Vulnerability Scanning: All you need to know in 8 Steps

With rapid digitization, we live in the age of digital information, surrounded by software, applications, and computers. Hence it is essential to protect these from vulnerabilities or threats. An enormous responsibility of any IT security team today is vulnerability management. It involves evaluating, mitigating, if necessary, and reporting the security vulnerabilities in an organization’s hardware and software. It was a brief overview of vulnerability scanning. Let us know about vulnerability scanning and take a proactive approach to close vulnerabilities.

  1. What is Vulnerability Scanning?
  2. Vulnerability scanning vs penetration testing
  3. Vulnerability Scanning Tools
  4. Types of Vulnerability Scanning
  5. How does vulnerability scanning work?
  6. What to look for in a vulnerability scanner?
  7. Benefits of Vulnerability Scanning
  8. Challenges faced by Vulnerability Scanning

1. What is Vulnerability Scanning?

The vulnerability scanning process involves an application that scans and creates an inventory list of all the present systems on a network. This application is called a vulnerability scanner, and the systems it can scan are servers, laptops, desktops, containers, virtual machines, switches, firewalls, and printers.  

Under the systems vulnerability scanning, the scanner attempts to log in to the system as well. It uses the default or other specified credentials to gain access to different systems and draw a more detailed picture.

The vulnerability scanner’s final inventory list highlights the list of systems on the network and the vulnerabilities found in them.

2. Vulnerability scanning vs penetration testing

These two concepts are generally a cause of confusion. These security procedures are entirely different and serve different purposes. If we put vulnerability scanning meaning in simple words, it identifies systems prone to vulnerabilities. On the other hand, penetration testing identifies weaknesses in particular system configurations. It also keeps an eye on the organizational practices and processes that might compromise security.

Few penetration test procedures involve:

  1. Using social engineering tricks like spoofing a manager and asking an employee to give a password for accessing the database.
  2. Sending out phishing emails to employees to gain access to various accounts.

3. Vulnerability Scanning Tools

There are multiple vulnerability assessment scanning tools available in the market. The popular IT security vendors that offer vulnerability scanning tools are Comodo, SolarWinds, Tripwire, Tenable, Acunetix, Core security, rapid7, Qualys, and Netsparker.

Many vulnerability scanners come with proprietary issues. But not to worry, there are few open source scanners as well. These are the Nexpose Community, OpenVAS, Retina, Nikto, Aircrack-ng, and Wireshark. These vulnerability scanning tools operate on security vulnerabilities both inside and outside the organization.

Companies widely perform vulnerability scanning with the Metasploit framework. It performs network vulnerability scanning. To achieve this, it scans a multitude of systems and provides information about their security vulnerabilities. It aids in penetration testing as well. 

You can assess the security of a web application by performing web vulnerability scanning. Automated tools look from outside the security vulnerabilities like SQL injection, cross-site scripting, path traversal, command injection, and insecure server configuration. These perform vulnerability scanning online and are called web application vulnerability scanners.

4. Types of Vulnerability Scanning

Not all types of vulnerability scanning are the same. But to ensure compliance with the regulations set by the PCI Security Standards Council, it becomes essential to carry out two different types of vulnerability scanning. These are Internal and External scans. The following type will also give you an overview of what is vulnerability scanning used for.

A) External Vulnerability Scan

An external scan is carried out from the outside of the organization network. Its prime purpose is to detect vulnerabilities in the security perimeter set by the firm. It includes open ports in the firewall or specialized web application firewall. This scan helps in sealing the network security boundaries so that hackers cannot gain access to the organization’s network.

B) Internal Vulnerability Scanning 

An internal scan is performed from the inside of the organization’s network security boundaries. Its motive is to look for vulnerabilities that could be exploited by hackers who have successfully penetrated the network security boundaries. There are equal chances of insider threats, like discontented employees or people who have sufficient access to the network.

C) Authenticated and Unauthenticated vulnerability scans  

A very similar but not identical approach to internal and external vulnerability scanning is the concept of authenticated and unauthenticated vulnerability scans.

Unauthenticated scans are just like external vulnerability scanning service that detects loopholes in the network perimeter. Authenticated scans provide network vulnerability scanning tools with privileged credentials to look inside the network for weak passwords, wrongly configured applications or databases, and configuration issues.

D) Environmental Scans

Then there is another type of scan which is designed according to the technological environment in your organization. There are special scans available for different technology deployment, including IoT devices, cloud-based devices, websites, mobile devices, and more. 

5. How does vulnerability scanning work?

The vulnerability management process involves the following processes:

  1. Identifying the vulnerabilities.
  2. Evaluating the risk posed by any vulnerability identified in the first step.
  3. Treating the identified vulnerabilities.
  4. Reporting the vulnerabilities and how they were handled.

6. What to look for in a vulnerability scanner?

There are many vulnerability scanning tools available in the market. You must perform vulnerability scanning tools comparison from the available ones and choose the best one according to your requirements. Below are some points that will help you select a scanner that will suit your requirements:

  1. Your vulnerability scanner should get frequent updates. Its database should continually get updated with the latest discovered vulnerabilities.
  2. Your scanner should find a balance between the quantity and quality of vulnerabilities it reports. It means reducing false positives and negatives and providing high-quality information on threat priorities, flaws, and remediation paths.
  3. The tool should provide a comprehensive report so that practical and corrective actions can be taken.
  4. Your scanning tool should integrate well with your organization’s vulnerability management program.

7. Benefits of Vulnerability Scanning

Vulnerability scanning has become an important part of an organization’s security procedures to avoid any malicious activity. The various benefits of performing vulnerability scanning are:

  • It protects sensitive data.
  • It provides a proactive approach to close any security vulnerabilities in your organization. It helps in maintaining strong security for your employees, data, customers, and systems. 
  • Vulnerability scanning tools are also accessible to cybercriminals. So it is essential to carry out scanning regularly and take appropriate actions before a hacker attacks your system.

8. Challenges faced by Vulnerability Scanning

  • Vulnerability scanning happens for a moment in time. It is not continuous. So it is essential to perform regular scans.
  • Timely human interference is required. A security expert should check the inventory list produced by the scanner, mitigate the issues, and perform a follow up if the problem is solved or not. 
  • An authenticated scan requires that the scanning tool has many privileged access credentials, which are risky.
  • A scanner is only capable of testing according to the database of known signatures and faults. New vulnerabilities frequently arise, so the tool’s databases need to be updated frequently.

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