04 Apr Vulnerability Scanning: Definition, Types, How It Works and Its Importance
Businesses that don’t identify and remediate vulnerabilities in their IT environments are easy targets for cybercriminals or malicious insiders. Given today’s rapidly evolving cyberthreat landscape, not running vulnerability scans regularly is a mistake that, sooner or later, won’t go unpunished.
Let’s take a few minutes to review everything you need to know about vulnerability scanning — its definition, types, functionality and importance. By the end of this blog, you’ll understand how your business can undertake vulnerability scanning without taxing your two most precious resources — time and money. Let’s get to it then!
What is vulnerability scanning?
Vulnerability scanning is a process that involves identifying network, application and security vulnerabilities in an IT environment. Typically, it’s either an organization’s IT department or an external security service provider — such as a managed security service provider (MSSP) — that performs a vulnerability scan.
The process is carried out using a vulnerability scanning tool. The tool inspects an attack surface, identifies vulnerabilities, classifies them using a database of known vulnerabilities and often predicts the effectiveness of existing countermeasures.
Vulnerability scans help businesses test security readiness and minimize risk, restricting the pathways that hackers exploit to get unauthorized access. It’s no different from anticipating how a thief might enter your home. The point is to ensure you secure all possible entry points.
Why do we need vulnerability scanning?
Cybersecurity vulnerabilities make your network susceptible to a range of cyberthreats, from ransomware to account takeovers. The bottom line? You absolutely need vulnerability scanning. Period.
The U.S. government’s National Vulnerability Database (NVD), which is based on the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) list, currently has over 150,000 entries. Your business needs vulnerability scanning to ensure cyberattackers do not gain access to your business’s sensitive data using any one of these vulnerabilities.
To make matters worse, almost 22,000 vulnerabilities were published in 2021 alone — significantly higher than the number published in previous years (18,362 in 2020, 17,382 in 2019 and 17,252 in 2018). Nearly every cybersecurity statistic points to how crucial it is to harden your business’s cyber defenses ASAP. Before you invest thousands of dollars in security solutions, invest in building a comprehensive vulnerability scanning strategy.
What is the difference between vulnerability scanning and penetration testing?
Vulnerability scanning and penetration testing are often mistaken as the same thing, but they are not. While a vulnerability scan is typically an automated test run using a tool aimed at unearthing potential security vulnerabilities, a penetration test involves a person running a comprehensive test of a network to exploit the weaknesses.
A vulnerability scan identifies and classifies vulnerabilities, but a penetration test gathers extensive data on the root cause of a vulnerability. Moreover, a pen tester might be able to help you with details on certain vulnerabilities that may be overlooked by a vulnerability scan.
Regular vulnerability scans can give you timely insights into your network security. However, there are times when you may need a more comprehensive analysis of your network security. That’s when you turn to a penetration test. Both vulnerability scans and penetration tests can help your business strengthen its cybersecurity immensely.
How does vulnerability scanning work?
A vulnerability scanner only scans what you configure it for. Depending on the type of scan needed, the tool scans specific interfaces to invoke a response from the targeted devices. For example, if you’ve configured a vulnerability scan to detect outdated operating system versions in your network, the scanner will test the network devices accordingly. Once a device is detected to be running on an outdated operating system (such as Windows XP), the scanner will flag it as a vulnerability.
After identifying a vulnerability, the tool then matches the results against a database of vulnerabilities to classify the vulnerability and assign a risk rating to it. In the end, the scanner generates a report that can be analyzed and interpreted.
You can configure vulnerability scanners to scan all network ports and detect and identify password breaches and suspicious applications or services. It can help you manage security fixes or missing service packs, malware, coding flaws and remote access.
Now let’s look at some ways vulnerability scans can be run and the differences between them.
Internal vs. external vulnerability scans
It’s evident that a network faces both internal and external security threats, which makes it crucial for businesses to tackle both. Internal vulnerability scans are run from inside the network and target the internal network. These scans focus specifically on identifying vulnerabilities inside a network that could be exploited to gain access to the network and sensitive data.
External vulnerability scans assess the areas of an IT ecosystem that are exposed to the internet or not restricted to internal use. These areas often include applications, ports, websites, services, networks and systems accessed by external customers or users.
Authenticated vs. unauthenticated vulnerability scans
Authenticated scans can be performed when the scanning tool is configured with credentials controlled by a centralized directory. This tool uses remote protocols, such as Secure Shell (SSH) or Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), to log in to targeted systems and scan them for vulnerabilities. Authenticated scans offer businesses a more robust analysis of their IT environments.
Contrary to authenticated scans, unauthenticated scans identify and report vulnerabilities from the viewpoint of an outsider (unauthenticated users). These scans tell you the vulnerabilities visible to an unauthorized user that could be exploited.
What are the types of vulnerability scans?
Businesses use several ways to deploy a vulnerability scan to discover vulnerabilities effectively and efficiently. The five most common types of vulnerability scans are:
These scans are focused on identifying security vulnerabilities across a network. Practices and policies related to both public and private networks are assessed to prevent unauthorized access.
Host-based scans detect vulnerabilities in workstations, servers and other network hosts. While running these scans, ports and services are scanned vigorously to provide greater visibility into the configuration settings and patch history of the assets.
These scans specifically target a business’s wireless network. These scans have become more important in today’s hybrid work environment.
Businesses run these scans to identify security loopholes, such as misconfigurations and other weaknesses, in their databases and big data systems. These scans also discover rogue databases and unsecure development or test environments.
Application scans play a crucial role in spotting vulnerabilities and misconfigurations in web applications used by a business. These scans often use front-end automated scans or perform a dynamic/static analysis of an application’s source code.
What is automated vulnerability scanning?
Automated vulnerability scanning involves running automated, high-level scans of an IT environment for detecting vulnerabilities. Automated scanning tools generate detailed reports and often provide recommendations for remediation.
The benefits of leveraging automated vulnerability scanning include:
- Reduced costs and efforts: Automating vulnerability scans saves businesses significant time, money and effort that would otherwise be spent on manually running vulnerability scans and generating reports.
- Proactive strengthening of cybersecurity: Automated vulnerability scanning tools help businesses gather the information needed to make smart and informed cybersecurity decisions.
- Enhanced risk assessment: Businesses that regularly run automated vulnerability scans are more aware of how effective their security controls are and have a better understanding of the security risks they must tackle.
- Compliance management: Regular vulnerability assessments — made efficient by automated scanners — help businesses comply with data protection regulations.
Automated vulnerability scanning with RapidFire Tools
RapidFire Tools’ network vulnerability scanning solution, VulScan, is purpose-built for both MSPs and IT pros that manage IT security. It has all the bells and whistles you need for both internal and external vulnerability management. VulScan even includes an optional portable scanner that you can tote from one location to another for running ad-hoc scans without using consuming additional licenses. Most importantly, VulScan allows you to scan as many assets as you want, as often as you want.
VulScan helps MSPs develop new revenue streams and offers internal IT professionals improved security without straining budgets. With VulScan, you can:
- Create revenue opportunities and/or justify your IT spend by adding vulnerability scanning to your IT security routine
- Provide monthly updates about your network security program to your clients or executive team
- Differentiate yourself from your peers and competitors by offering enhanced cybersecurity services when others don’t
Schedule a demo of VulScan now to get a first-hand look at why it is the most complete, automated and affordably priced vulnerability management solution available.