What is Vulnerability Scanning?

Security application scanning for potential threats

One of the key responsibilities of IT management teams is to regularly scan networks to reveal exploits that exist in an organization’s systems. Vulnerabilities can be only managed if they have been identified and discovered. The only way to achieve this is through a comprehensive vulnerability scanning program.

Vulnerability Scanning Definition

Vulnerability scanning is an automated process that proactively identifies vulnerabilities in a network, application, and its security practices. It is typically performed by the orgnization’s IT department or a third-party security service provider. The scan may also be performed by attackers who are trying to find points of entry into a network.

Vulnerability scanning utilizes a piece of software running from the standpoint of the person analyzing the attack surface in question. The vulnerability scan creates a report that contains details about the system’s target surface and attack vectors.

The report is then checked against a list of known flaws, coding bugs, default configurations, and other anomalies that attackers may exploit. This report is then analyzed to identify opportunities for the organization to improve its digital security.

Types of Vulnerability Scans

Vulnerability scans can be categorized into two types: credentialed scans and non-credentialed scans, depending on the use case.

Credentialed Scans vs. Non-Credentialed Scans

Non-credentialed scanning does not require credentials to gain access to the network being scanned. These scans provide an outsider perspective of an environment and often miss the critical vulnerabilities inside the system. So while they provide valuable insights about the potential attacker and security risk from the outside, non-credentialed scans provide an incomplete picture of the target’s true vulnerability.

By contrast, credentialed scans require entry into the system with credentialed access. These scans are authenticated and conducted with a users’ perspective of the system. Credentialed scans will reveal a list of vulnerabilities that traditional scans may not be able to identify.

Here are other ways of categorizing scans based on use case:

External vulnerability scans

These scans are performed from outside the network that is being tested.

Internal vulnerability scans

These scans identify vulnerabilities that attackers use once they make it to the inside.

Environmental scans

These scans are based on the environment of the technology in question. Specialized scans are available from different types of technology, including mobile devices, IoT devices, websites, the cloud, and more.

Intrusive and Non-Intrusive Scans

Intrusive scans are an attempt to exploit the vulnerability once it has been found. Non-intrusive scans will simply create a report on it so that you can fix the said vulnerability. This highlights the risk and impact of the vulnerability, but may disrupt the system’s processes, causing inconvenience to employees and customers alike.

Bottom Line: Firms Have to be Proactive

Organizations must take a proactive approach towards securing their online attack surface. To this end, vulnerability scanning provides the best path and provides information that can help fine-tune the penetration test, giving organizations the greatest return on their money.

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