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What is a Vulnerability Assessment?
Glossary

What is a Vulnerability Assessment?

By Editorial Team Jun 25, 20206 min read

Businesses―small and large alike―face increased risk from cyberattacks and data theft today. And though numerous techniques and safeguards can be implemented to protect your organization, it all has to start with a clear understanding of which are the highest points of vulnerability, and where.

The Lowdown on Vulnerability Assessments

No two vulnerability assessments are likely to be the same, but they share a common vision and promise similar benefits and value-adds for your company. By understanding what a vulnerability assessment is and how it can benefit your operation, you will make better educated decisions about your cybersecurity and strategies for risk mitigation.

In the most basic sense, a vulnerability assessment is the process of identifying, organizing and prioritizing the weak points within a company’s network, computer systems, applications and software (technology stack), and device policies.

A comprehensive vulnerability assessment will yield powerful and relevant insights that key decision-makers require in order to identify the specific threats your organization might face, so you can develop proactive and preventive measures that empower your team to respond in an appropriate manner.

The increase in cyberattacks in recent years has meant that organizations of almost any size risk being targeted or compromised―and that includes even small firms. As many as 43 percent of all online attacks currently target small companies.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of a vulnerability assessment is that it can empower your security team to apply consistent and thorough approaches to identifying and neutralizing security risks and looming threats―before they become serious problems that result in significant damage. Other benefits include:

  • Early identification of threats and vulnerabilities within your company’s current IT security framework
  • Preparation for proactive remediation of any gaps in protection of sensitive information and data
  • Adherence to regulatory policies such as HIPAA and PCI DSS, which have strict requirements with regard to cybersecurity. Vulnerability assessments highlight these precise requirements so your organization can make the necessary adjustments to avoid costly missteps that so often lead to legal consequences, penalties and fines. 
  • Maximum opportunity to protect against costly data breaches and unauthorized access before such incidents occur. Think of it as a cost-effective security audit that shows you precisely where you must improve in advance of a disaster.

Most organizations face an array of risks, but not all cyber threats are equal. They bristle across a spectrum. Treating them all the same won’t do you a lot of good. You’ll benefit from exercising a sense of purpose behind your approach.

Given a thorough vulnerability assessment, each risk can be assigned priority and urgency. This makes it easier to know which risks deserve the most focus and which can be delegated or delayed.

In other words, you can focus your time and resources on the areas that matter most and pose the largest potential damage to your business while avoiding low-risk investments that deplete your reserves.

It’s best to regard a vulnerability assessment as a robust diagnostic tool for understanding your organization’s cyber health. You might already have a general awareness of this, but a thorough assessment enables you to zoom in with a microscope and spot details that have the potential to give you insights that lead to major improvements.

How to Conduct a Vulnerability Assessment

There’s no single method for conducting a vulnerability assessment. Your approach will depend to some extent on your needs, resources and desired outcomes. Having said that, some techniques and best practices will increase your organization’s ability to conduct high-returning assessments that yield maximum protection into the future.

The first big decision is to choose whether you want to conduct the assessment in-house or outsource the task to a third party. For large companies with deep resources and highly complex compliance requirements with regard to data protection and privacy, keeping things under the organization’s roof can make sense (practically and financially).

But for most companies, particularly small- and medium-sized firms, outsourcing is usually going to be more efficient and cost-effective.

A typical vulnerability assessment will involve a framework such as this:

  • Planning. The process begins by determining which networks and systems need to be assessed. You will  need to identify where your sensitive data resides precisely, so you’ll know where to concentrate your energy. During this phase, you’ll meet with all the necessary players and set clear expectations so there will be no confusion or knowledge gaps. An underlying issue that is typically forgotten at first and requires going back to assess is your third parties. Your third parties often connect to your organization’s data, and so their vulnerabilities could expose your organization to cyber risk. Therefore, it’s important to keep in mind already in the planning phase that your third parties must also undergo vulnerability assessments.  
  • Threat detection. Next comes the scan for threats, done by a suite of select tools.
  • Analysis. If you intend to be thorough in your threat-detection effort, you may gather dozens or hundreds of findings. Don’t let that overwhelm you. During the analysis phase, sift false alarms, prioritize vulnerabilities based on potential impact and ease of repair. This will provide you with a clear path forward.
  • Remediation. It’s one thing to know the risks your organization faces. If you want to make real progress, however, you need to do something about the vulnerabilities. In the final phase, you implement the appropriate solutions to address underlying problems and make your business as protected as you can.

A vulnerability assessment isn’t a one-time action you conduct and then may forget about for years thereafter. It’s something that should ideally be repeated over and over.

You should conduct assessments at least once per quarter. For large organizations in high-risk environments, it may be necessary to conduct some type of assessment every month, possibly even every week.

Panorays: Your Partner in Vulnerability Assessments

Panorays assesses and continuously monitors your third parties’ cyber posture. It helps organizations rapidly pinpoint their third parties’ vulnerabilities so risks can be mitigated.

Please contact Panorays today and request a free demo!

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Editorial Team

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