What is Vulnerability Scanning?

Vulnerability scanners perform an automated scan for exploitable weaknesses within an organization’s application, endpoints, and IT infrastructure. Performing these vulnerability scans is a common requirement for regulatory compliance and can help to minimize an organization’s cybersecurity risk. As a result, it should be a core component of an organization’s threat management program.

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What is Vulnerability Scanning?

Vulnerability scanning is an automated process designed to help identify potentially exploitable vulnerabilities within an application. When new vulnerabilities are discovered and publicly disclosed, new signatures are created for these vulnerabilities. A vulnerability scanner tests an application using its list of signatures and identifies any vulnerabilities that an application may contain.

Vulnerability Assessment Process

Vulnerabilities are commonly discovered in applications once they have been released to production, and organizations need to manage these vulnerabilities to protect themselves against exploitation.

 

Doing so effectively requires organizations to take the following steps:

 

  • Scan: Vulnerability scanning allows an organization to identify vulnerabilities within an application that need to be remediated.
  • Analyze: In the analysis stage, a security operation center (SOC) analyst performs investigation and triage to determine the importance of a particular vulnerability, what is required to fix it, and if a patch is available (if needed).
  • Remediate/Patch: Different vulnerabilities can require different remediation steps. In some cases, a vulnerability may be caused by a configuration issue, such as the use of a default or weak username or password. In others, the vulnerability may require installation of a patch or update designed to fix a design or implementation error in the code.
  • Verify: A remediation or patch is only effective if it actually fixes the vulnerability. After attempting remediation, an application should be scanned again to ensure that the issue has been corrected and that no other problems have been created.

 

This process should be applied continuously. New vulnerabilities are discovered every day, so it’s a good idea to automate the vulnerability scanning process so that a security team is notified about and can take action to remediate critical vulnerabilities as quickly as possible.

Types of Vulnerability Scanning

Vulnerability scanning can be performed in a couple of ways that impact its results and effectiveness:

 

  • External vs Internal: External and internal vulnerability scans are designed to address different attack scenarios. An external scan helps to detect vulnerabilities that may be exploited by an external attacker, while internal scans model insider threat scenarios.
  • Authenticated vs Unauthenticated: In many cyberattacks, gaining access to user credentials is a primary goal of an attacker. An authenticated scan tests the vulnerabilities that may be accessible to an attacker with access to a user account, while unauthenticated scans mimic an attacker that has not gained this level of access.

 

Performing a variety of scans with each of the four possible combinations is a good idea to ensure that all potential vulnerabilities are detected. And by identifying these vulnerabilities via vulnerability scanning, an organization can close these security holes, decreasing its cyber risk.

Vulnerability Scanning vs Penetration Testing

Vulnerability scanning and penetration testing are both methods by which an organization’s security team can find weaknesses in its cybersecurity. However, these two methods are very different.

 

A vulnerability scan is an automated search for known vulnerabilities. A number of different vulnerability scanners exist, and they operate by searching for signatures of known vulnerabilities or common security errors (such as the use of weak passwords). These scans are typically designed to find high-level weaknesses within an organization’s applications and IT infrastructure.

 

A penetration test is an assessment of an organization’s cybersecurity by a human operator or team. This provides a more in-depth assessment because the penetration testers will actually exploit identified vulnerabilities, enabling them to gain additional access to the target network and identify internal issues in the network. Additionally, penetration testers can test potential attack vectors outside the scope of a vulnerability assessment, such as social engineering and phishing attacks.

The Role of Vulnerability Scanning in Threat Management

Cybercriminals use botnets to continually scan Internet-facing applications for exploitable vulnerabilities. And if any such vulnerabilities are found, they can be automatically exploited, potentially leaking sensitive data or providing access to the organization’s network.

 

An essential component of any organization’s threat management program, vulnerability scanning uses many of the same tools as cybercriminals would use in their scans, and enables an organization to identify and remediate these vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by an attacker. To learn more about vulnerability management and how Check Point can support your threat management program, don’t hesitate to request a demonstration.

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