What is Vulnerability Scanning and How Does it Work?

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By Bill Minahan   |   December 20, 2019   |   0 Comments

What is Vulnerability Scanning?

Vulnerability scanning is a security technique that identifies potential points of exploit on a device or network. Specifically, vulnerability scanning is a computer program designed to inspect and assess the weaknesses of an organization’s system.

A vulnerability scanner helps organizations to identify, assess, and quantify their network risks.

Unfortunately, hackers also can remotely access and run vulnerability scans on an organization. As a result, vulnerability scanning is an incredibly effective security measure that allows businesses to manage their weaknesses before potential hackers can take advantage of them.

How Does Vulnerability Scanning Work?

Firstly, a vulnerability scan works by taking an inventory of all the components of an organization’s network. For example, a comprehensive vulnerability scan will scan all components of a network including:

  • Servers
  • Desktops
  • Laptops
  • Printers
  • Office IoT devices
  • Virtual machines
  • Containers
  • Firewalls
  • Switches
  • Routers
  • Communications equipment
  • Applications

After building an inventory, the vulnerability scanner checks the components against one or more databases of known vulnerabilities. Often, these scanners detect vulnerabilities arising from misconfigurations or flawed programming.

Types of Vulnerability Scanning

Authenticated scans and unauthenticated scans are the two main types of vulnerability scanning. Both scans are important for identifying flaws in an organization’s system.

Authenticated scan vs. unauthenticated:

  1. An authenticated scan allows for the scanner to directly access the network-based assets and the full inventory of an organization’s system. Specifically, it uses remote administrative protocols such as secure shell (SSH) and remote desktop protocol (RDP) and administrative credentials to access the full scope of the network. In most cases, authenticated scans are run internally by a cyber security provider or a trusted user. However, authenticated scans can also be run by intruders who have gained the credentials of a trusted user. Critical credentials, as well as vulnerability scanning tools, are increasingly available for purchase on the dark web.
  2. An unauthenticated scan is performed externally without direct access to the network. Specifically, it can only examine publicly visible information and is unable to provide details about the operating system and the installed software. However, unauthenticated scans add valuable insights from a hacker’s perspective. In most cases, unauthenticated scans are used by hackers or trusted internal users to identify a network’s weaknesses.

Both authenticated and unauthenticated scans are useful to an organization as they determine an organization’s internal and external security posture.

Vulnerability Scanning Process

The actual vulnerability scan is just one component of vulnerability management.

Specifically, here is the complete vulnerability scanning process:

  1. Identify vulnerabilities. The vulnerability scan compiles a complete overview of a company’s risks based on the inspection of all its digital assets.
  2. Evaluate and prioritize vulnerabilities. Afterward, the scan produces a list of vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, the list can be long, especially if it’s an organization’s first scan. The list can often be overwhelming to IT staff and company resources. As a result, the evaluation stage is a critical part of vulnerability management. In most cases, an organization does not have unlimited resources to spend on cyber security. Modern vulnerability scanning triage the risks posed by the network from critical to low risk. Specifically, using a security consultant, an organization should decide:
    1. Which vulnerabilities pose the biggest risk to the organization if exploited?
    2. Which vulnerabilities could hackers realistically take advantage of?
    3. Are there existing security measures in place that reduce the risk of critical vulnerabilities?
  3. Resolve vulnerabilities. After determining your most critical risks, work with a cyber security provider to resolve your vulnerabilities by creating new security controls. If certain vulnerabilities are not patched or resolved, then record them and develop an incident response plan in the event of a cyber attack. For instance, if a certain vulnerability is low-risk, it may not be necessary to patch right away. However, your organization should know how to mitigate the damage if it’s exploited. Likewise, you should know the impact it has on your organization and the expected cost of recovery.

Vulnerability scanning is an effective and low-cost security measure that is guaranteed to improve your organization’s security posture.

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What is vulnerability scanning

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