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What Are the Different Types of Vulnerability Assessment?

When you have something of value, the question of how to best protect it is never far from your mind. For today’s enterprises, few things are more valuable than the data they hold and manage. Keeping that precious information safe requires constant vigilance.
One of the best ways to think about this is through the prism of vulnerability assessment. If you think of your business as a house, regular vulnerability assessments are akin to conducting regular checks to see if doors and windows are locked or reviewing home security camera footage.

To help you get a better grasp on this subject, let’s take a closer look at how vulnerability analysis works and explore the virtues of popular vulnerability assessment tools.

Understanding Enterprise Vulnerability Assessment

Vulnerability assessments are designed to uncover security gaps within computing systems and networks. The most common mechanism for conducting such an assessment is through scanning.

Vulnerability scans come in the following forms:

  • Network-based scans
  • Host-based scans
  • Wireless scans
  • Database scans
  • Application scans

These scans may be directed at internal, external, or environmental entities. Scanning can be manual or automated. The goal is to identify security gaps, then move onto the remediation phase.

Vulnerability Assessment vs Penetration Testing

Penetration tests (or red team exercises) allow organizations to really put their defenses under the microscope. In such scenarios, human testers play the role of “ethical hackers” and use their full range of expertise and abilities to try and breach an organization’s defenses. Penetration testers assume the perspective of attackers and will use a variety of online and offline tactics to successfully launch an attack. Once the test is complete, a detailed audit is prepared, and any existing gaps can be filled.

Returning to our house analogy, while a scan is like checking to see if your front door is locked, a pen test looks for ways to defeat the lock, open the door, walk in and help yourself to all of the valuables stored inside. In other words, where a scan is concerned about if vulnerabilities exist, a test can also show you how they may be exploited and at what ultimate cost.

Both of these approaches are often carried out in tandem as part of a security risk assessment plan. Given that scanning is far less labor-intensive, it can be done with more frequency than full-fledged penetration tests. Yet there is another tool that can be integrated to extend the combined power of these tools: Breach and attack simulation software.

How Breach and Attack Simulation Fits Into Vulnerability Analysis Management

Vulnerability assessments and penetration tests are complementary, as both have desirable qualities the other lacks (scans are automated and relatively quick; pen tests are rigorous and provide more context). Yet there is a third option that merges the best of both tools: Breach and attack simulation (BAS).

Advanced BAS platforms act as automated penetration testers or red teamers. Just like a pen test, these platforms launch sophisticated simulated cyber-attacks along the most likely attack paths and provide detailed guidance for closing any vulnerabilities that are uncovered. Like a pen test, they don’t just check the locks; they look for ways to circumvent them and show the damage that could ensue.

A BAS platform has something in common with conventional vulnerability assessments as well. Just like automated scanners, BAS platforms are efficient. They work continuously, launching simulated attacks with no downtime, ensuring that any emerging vulnerabilities are identified before an adversary can slip through the door.

XM Cyber’s Attack-Centric Exposure Prioritization is a new approach to BAS. Unlike other BAS vendors that check if security controls are properly configured, XM Cyber starts with identifying the most critical assets and identifies all attack path possibilities.

Then it quickly connects the dots from breach point to critical asset if there exists any potential attack path. Next, it creates a prioritized remediation plan, based on real risks to your critical assets, that directs your teams to quickly eliminate steps hackers would take inside your environment.

In short, XM Cyber’s technology is the leading example of this “best of both worlds” approach to managing vulnerabilities. By integrating our technology into your existing security plan, you can play offense on defense, enable a layered approach to cybersecurity and unlock the extraordinary potential of continuous security posture improvement.

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Dan Anconina is Customer Operations Manager at XM Cyber

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