What Is A Vulnerability Assessment In The Field of IT?


In the present world, as the dependency of businesses on Information Technologies like cloud, IoT, mobile and social is increasing, the risks of cyber attacks are also increasing simultaneously. So, it is necessary for the systems to go through regular vulnerability checkups, to discover the weaknesses and get them fixed before they are exploited to harm your business.

Most of the cyber-attacks are on the vulnerabilities that are already known by the businesses and the new ones are continuously getting added to this list. So they should empower their system to withstand the known ones, along with that finding the unknown also to strengthen the defence mechanism.

So to identify and deal with these threats, a Vulnerability Assessment mechanism should be developed. This mechanism is responsible for identifying and quantifying the possible security threats to the enterprise’s application software, hardware, networks.

It will provide transparent insight into the system and pinpoint the components that need attention. These issues should then be prioritised to address the most harmful threat first.

What is a Vulnerability Assessment?

Vulnerability assessment is a systematic approach to find the loopholes in the system and network which might harm an organization in future. It is intended to design in a way that none of the weaknesses remains unidentified.

These vulnerabilities are then given priority based on their severity and impact on the business. It is a non-intrusive process of finding loopholes, without causing any threat to the IT infrastructure and operation of the application.

Security assessment by Vulnerability Assessment
Image Source: Medium

Vulnerability scanners diagnose the entire system and report the weaknesses in the code, along with their location. This scanning is performed with the aid of automated tools like web and network security scanners available. The final report of this assessment contains a list of all the detected vulnerabilities along with their severity.

The data generated in this stage is used for penetration testing. In Penetration Testing, the vulnerabilities are exploited to see if they are capable of harming the system.  This real-life simulation helps in finding the ways a hacker can take to access the system.

Types of Vulnerability Assessment

There are widely 4 types of Vulnerability assessments performed in an organisation.

1. Active Assessment

This type of assessment requires direct interaction with the live network under test. Continuous requests are made to the system and then it’s responses are analysed. Active assessment scans to find the services and their weaknesses by directly probing the target host.

2. Passive Assessment

Passive assessment unlike the active assessment does not require direct interaction with the live network under test. In this process, packet sniffing is carried out to find vulnerabilities, running services and any open ports or other pieces of information from third parties. Passive assessment scans for services and vulnerabilities without directly probing the system.

comprehensive vulnerability assessment
Image Source: Infisight, Inc.

3. External Assessment

External assessment is the type of assessment that involves analysing the system from a hacker’s perspective. In this process, attempts are made to exploit the system vulnerabilities from outside the network.  This will help in blocking the paths a hacker may follow to access the system in an unauthorised way.

4. Internal Assessment

Internal assessment as the name suggests is the process of diagnosing the internal network and infrastructure of the system from being present inside the system. This type of assessment helps in protecting the network from internal attack from an insider of the organisation.

Stages of Vulnerability Assessment

There are various stages involved in the complete vulnerability management process.

network Vulnerability Assessment
Image Source: ITarian

1. Discovery

The first stage involves preparing for undertaking the vulnerability assessment. In this process, all the assets in the organization are determined to perform the test and ensure that none of them is left unlisted.

Their importance in the organisation is analysed, along with the one who can access them. An inventory is also maintained to map the vulnerabilities on the network.

2. Assess

After identifying all the assets, tests are performed, to scan each of them thoroughly. In this, it is ensured that all the devices are scanned effectively. It not only discloses the vulnerabilities in the network but also tells about ‘how efficient the information accessing mechanism is?’. There is no use in wasting time on information from an unreliable source.

3. Report

After determining all the potential risks, it’s time to analyse the severity of each risk. All this information will be entered in a report, containing the list of vulnerabilities and the way to prioritise them. All this is done based on their impact on the business.

4. Remediate

At this stage, all vulnerabilities are monitored and tickets are assigned to them. Then each vulnerability is addressed on a priority basis to remove it from the system.  To do this, updates are created, loopholes are files and new paths are designed in the information accessing mechanism. It makes the system immune to possible attacks through these weaknesses.

Vulnerability Assessment Strategy
Image Source: CozumPark

5. Verify

At last, it is verified that all the vulnerabilities discovered all removed from the system. It helps in creating transparency and accountability in the organisation. All these processes are repeated again and again to keep the system immuned.

Tools for Vulnerability Assessment

1. Nessus

Nessus is a tool used for remotely scanning the computer for vulnerabilities on a network. It alerts the owner when any weakness is encountered that can be used to attempt unauthorised access or attack the system. Even familiar users can write tests as per their assessment need.

2. OpenVAS

OpenVAS is another vulnerability scanning tool capable of performing unauthenticated tests. It can use various high level and low-level internet protocols and internal programming language to perform any type of vulnerability test.

OpenVAS
Image Source: ManageEngine

Conclusion

A carefully designed Vulnerability Assessment system is necessary for businesses because unlike the targeted attacks in the past, which were meant to harm a particular business, the current attacks are more advanced and automated programs to look for vulnerabilities in the entire system to start attacking on.

So to prevent a business from reputational loss, financial loss, and loss of confidential information, a Vulnerability Assessment program should be able to identify all the assets in the organization and find the weaknesses associated with them. Based on their impact the weaknesses should be prioritised and effectively treated.