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The Complete Guide to Vulnerability Scanning

Complete Guide to Vulnerability Scanning

The ongoing threat from cyber attacks and the potentially serious consequences means it is essential that organizations take appropriate measures to counter the threat. Vulnerability scanning is one such measure. Vulnerability scanning is a security technique that identifies weaknesses in computer systems and networks. The process proactively identifies potential security issues and predicts how successful countermeasures will be when an attack or threat is imminent. A report is generated following a vulnerability scan that can be analyzed so that an organization has the opportunity to isolate and correct areas of weakness within their computer systems, networks, and applications.

Benefits of Vulnerability Scanning

As with most things in life, there are costs associated with vulnerability scanning. These include financial, staffing, and administrative costs. However, this is one instance where the benefits of vulnerability scanning to an organization far outweigh any potential cost. These benefits include:

  • Offering a proactive approach to identifying and removing areas of potential weakness, so systems, data, employees, and customers are protected from potential security breaches.
  • Ensures that the organization is meeting compliance and regulatory obligations. The importance of vulnerability scanning has been emphasized by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Payment Card Industry (PCI), Document Security Systems (DSS), and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), to name but a few.
  • Cybercriminals have been known to use vulnerability scanning tools to exploit the weaknesses of an organization. By undertaking a vulnerability assessment, an organization identifies the potential issues and is able to close the door to these criminals.
  • Once a vulnerability scanner has been configured, it can be run as a regular and ongoing process that should reassure the organization regarding their computer systems.
  • By undertaking regular vulnerability assessments, incremental improvements in computer security systems are facilitated.

Potential challenges With Vulnerability Scans

Many computer experts consider vulnerability scanning essential in addressing the ongoing security risks to computer systems. However, several potential challenges need to be taken into account when considering deploying the technology.

  • As with all scanning, the results are relevant at the time the scan is run. Unfortunately, vulnerability scanning software does not allow continuous scanning. Therefore, it is recommended that organizations develop and implement a scanning schedule to ensure they maximize the benefits of the technology.
  • The process is not fully automated. Human input is necessary to consider the scan results, identify the areas that need work, and ensure that any risks identified are resolved. This can create an administrative burden that needs to be considered when creating a scanning schedule.
  • Vulnerability scanning has its limitations. It can only identify vulnerabilities that the particular scanning product knows about. In reality, this means that the database of signatures and weaknesses is the limiting factor in any vulnerability scanning software.
  • On top of this, vulnerabilities are evolving in nature, so a particular product can quickly become outdated if it is not subject to regular updates.

Difference Between Vulnerability Scanning and Penetration Testing

Vulnerability scanning should not be confused with penetration testing. They are two entirely different processes.

Penetration testing is an authorized simulated cyberattack on an organization's computer systems and networks to identify potential weaknesses so that they can be rectified. Usually, penetration testing is carried out with specific goals in mind. These goals are most commonly:

  • To identify hackable systems
  • Attempt to hack a specific system
  • Carry out a specific data breach

On the other hand, vulnerability testing scans the computer system legitimately and produces a prioritized list of potential weaknesses. Penetration testing and vulnerability scanning are often performed simultaneously so organizations can obtain a comprehensive overview of the potential weaknesses within their systems.

Types of Vulnerability Scanning

There are several different types of vulnerability scanning, each having a place depending on the particular use to which an organization wishes to put it. Therefore, the needs of the organization must be considered before investing in a particular software product.

Credentialed vs. Non-Credentialed Scans

This type of scanning is also referred to as authenticated and non-authenticated scanning. These two categories represent the majority of vulnerability scanning.

Non-credentialed scanning does not give the user trusted status in the system they are scanning. Rather the scan is completed from an external viewpoint. This type of scan can provide valuable information to a computer security professional looking for an overview of potential weaknesses within a computer system from the perspective of someone outside the organization. However, the primary disadvantage is the picture of an organization's computer systems, and the vulnerabilities they provide is not complete. Therefore, more information is necessary to evaluate the computer systems properly.

Credentialed Scanning gives the user trusted status within the system they are scanning and undertakes the scan from an internal perspective. Credentialed scanning will typically pick up the vulnerabilities that non-credentialed scanning fails to detect. As credentialed scanning comes with trusted status, it is recommended that organizations considering this type of vulnerability scanning also use an automated privileged password tool to keep track of users when they implement the scanning system. This will help to maintain the integrity of the system.

Intrusive vs. Non-Intrusive Scans

Non-intrusive scans are very focused. They simply identify a particular vulnerability and list it in a report.

Intrusive scans take the process further. When they find a potential vulnerability, they will attempt to take advantage of it. While this information can be beneficial for an organization, obtaining it can result in the disruption of systems used in everyday business and could create significant issues for staff and customers.

