What Is a Vulnerability Scan, and Why Is It Important?

Posted on August 1, 2021 Knowledgebase

Security is of top importance at any data-intensive business, and vulnerability scans are a great way to stay on top of your game. However, you might ask, “What exactly is a vulnerability scan?”

You could define a vulnerability scan is an automated system. It searches for vulnerabilities in software applications or network devices.

A good example is scanning certain ports on your computers or network. Vulnerabilities in these areas could potentially give hackers access to sensitive information. For instance, they could enable hackers to make off with data such as customer credit card numbers.

A vulnerability scan is an evaluation of the security features and settings on your network. You could do it manually.

However, an automated scanning system is much more comprehensive and effective. You can perform an automated vulnerability scan easily across cloud computing resources such as Cohesity, Rubik, S3 storage, and VMware.

To learn more about vulnerability scans and why they’re important, keep reading.

What Is a Vulnerability Scan?

When’s the last time you heard about a data breach? More than likely, it wasn’t that long ago. However, it’s a safe bet that little to no information was provided about how the attackers got in.

In many cases, the first phase of a network attack involves scanning a system for vulnerabilities called “exploits.” Organizations must protect themselves from this kind of activity.

It’s vital that IT administrators close these kinds of security gaps. One way to achieve this feat is by proactively running a vulnerability scan.

A vulnerability scan accesses computers, networks, and applications. The scan will look for known weaknesses.

These weaknesses, in fact, are vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit. Malicious actors can use them to gain unauthorized access to sensitive files. They can also use network access to wreak other kinds of havoc.

Patching systems to repair vulnerabilities is an ongoing responsibility of system administrators. However, administrators—like everyone else—are human.

As a result, they sometimes miss critical fixes. A vulnerability scan can help detect this kind of oversight.

Why Test for Vulnerabilities?

The lion’s share of cyberattacks starts with external sources. Nearly half of those attacks target web application vulnerabilities. Almost a quarter of those incidents result in confirmed data breaches.

The maturity of cloud security controls is increasing. Yet, web application vulnerabilities continue to serve as a popular weak spot for hackers. Vulnerability scanning can serve as a powerful tool in your cybersecurity arsenal.

Some companies only perform vulnerability scanning annually or semiannually. They all have very compelling reasons for doing so. However, they’re leaving their organizations exposed to unnecessary risks.

How Often Is Enough?

Companies should run vulnerability scans as often as possible. It’s not unheard of to run weekly vulnerability scans. Some companies even run a partial vulnerability scan every day.

Still, you may own or work at a company that runs scans once a year. From your perspective, this may seem like the norm.

Your company might even do a vulnerability scan every quarter. If so, running more frequent vulnerability scans may seem illogical, impractical, and excessive.

The concept of frequent vulnerability scanning is based on the ever-changing threat landscape. Frequent vulnerability scans maximize the benefit to your business and your customers. Now, it’s the only correct paradigm for cybersecurity.

Keeping Tabs on Malicious Actors

Vulnerability scans identify network weaknesses. They seek out vulnerabilities that are present and expose systems and services.

A vulnerability scan doesn’t necessarily indicate an active exploit. However, it does show you what weaknesses you can shore up before an exploit occurs.

Also, a vulnerability scan can serve as a useful secondary control. It can help you to detect indications of compromise. Although, this isn’t the primary function of a vulnerability scan.

These kinds of compromises might include unexpected open ports. They may also include the presence of malware. These signs can indicate a breach in progress.

Types of Vulnerability Testing

The high-level purpose of vulnerability scanning is to identify threats before a hacker can exploit them. Once you configure a scan, you can easily repeat the process. In this way, you can enjoy ongoing, updated assurance about the security of your network.

Vulnerability scanning can also help you to make incremental cybersecurity improvements. It can also help you to meet data protection requirements. Also, it can help to support the security of data processing.

The following entries highlight a few different types of vulnerability scans.

Penetration Testing

In IT circles, you may hear penetration testing referred to as a “pen test.” It’s a compliment to vulnerability scanning.

During a penetration test, an IT administrator will attempt to exploit vulnerabilities. They’ll find the vulnerabilities during a vulnerability scan. This activity simulates an attack by individuals or organizations.

For example, although it’s not a type of vulnerability scan, an IT administrator might send out phishing emails to test how vulnerable your network is to ransomware. This kind of test will help the administrator assess how susceptible your company is to social engineering.

Authenticated Scans

There are two more kinds of scans that are related—authenticated scans and unauthenticated scans. An administrator will run an authenticated scan using system credentials.

Their credentials allow them to perform a more in-depth vulnerability scan. For instance, they may use their access to perform an authenticated scan of Windows Active Directory. In this way, they can perform a more comprehensive evaluation.

Domain administrator credentials allow IT professionals to scan more fully. It helps them to completely evaluate all the systems in your domain. With administrator credentials, they can completely test the most sensitive parts of your network.

Unauthenticated Scans

Conversely, an administrator will not use their credentials to run an unauthenticated scan. However, this kind of scan can result in a greater number of false positives. Also, and an unauthenticated scan will give you less detailed results compared to an authenticated one.

For example, an unauthenticated scan of Windows Active Directory would still produce results. However, it’s much more limited. There are fewer ways for administrators to pinpoint vulnerabilities using this method.

In most cases, a hacker will run an unauthenticated scan. They have no choice because they most often don’t have administrator credentials.

However, security administrators use the same method. Often, they’ll perform an unauthenticated scan on external assets. This activity simulates the behavior of attackers.

Responding to Vulnerabilities

Now, you hopefully see the value of regular vulnerability scans. However, what will you do with the results? Also, how will you decide how to prioritize what to fix?

Here’s where the expertise of an IT professional comes into play.

A vulnerability scan will produce a report. It will list every system scan. It will also provide reporting about all found vulnerabilities.

Vulnerability scanners also usually include a rating with each found vulnerability. The vulnerability rating describes the severity of the event. The scanner will also offer suggestions to remediate the vulnerability.

Savvy system administrators focus on fixing the most severe issues first. Even then, they’ll weed out the false positives before working on any fixes.

Anyone can run a network vulnerability scan. However, it takes experience and skill to interpret the results effectively.

Also, the qualities of various vulnerability scanning tools vary. It’s important to work with an IT professional that can select the right tools.

They must also have the capability to run the scan and review the results. Their expertise is also required to prioritize and perform network remediation.

Tempering Your Expectations

Finally, it’s important to understand that a vulnerability scan doesn’t find every weakness in your network. Nothing—even computers—is perfect.

Consider your antivirus software. It relies on a database of known weaknesses. As a result, your antivirus software is only as good as the last update.

With this in mind, it’s important to understand that you cannot use outdated or inferior tools to perform a vulnerability scan. Doing so will only give you a false sense of security. What’s more, it will leave you on the hook if you overlook any network weaknesses.

Is Your Network Near Bulletproof?

Now you know more about vulnerability scans and why they’re important. You’ve also learned some pretty important points about performing vulnerability scans.

When it comes to IT security, there’s no such thing as too much caution. It’s critical to scan your network for vulnerabilities as often as possible.

Vulnerability scans can help identify any weak spots in your system. They’ll also give you information about what steps you must take next in order to shore up those weaknesses.

If you need to learn more about securing your network, NETdepot can help. We’re a global leader and Security as a Service and infrastructure managed services. We can even provide you with top-notch networking services in our secure Houston colocation facility.

Contact NETdepot at (844) 25-CLOUD or connect with us online to learn more about securing your network.

Contact Us Today To Experience How We Can Save You Time, Money And Stress