Network Computing is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

The Importance of Network Vulnerability Assessments

binoculars-1209011_640.jpg

A Look Ahead
(Source: Pixabay)

Today, CIOs and their teams must prioritize cybersecurity as companies continue to deal with the aftermath of COVID-19. Companies have begun to reinvent outdated operation processes and digitize most or all core business systems to improve and streamline their supply chain. Migrating systems, files, and applications to the cloud offers a flexible and reliable way to adapt to a turbulent economic environment. Migrating to the cloud enables businesses to scale up or down as needed and quickly meet the demands of the consumer. However, with everything moving online, there is a heightened risk of cyber-attacks. Network vulnerability assessments can play a critical role.

Why? Cybercriminals are exploiting organizations that have scrambled to digitize without having time to create a robust security plan. In fact, there are approximately 2,244 cyber-attacks occurring daily. These cyber-attacks often include data theft which can threaten the longevity of your business. This is why cybersecurity processes must be an essential part of your digital strategy. Performing regular network vulnerability assessments is the best way to mitigate a company’s risk of a cyber-attack, identify network issues, and patch the vulnerable areas before any malicious unauthorized behavior occurs.

What is a network vulnerability assessment?

A vulnerability assessment identifies and quantifies vulnerabilities in a company’s assets across applications, computing systems, and network infrastructures. It is central to an organization’s security plan, and it can be performed in-house, by a trusted managed security services provider (MSSP), or a combination of the two. The process involves reviewing and analyzing a company's virtual private network (VPN) and its computing and communications devices and applications. Then, detailed reporting and scoring of the vulnerabilities show the company where to make improvements. This allows companies to proactively keep cybercriminals at bay, modernize their business processes, and provide their customers with a seamless user experience. 

How often should a vulnerability assessment be performed?

It is recommended that a company perform a vulnerability assessment every month, any time access points change or when equipment is added to the network. By conducting the assessment regularly, your IT team is aware of any system flaws and can prevent them from developing further. When thinking about performing your own network vulnerability assessment, it is worth considering partnering with an MSSP to assist. This way, your company will have an expert review and an unbiased interpretation of the scan.

What is a company exposed to?

With many offices adopting a hybrid work-from-home and office model, remote work has changed how businesses are communicating and accessing data. An increased number of access points to the company’s network has undeniably amplified security risk. As recently reported by KPMG International, 73% of organizations face malware threats, 49% face phishing attacks, and 43% experience ransomware attacks. Hackers target weak areas in vulnerable networks, like improper coding and security misconfigurations, to steal company data. When you perform a network vulnerability test regularly, you can update your network security infrastructure as needed and focus your efforts on weak areas instead of wasting your time guessing where you need to improve.

Types of vulnerability assessments.

The two primary types of vulnerability assessments are:

  • Network-based assessment: this assessment scans for system vulnerabilities within an entire network environment, comprising of software and hardware, communications systems, hubs, servers, and other equipment and assets. This type of scan can quickly identify issues such as a misconfigured firewall or a vulnerable web server.
  • Host-based assessment: this assessment scans specific hosts within the organization. For instance, the network administrator performing the assessment might be investigating the activity of an untrustworthy employee or checking to see if an employee has fallen victim to a phishing scam through a suspicious email.

What is involved in a vulnerability assessment?

Now that you have an understanding of what vulnerability assessment is and how easy it is for hackers to invade your VPN, let us look at the steps involved in carrying out a vulnerability assessment:

  • Initial assessment: this identifies all assets present in the network environment and defines their levels of value and risk using a detection tool. This step also includes recognizing how each asset is accessed and by who. This generates a report that lists and scores the detected assets and their level of vulnerability.
  • System baseline definition: this helps identify which assets are authorized and which systems and ports are open that should not be. It is important to check your company and industry compliance in this step before commencing the vulnerability scan.
  • Performing the vulnerability scan: based on the information collated, you can then use the right scanning tool to perform the scan. Various tools and plug-ins are available depending on your requirements for the areas that are being scanned.
  • Report creation: the created report will include a detailed description of all assets and their vulnerabilities as well as outline the recommendations and techniques to patch the vulnerable areas and mitigate future risk.

Final thoughts

Although performing a network-based vulnerability assessment is more common, a host-based assessment is equally important to the security of your company. If you overlook an internal security issue that lies in an endpoint, it becomes a gateway for hackers to intrude the network under the radar.

Leveraging transformative technology has helped businesses to remain resilient, competitive, agile, and prosperous. It has set them up for a more scalable and innovation-driven future. In order to fully realize the benefits of digitization, you must properly monitor and protect your company's new way of operating, communicating, and sharing.

Greg Jehs is the Director of Enterprise Engagement at Meridian.