External Vulnerability Scans

This type of vulnerability scan focuses specifically on the areas of an organization's computer system that are exposed to the internet or are not restricted to internal users or systems. These scans can also focus on websites, applications, ports, networks, systems, and services accessed by those external to the organization, such as customers.

Internal Vulnerability Scans

In contrast, internal vulnerability scans focus on the internal environment, especially potential issues that malicious malware or a cyber attacker could create if they manage to get inside the organization's computer systems; the areas that external scanning ignores. As a result, they are useful in solidifying and strengthening the security of the internal system.

Environmental Scans

These are specialized scans that are based on the environment that the organization is operating in. For example, environmental scans could focus on an aspect of an organization's use of technology, such as cloud-based applications, IoT devices, mobile devices, and websites.

Important Features to Look For in Vulnerability Scanning Software

Several key features should be considered when looking at vulnerability scanning software products.

  • The software should be updated regularly to maximize the benefit of vulnerability scanning. This will ensure the database remains current with the latest potential threats.
  • The reports provided following a scan need to be comprehensive so that the organization is able to act on the threats identified.
  • Any software needs to be balanced. It is the nature of this process that if the scanning process is restrictive in how it identifies threats, then potential issues will not be detected. On the other hand, if the software adopts an overly liberal approach, then the likelihood of false positives increases. Any vulnerability scanning software needs to strike an appropriate balance between the two extremes if it is to be useful.

It is also important to consider how the vulnerability scanning software will integrate into the vulnerability management program that an organization has established. This may require a patch if the software is to integrate properly and without creating issues. The availability of a patch will need to be investigated before making a decision.

SecPoint Penetrator Vulnerability Scanner 

For organizations not wanting to spend a fortune on vulnerability scanning software, the SecPoint Penetrator Vulnerability Scanner presents the ideal solution. With an entry price of just $219, the software is perfect.

It is a state-of-the-art vulnerability scanner with many of its features previously discussed as being essential in vulnerability scanning software, including:

  • Eleven scanning profiles
  • Reporting in 19 different languages
  • Evidence of the vulnerability and how to eliminate it is included in the reporting.
  • Option to schedule regular scanning
  • Utilizes the Google Hack database, one of the most comprehensive available
  • A database of over 55,000 vulnerability signatures
  • Utilizes plug and play technology, enabling easy integration with most computer systems
  • No data collection; all data is stored on the customer site with no available backdoors
  • Multi-user support

For those organizations currently looking to implement vulnerability scanning as part of their vulnerability management, this software is the number one rated network security scanner and vulnerability management solution. 

The threat of cyberattack is ever-present and growing as the reliance that is placed on technology grows. This creates a serious threat for many organizations, given an attack can seriously impact an organization's finances, reputation, and ultimately viability. With this in mind, those responsible for managing an organization's vulnerabilities must give serious consideration to vulnerability scanning software.

Find out more about Vulnerability Scanner software

Software or hardware appliance that features a vulnerability scanner is simply a device or program that's responsible for vulnerability assessment or system mapping in order to search for possible coding flaws or bugs in a program, machine, or network.

A vulnerability scan, on the other hand, refers to the inspection of active IP addresses, open ports, operating systems, and running applications on a given system in order to analyze whether or not they're being used to garner remote unauthorized access into your PC or computer network.

The scanner could either create a report if no suspicious activities are detected or move on to the next step if it detects something amiss with your machine.

Most if not all vulnerability scanners allow quite a bit of user control when it comes to doing scans.

For instance, depending on its findings, it may either attempt to provide you, the user, recommendations in protecting or patching your computer, offer a sandbox simulation of how serious a threat the vulnerability may be, or, depending on the program, actually crash your system for the sake of giving you a good idea of how hazardous or harmless the bug that it has found really is.

A vulnerability scanner rarely gets to do the last scenario, and it only does so at the behest of a user, who is usually a security researcher who wants to conduct a more in-depth analysis of the newly discovered weakness.

Vulnerability Assessment

The best vulnerability scanners available in the market are usually the ones that could automatically pinpoint the latest threats posed by online networks.

There's no need to leave your system's vulnerability assessment in the hands of security experts (i.e., manual vulnerability assessment) unless the problems you are facing are dire enough to justify this methods expensiveness and rarity.

More often than not, a software- or hardware-based automatic vulnerability scanner is enough to handle the majority of Internet hazards your system might face.

Then again, you must also watch out for this type of scanner's tendency to create high false positives and network resource problems.

It is always best to look for programs or devices that are quite easy to setup and operate as well, because intuitiveness and comprehensibility of scan results are major factors in judging a given vulnerability scanners overall effectiveness.

You must shop for scanning programs or appliances that can precisely recognize which workarounds, solutions, and patches are required in order for you to combat a specific security hole.