Two Tools To Help Assess & Address Cybersecurity Risks
Cybersecurity is a hot topic. It seems that news outlets report on the latest cyber incident daily. And new threats emerge every day.
If you are a business leader or IT professional, you are likely experiencing some level of stress or concern about your organization’s ability to withstand the latest cyber threats.
You are not alone.
We partner with companies across a variety of industries and have worked with organizations in various states of cybersecurity readiness. (Don’t worry though, I’m not writing this article to convince you to work with us.)
We know that every business leader is not a cybersecurity or technology expert. You don’t need to be! We provide honest information you can use to make the best technology decisions for your organization.
In this article, we’ll explore and explain two tools that we recommend every organization use to get a snapshot view of cyber risk at a given moment in time: vulnerability scans and penetration tests. Both tools expose potential security gaps in organizational infrastructures that could be exploited. The difference is in the way each approaches the task and the information they provide.
In this article, I’ll walk you through each type of test and explain how you can use the information each provides to keep your organization’s infrastructure and data safe.
What Is A Vulnerability Scan?
A vulnerability scan (or “vulscan”) is a 2-3 hour automated test that identifies security weaknesses in a technology infrastructure. The scans can be performed using commercially available software or by hiring a professional IT team.
What Information Does A Vulnerability Scan Provide?
Vulscans identify devices, servers, and applications running on your network as well as open ports and other security gaps that may be putting your network at risk.
The risks identified can be compared to a database of known vulnerabilities, yielding valuable information that can form the basis for a remediation road map of actionable tasks.
What Is A Penetration Test?
Penetration tests are typically multi-day (or sometimes multi-week depending on the complexity of the environment), simulated, authorized hacks of an organization’s infrastructure carried out by a hired IT professional. These tests are carried out within an agreed upon list of specifically defined parameters.
What Information Does A Penetration Test Provide?
Like vulnerability scans, penetration tests also identify security risks in technology infrastructures.
But they go one step further and explore what would happen if someone with malicious intent exploited the existing infrastructure vulnerabilities. The customer is left with a full understanding of the potential impact of the existing security issues.
The tester provides a comprehensive customer report that provides a detailed and prioritized listing of the vulnerabilities and the potential risk each one poses to infrastructure security. This information can be used immediately to plug security gaps in order of priority.
Related article: What Is IT Penetration Testing? What Are The Benefits? Do I Need It?
What’s The Bottom Line?
Neither a vulnerability scan nor a penetration is a stand-alone solution to cybersecurity, but both are tools that provide a snapshot view of your network’s potential security risk at a given moment in time.
Both tests can help organizations build more secure networks, but neither are effective unless you use the information gathered to develop a comprehensive remediation plan to plug the gaps identified.
After learning the similarities and differences between these two security risk assessment tools, you may be wondering if your organization could benefit from them.
Based on our experience, we recommend that organizations perform both kinds of testing on a regular schedule that is right for them, based on the complexity of their infrastructure, the level of risk, their industry, and the vulnerabilities identified.
The thing to keep in mind is that like an x-ray, each of these tests provides only a snapshot view of your infrastructure at a given moment in time.
At a minimum, most organizations should perform a vulnerability scan on a monthly or quarterly basis and higher risk organizations would benefit from daily scanning. If vulnerability scans show few or no significant risks, don’t assume that your infrastructure is safe. Conduct a penetration test occasionally to ensure that a deeper dive doesn’t uncover any hidden vulnerabilities.
Threats change and you need to remain vigilant.
We understand that time and money are not unlimited resources for most organizations, but the more frequently vulnerability scans and penetration tests are performed, the safer the organization’s infrastructure will be.
Whether you have an internal IT team or need to rely on external resources, scanning for vulnerabilities and conducting penetration tests should be included in every organization’s multi-layered cybersecurity strategy. These two tools provide valuable information that you can use to guide your cybersecurity action plan and keep your organization safe.
Looking for other ways to protect your technology backbone? Learn 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.