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Karen Cohen

By: Karen Cohen on November 25, 2023

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What Is IT Vulnerability Scanning? Pros & Cons

Cybersecurity | IT Support

In today’s global marketplace, cybersecurity is top of mind for all business leaders. New threats emerge daily and protecting company and customer data is paramount.

One way to evaluate the effectiveness of your organization’s cybersecurity protections is with a vulnerability scan.

In this article, I’ll explain what a vulnerability scan is, how it works, the information it provides, and the pros and cons of vulnerability scanning. This information will help you understand the value of this tool so that you can decide if your organization would benefit.

Rather than convince you that you need to work with us to provide optimal security for your infrastructure, we believe in providing balanced, honest information about technology tools so that you have the information you need to make informed decisions about the best path for your organization.

While there are certain tools that we recommend everyone use, we’re still going to tell you the unvarnished truth about the advantages and disadvantages that come with them. There’s nothing worse than entering into something without a full understanding of what you may encounter.

What Is IT Vulnerability Scanning & How Does It Work?

Vulnerability scanning is a tool that can pinpoint potential weaknesses in your IT network at a given moment in time.

Vulnerability scans (also known as “vulscans”) identify devices, servers, and applications that are running on your network and automatically generate reports comparing the information gathered to a database of known vulnerabilities.

They also identify open ports that may be putting your network at risk.

Vulnerability scans can be performed using commercially available software or by hiring a professional IT team to handle it.

What Information Does A Vulnerability Scan Provide?

As the name implies, vulnerability scans expose vulnerabilities that exist on your IT network at a given moment in time. These vulnerabilities increase the likelihood that your organization will experience a cyber incident.

What Are The Benefits Of Vulnerability Scanning?

Vulnerability scans offer several advantages

1. Knowledge

Knowledge is power. A vulnerability scan gives your organization power because it identifies areas of risk that you otherwise would likely not know about. Your organization can use that information to remediate the vulnerabilities and reduce your risk of a cyber incident.

2. Cost

While the cost of a vulnerability scan varies depending on the size and complexity of your network infrastructure, it generally costs an organization with a small environment around $2,000 to scan, generate the report, and distill the results.

This makes vulnerability scanning a less expensive option than a penetration test.

Related article: What Is IT Penetration Testing? What Are The Benefits? Do I Need It?

Having said that, a penetration test provides a more complete picture of the vulnerabilities and the potential impact on your organization. They also generate comprehensive reports, making it easier to prioritize your actions.

3. Test length

Vulnerability tests typically take about 2-3 hours to run

What Are the Disadvantages Of Vulnerability Scanning?

A vulnerability scan provides valuable information about the vulnerabilities that exist at a given moment in time, but it doesn’t include a prioritized list of action items you can implement.

1. Interpretation Required

After the report is generated, it will take additional time to distill the information from the report into actionable tasks.

You will likely need help from an external IT expert to interpret the results of the vulnerability scan to identify which vulnerabilities pose the greatest risk

2. Prioritizing Next Steps

After you identify the vulnerabilities that post the greatest risk, you will need expert help to prioritize which actions to take first so that you can develop a prioritized action plan and close up the largest security gaps quickly.

How Is A Vulnerability Scan Different From A Penetration Test?

Each of these tools is designed to expose potential gaps in an organization’s infrastructure that could lead to a cyber breach. What makes the tools different is the way each approaches the task and the information they provide.

Penetration tests (also known as “pen tests”) are similar to vulnerability scans in that both identify areas of potential risk within a technology infrastructure.

Related article: Conduct A Risk Assessment For Your Business: 6 Steps

But penetration tests also explore what the impact would be on the organization if someone exploited those vulnerabilities and provide a prioritized action plan.

Vulnerability scanning and penetration testing can be stepping stones to a safer network, but neither one can improve the security of your network unless you develop a comprehensive remediation plan to plug the holes in your infrastructure.

Related article: What Is IT Penetration Testing? What Are The Benefits? Do I Need It?

What’s The Bottom Line?

After reading this article, you know what a vulnerability scan is, the advantages it offers (information, cost, and test length) as well as its disadvantages (interpretation of results and prioritization of next steps).

We also introduced penetration testing and explained the additional advantage it provides (impact on organization if vulnerabilities are exploited and prioritized action plan).

Based on our experience, organizations would ideally perform both kinds of testing and then develop a remediation strategy to eliminate any holes in the IT infrastructure. But we understand that resources and time are limited.

At a minimum, most organizations should perform a vulnerability scan on a monthly or quarterly basis. Daily scanning is the safest option for high-risk organizations with unlimited resources because honestly, the more frequently you scan for vulnerabilities, the better off your security will be.

If vulnerability scans show few or no significant risks, don’t just assume that your infrastructure is safe. Conduct a penetration test occasionally just to ensure that a deeper dive doesn’t uncover any hidden vulnerabilities.  

Whether you have an internal IT team or need to rely on external resources, scanning for vulnerabilities and conducting penetration tests should be a part of every organization’s cybersecurity efforts.

These two tools provide valuable information that you can use to guide your cybersecurity action plan and keep your organization safe.

Wondering what else you can do? Learn about the most often overlooked (and most cost-effective) cybersecurity tool.

Or click the button below for a checklist you can use to assess your organization's cyber readiness.

Get Your Cybersecurity Checklist


About Karen Cohen

Karen brings unending curiosity to her role as Kelser's Content Manager. If you have a question, she wants to know the answer.

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