. Those common tools include:
Network-based vulnerability scanners that inventory devices and network services
Web application vulnerability scanners that identify common web application vulnerabilities
Database scanners that identify databases with missing patches or weakly configured security settings
Host-based agents that can scan and assist with remediation on endpoints
Expertise makes the difference when executing a vulnerability scanning program. After all, the point of vulnerability assessment is to provide real context around risk. Many people can run a scan, but vulnerability assessment success requires not only the right tools but also the ability to learn about your business, prioritize findings, and help you make decisions about remediation and security program investment.
Some businesses choose to implement their own vulnerability scanning solution. The advantage is that there are people who work for your company who are already familiar with the network and priorities of your business. However, it is not as simple as just having people who know the network. Running an in-house vulnerability assessment also requires staff with deep security expertise already, or requires going through the process of hiring staff that knows enough about security to implement internal vulnerability assessment, make sense of the results, and prioritize it in the context of your business.
There is also the issue of looking at the network like an attacker trying to find vulnerabilities would. Even if there are people on staff who already have some security expertise, if they have been working with your business and its infrastructure already they may not be coming at it with fresh eyes. Often, when identifying vulnerabilities and suggesting how to remediate them, it can help to bring in broader context around how different businesses have solved similar problems, instead of an outlook that the way things are already being done is somehow required or inherently correct.
Working with a partner to provide vulnerability assessment services makes sense for many businesses, since most are not large enough to have all of the right expertise on staff, and that expertise is difficult to find and hire. A vulnerability assessment partner can work in concert with infrastructure and security staff, as well. They can bring both security expertise and fresh eyes to the problem, and they can work with existing staff to learn about the business and the infrastructure and help make sure that the severity and priority ratings of identified vulnerabilities make sense in the business context.
However, before selecting a partner, make sure to ask them the right questions, both to verify their expertise and ensure that their processes and deliverables align with your goals.
Choosing the right vulnerability assessment partner for your business requires asking the right questions.
Part of that process requires learning about their technical skills and methods. Make sure they can explain their methodologies clearly, and if there are compliance drivers for the vulnerability assessment program, that they can explain how their approach aligns with those compliance needs. But, just because a company has top-of-the-line technical tools or even staff that has years of experience with those tools, does not mean they are the right partner.
Their approach to vulnerability assessment also matters. Ask these questions to find out more about that, and learn whether a vulnerability assessment service will help you reach your security goals.
How well do they get to know your business, both in terms of its technical environment and its security plans and goals?
Do they tailor their vulnerability assessment services to your environment and your business goals?
Do they provide actionable reporting of results, focused on helping your business prioritize remediation activities and protect sensitive data?
Only with the right combination of technical expertise and attention to your own business goals will a vulnerability assessment partner be the right fit.
If you are serious about building a strong vulnerability management program, it is time to get to know Defensible. Defensible’s cyber security services help businesses assess the effectiveness of their controls, and know their real risk. Our vulnerability assessment experts deliver actionable value by focusing on risk. Our ultimate goal is to work with you to secure the information, trade secrets, intellectual property, and confidential communications that matter to your business.
To learn more about Defensible’s vulnerability assessment services, contact us today.