What Is a Vulnerability Assessment? (With Types and Steps)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 28, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many organizations store valuable business and customer data on information systems, which they use to support its operations. These systems are vulnerable to cyberattacks and require regular tests to ensure their integrity is intact. Understanding what vulnerability assessment is can aid your career as a cybersecurity analyst and help you protect company data. In this article, we discuss what a vulnerability test is, highlight its importance, outline the types of assessment, and detail the steps in a vulnerability test.

What is a vulnerability assessment?

A vulnerability assessment is a system-review process to discover and resolve potential security risks. Vulnerabilities are various factors that can affect the ability of a system to function effectively. While you can conduct vulnerability tests on different systems, the term usually refers to information and technology systems. Organizations perform vulnerability tests to help identify and prevent security threats before they lead to significant damage. As a result, vulnerability tests are standard procedures for many IT companies and companies in finance, telecommunications, and health that deal with sensitive data.

Related: How to Become a Penetration Tester (Step-by-Step Guide)

Importance of vulnerability testing

Here are some of the benefits of vulnerability testing:

Prevents security breaches

Vulnerability tests help ensure the integrity of security systems through routine checks. When companies perform vulnerability tests regularly, it can quickly detect faults in the system which hackers can exploit. This enables the company to take a preventive approach by fortifying its systems before a possible attack. During vulnerability tests, analysts can deploy various tools to scan a company's system and detect its coding and security infrastructure errors. To stay ahead of security risks, a company can perform vulnerability tests monthly or quarterly, depending on the organization's nature.

Improves understanding of information systems

Vulnerability tests are comprehensive assessments that review various parts of a security system. A company can understand which aspects of its system are at risk and the extent of the risk through it. Even where the company can't immediately resolve the problem, it's helpful to be aware of potential risk areas. With that knowledge, the company can amend its procedures to minimize the potential damage. For example, the company may limit the amount and sensitivity of data it stores on certain systems due to their vulnerability.

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Responds quickly

Regularly testing systems for vulnerability can help the company discover cyberattacks early. Often, uncovering an ongoing attack can help the company stop it before its completion. A company that consistently tests for vulnerability is likely to have a system in place to respond to cyber-attacks. This can help companies mitigate damage and save valuable data and resources.

Promotes credibility

Both individual and corporate clients are careful about their personal and financial data getting into the wrong hands. As a result, clients are likely to prefer companies that perform routine vulnerability tests. When a company shows over time that it remains committed to ensuring the security of its information systems, it gains the trust of clients. It can help companies to share information about its vulnerability tests like reports, schedules, and methods.

Aids compliance

Certain companies have legal obligations to protect the data of clients. For example, companies in the health, finance, and telecommunications industry have special obligations to prevent client data breaches. Such companies may be legally liable if they fail to take reasonable measures to prevent a data breach. Conducting regular vulnerability tests is one of the methods a company can use to show its commitment to data security and fulfil its legal duty. It's important IT experts are familiar with relevant cybersecurity regulations to understand the company's level of responsibility.

Ensures resource efficiency

Vulnerability tests help uncover which systems are at risk and the level of risk each faces. When a company is aware of the risk level of various systems, it can apportion its resources appropriately. This ensures that the company can use resources more efficiently and avoid wastage. The company can use the resources saved on cybersecurity for other functions like upgrades or purchasing new and more efficient systems.

Strengthens security systems

Vulnerability tests help reveal the level of vulnerability of a company's information systems. Companies can determine the most appropriate response to security risk through detailed reports and use its resources more effectively. As a result, companies that routinely test for vulnerabilities tend to have stronger and more reliable security systems. Reliable security systems help companies save costs of recovering lost data and promote the brand image to the public.

Types of vulnerability tests

Here are the various types of vulnerability tests:

Host assessment

Host assessments are vulnerability tests that companies run on servers, workstations, and other network host systems. These systems usually store or transmit data that require authorization to access. Companies perform this assessment to detect potential risks like unauthorized installations, bugs, and vulnerable file permissions. Host systems are usually the target of cyberattacks due to the value of the information they hold and how valuable they're to business operations.

Network and wireless assessment

Network and wireless assessment focus on detecting potential risks in an organization's network systems. It involves assessing the organization's existing practices, measures, and policies for preventing access to its network systems by unauthorized persons. Network and wireless assessment help prevent the exploitation of network systems and resources. A network assessment is important as hackers can access valuable systems through an organization's network.

Database assessment

Database assessments test systems that store large amounts of data to ensure they aren't liable to security breaches or malfunctions. This assessment is important, as many organizations rely on its databases for the continued functioning of business processes. For example, businesses may rely on databases to archive clients' private information and offload valuable data to create space on other systems. Database assessment helps ensure that staff enter data correctly into the organization's databases to prevent inconsistency, inaccuracy, or incompleteness. It also helps organizations group data according to sensitivity, which improves security.

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Application scans

Applications scans are vulnerability tests that check for potential risks in web applications. This type of assessment involves reviewing the application's source code to ensure it's properly configured and isn't vulnerable to hackers. Usually, IT professionals employ front-end applications that run automatic scans to detect any security risks. They may also use static or dynamic analysis of code. This assessment ensures clients don't unknowingly expose their data to hackers while interacting with web applications.

Steps in a vulnerability test

Here are the steps you can follow to perform a vulnerability test:

Asset discovery

Asset discovery is the process of identifying the systems that you want to conduct vulnerability tests on in a company. Usually, this depends on the purpose of the particular scan. For example, an organization may assess a particular group of systems after a recent installation. Alternatively, it may be a routine check to assess all its systems. Identifying the assets you want to assess is essential for developing a reliable assessment process. In addition, it's important organizations assess as many systems as possible. Organizations typically overlook cloud systems, Internet of things objects, and mobile devices.

Asset prioritization

After discovering the relevant assets, you can prioritize their evaluation depending on their vulnerability or value to the organization. This process is important as an organization may not have the resources to run tests on all its systems. Usually, it's best to prioritize systems that support the function of other systems or without which the business can't function. This includes end-user applications, network and communication systems, employee tools, and databases with sensitive data.

Vulnerability identification and testing

After prioritizing the organization's systems, you can test for vulnerabilities and identify them. Many tools conduct automated scans on various systems to reveal any security risks. Security analysts can also use manual methods for more precise assessments of devices, web applications, servers, and other technology assets. This process can help you gather relevant data to understand the integrity of the organization's system.

Vulnerability analysis

After gathering data from the vulnerability tests, you can analyze to determine the system's vulnerabilities. This analysis helps you understand the source of these vulnerabilities and their nature. This process is vital to developing practical solutions to strengthen the system and reduce security risks.

Related: How to Become a Security Consultant in 8 Steps (Plus Skills)

Risk assessment

After determining the nature and source of the system's vulnerabilities, you can conduct a risk assessment. This process can help you understand how vulnerable the organization is and the type of threats that are likely to occur. Risk assessments help organizations understand the risk factor of each system and prioritize resources and efforts accordingly. When conducting a risk assessment, experts often rank systems based on the type of data they contain, their functions, and the likelihood that they're a target of cyberattacks.

Remediation

Remediation is the process of resolving any security risks that the vulnerability test has uncovered. This process often involves the collaboration of various IT professionals. Remediation addresses gaps in an organization's system and ensures they can perform their functions more effectively. It can involve upgrading existing systems, installing new ones, introducing new security measures, and changing system settings. It's important remediation efforts consider employees that use the system.

Reporting

After the vulnerability test, security analysts can compile reports on their findings and approach. These reports can help inform future vulnerability tests. They're also useful for other company processes like internal audits.

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