Top Tips for Conducting an Enterprise Vulnerability Assessment

If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware of the general idea behind a vulnerability assessment. In the plainest terms, it’s a process undertaken with the aim of identifying and prioritizing vulnerabilities within applications, systems and infrastructures. By following this process, organizations can limit the risks of exposures.

Yet that straightforward definition belies a fairly complex subject. Not every IT professional is familiar with (or can recall) the various types of vulnerability assessment, or how to perform a security vulnerability assessment.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at some tips you can follow when conducting your first (or next) enterprise vulnerability assessment.

THE BENEFITS OF VULNERABILITY ASSESSMENT
To effectively protect any security environment, you need visibility into the state of all weaknesses and a strategy for addressing any risks related to those weaknesses. A vulnerability assessment provides precisely that. By gaining a deeper understanding of assets, vulnerabilities and risks, the odds of a breach occurring can be significantly reduced.

COMMON TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES
When beginning an assessment, assets must be identified and critical values assigned. The scope of the assessment must also be identified and information about the network infrastructure may be collected.

Next, during the scanning phase of the assessment, teams will use a variety of tools and tests to assess the current level of risk within their environments. Typical tools include:

Application scans
Database scans
Network scans
Wireless scans
Host-based scans
In addition to using a wide range of scans, it’s important to optimize your scanning strategy by making tactical decisions about when and where to use comprehensive scans and fast scans.

In addition to scans, teams will also sometimes incorporate a variety of testing methods (penetration, white box, black box, etc.) when running assessments.

It’s important to distinguish between vulnerability assessments and penetration testing, however.

Understanding How Penetration Tests and Vulnerability Assessments Diverge
Penetration tests are episodic in nature (often scheduled quarterly or even yearly) and provide a point-in-time snapshot of organizational security. Vulnerability scanning is one component of this process. By engaging in pen testing, it’s possible to gain a detailed glimpse into the viability of an overall security posture.

However, that glimpse is soon rendered obsolete by the ever-changing nature of most IT systems. Vulnerability assessments are designed to provide a broader and continuously updated view of the current state of risk. One provides point-in-time visibility; the other is an ongoing process to manage risk within dynamic environments.

While penetration tests or red team campaigns are sometimes launched in concert with vulnerability assessments, the former seeks to identify a vulnerability, then prove it can be exploited via attack; the latter is not concerned with actual attack mechanics.

There is, however, a method for realizing many of the benefits of penetration testing or a red team campaign without the inherent limitations of the process: Using automated breach and attack (BAS) software.

How Breach and Attack Platforms Help With Vulnerability Assessment
As mentioned, penetration tests can play a critical role in identifying security gaps, then establishing that an attack can leverage that vulnerability to jeopardize critical assets. These tests (which are often highly manual, resource-intensive, not scalable and noisy) do not offer continuous visibility, however.

A BAS platform, such as the one offered by XM Cyber, solves this problem through automation. By launching simulated attacks in an automated, safe and continuous manner, these platforms feature all of the benefits of conventional penetration testing or red team campaign — and extend them beyond point in time snapshots.

This type of vulnerability assessment tool, therefore, can play an integral role in developing a process that limits risk by developing continuous visibility into the true state of an organizational security posture.

In Conclusion
Vulnerability assessments play a critical role in ensuring that organizational risk is managed effectively. By incorporating an advanced BAS platform, it becomes possible to test defenses in an automated, safe & continuous fashion, and develop keen insights into evolving vulnerabilities and risks.

Dan Anconina is Customer Operations Manager, XM Cyber