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Vulnerability Scanning & Penetration Testing: Overview

Vulnerability scanning is the act of identifying weaknesses and potential vulnerabilities in network devices, such as firewalls, routers, switches, servers, and applications. It is automated, business-wide and focuses on finding potential and known vulnerabilities on the network or an application level.

Vulnerability scans can regularly run on any number of IT assets to make sure that known vulnerabilities are detected and patched. Thus, you can quickly eliminate serious vulnerabilities to protect your business data.

An effective way to remediate vulnerabilities is to follow the vulnerability management lifecycle.

The Vulnerability Management Lifecycle is a cybersecurity best practice that helps strengthen the organization’s readiness to foresee and handle cyberattacks.

Briefly, it provides the following benefits:

  • Prioritization of available IT assets
  • Computer system vulnerability awareness
  • Assessment and remediation of weaknesses

Vulnerability management can be included in patch management for effective patching.

As expected, the necessary tools are usually run by network administrators or IT security staff with good networking knowledge.

Penetration Testing

Penetration tests are simulated cyberattacks against a computer system to check for exploitable vulnerabilities.

The scope of penetration testing is narrow and there is always a human factor involved. It requires an extremely experienced person to conduct this type of testing. Good penetration testers, at some point during their testing, create scripts, change parameters of an attack or tweak settings of the tools they are using.

Penetration testing (pen testing) involves breaching attempts of any application system, such as application protocol interfaces (APIs), servers (frontend/backend) to uncover vulnerabilities like excessive data exposure or broken function level authorization, etc.

Insights provided by the penetration test can be used to patch detected vulnerabilities followed by improving your IT security policies.

Pen testing could target an application or a network, but specific to a function, department, or number of assets (usually based on risk and asset importance). The whole infrastructure and all applications can be tested, but that is not practical in the real world mainly because of cost and time.

Spending a lot of money on low-risk IT assets, which may take a few days to exploit, is not feasible.

Penetration testing requires highly skilled personnel that can exploit new vulnerabilities or discover ones that are not specific to normal business operations.

Pen testing can take from a few days to a couple of weeks. It is often conducted once a year and has a higher-than-average chance of causing outages.

Companies should maintain reports on crucial equipment and should investigate any changes in open ports or services. Vulnerability scanners like Rapid7, Nessus, GFI LANGuard, Qualys, Retina alert network defenders when unauthorized changes are made to the environment. Comparing detected changes against change-control records will help determine if the change was authorized or if there is a cybersecurity threat, such as a malware infection or a staff member violating security protocols.

Penetration testing satisfies some of the compliance requirements for security auditing procedures, including SOC2 and PCI-DSS. Certain standards, such as PCI, can be satisfied only by using a certified web application firewall (WAF). However, it doesn’t make pen testing less useful due to its benefits and ability to improve the WAF configuration.

Testing Methods

Internal testing

In this scenario, a pen tester with access to an application behind its firewall simulates an attack by a malicious insider. A starting scenario can be an employee whose login information were stolen because of a successful phishing scheme.

Targeted testing

In a targeted test, the pen tester and the security personnel work together sharing the same strategy. This is a valuable training exercise that provides a security team with real-time feedback from an attacker’s standpoint.

External testing

External pen testing, also known as Black Box penetration testing, target the IT assets of a company that are visible on the internet, as for instance, the organization website, email and domain name servers, etc. The tester’s goal is to gain unauthorized access and extract sensitive data.

Blind testing

In a blind test, the tester is only given the name of the organization that’s being targeted. This gives security personnel first-hand experience into how an actual cyberattack would take place.

Double-blind testing

In a double-blind test, the security staff is not aware of the simulated attack. So, they won’t have any time to double check their defenses before an attempted breach.

Routine check for vulnerabilities

Fortunately, a routine check for vulnerabilities will lead to frequent upgrades for patches. This will help your computer system stay on top of the latest threats that develop in the realm of cybersecurity. However, vulnerability scanning and penetration testing are both crucial to an efficient cybersecurity strategy.

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The Importance of IT Asset Management in Security

IT asset management is a crucial component to the foundation of cybersecurity operations across businesses of all types.

What is IT asset management?

IT asset management is the process of continuously identifying the IT assets that your organization utilizes and the potential security risks that affect each one.

Assets could be traditional devices, like desktops and servers, or they could be specialized IoT, Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), industrial internet of things (IIoT), or software-defined resources, like a company-owned domain or a cloud-based database.

Any device, resource or service that exists within your IT portfolio could be vulnerable in case of a cyber-attack and can lead to a breach of the individual connected device, and probably your entire network, in case attackers use one compromised resource as a starting point to launch a broader attack.

Why is it important?

Asset management will empower your entire organization with the visibility it needs to build a comprehensive IT security strategy that mitigates threats quickly and proactively. Such an approach delivers many benefits:

With a strong IT asset management process in place, businesses can deploy new IT services or resources without letting security become a problem because their cybersecurity asset management process will catch potential vulnerabilities.

Secondly, IT asset management helps ensure that security teams detect threats before they escalate. By continuously monitoring your IT portfolio for new deployments and risks, teams don’t have to wait until they detect an active attack to respond.

Thirdly, if an attack does occur, asset management will provide the security team with an inventory of assets and risks that the team can use to gain context, to understand what went wrong and when. Teams have an up-to-date record that they can refer to immediately.

IT asset management places organizations in a stronger position to identify and quickly react to security risks. Although it is only one component of an effective cybersecurity strategy, it’s impossible, in most cases, to apply a proactive security strategy without asset management in place.

Poor IT asset management

Lack of asset management, or poor implementation of it creates a huge risk for the overall business. When data or systems are made unavailable by a breach, the business may not be able to operate. Not only will such disruptions harm the organization’s reputation, but they also have serious financial consequences: IT downtime costs businesses around $5,600/minute, on average.

Poor IT asset management also makes it difficult to maintain an accurate inventory of IT resources. Without knowing what exists where, your team will have to guess about where the most serious risks lie, which is a poor use of time and money.

Keystones of the process

IT resources and security risks come hand in hand and in so many forms. IT asset management is a process that involves a range of activities that vary from one business to another depending on the types of assets at stake. Following are the keystones of the process.

Vulnerability management: asset management helps detect and address vulnerabilities, as for instance outdated software running on a connected device.

Cloud security: IT asset management includes the identification of cloud resources that are vulnerable due to unpatched software, poor configuration, lack of access control, etc.

Device discovery and protection: identifying network endpoints and assessing each one for vulnerabilities, the cybersecurity team can take the necessary steps to address the issues in a timely manner. As for instance, to isolate the insecure endpoints until the issue is fixed.

Incident response: providing the incident response team with the information it needs to determine the cause of the incident and to quickly remediate.

Cybersecurity policy enforcement: if a resource violates security policies that your IT security team has defined, asset management enables quick discovery and remediation of the issue. When new resources are added to the network that match a particular device profile and security policy, they are automatically protected.

The reality is that all the resources described above change frequently. So, network devices may come and go as application instances spin up and cloud services may change their configurations continuously as they scale. Therefore, IT asset management processes must be performed regularly, in real-time, to keep up to date with evolving environments.

Conclusion

IT asset management is the foundation of a proactive, end-to-end security strategy. It plays a major role in security operations across a variety of verticals. It’s vital not just for software companies, but for any organization that relies on software and hardware to power its daily operations, which almost every business does today, because almost every company is now a technology company.