Cybersecurity today is a high-stakes race for many organizations, and the winner is the one who discovers their vulnerabilities first. Most security experts race against time to identify and patch system flaws before opportunistic bad actors take advantage of them. Data security catastrophes can have crippling effects on your company, including financial loss, loss of reputation, and even legal penalties.
Moreover, more than simply implementing data security laws is required; businesses need to ensure that they continuously maintain compliance, often without the support of additional staff. This is where vulnerability and penetration testing meet.
As businesses digitize processes, system flaws are a certainty thanks to advancing technology and cloud usage. Even the strongest barriers contain weaknesses, and modern security experts are working hard to identify and remedy potential vulnerabilities. Vulnerability assessments and penetration tests are two sides of the same coin. While vulnerability assessments locate and assess security flaws in computer networks, applications, or systems, penetration testing, on the other hand, shows security professionals how and where their data infrastructure is vulnerable to hackers through strategized attacks. Both aim to help companies identify flaws in their data systems and operations and remedy them to prevent serious security incidents.
In this blog, we will discuss what vulnerability assessments and penetration tests are, why you need them, the steps to carry out each, and how much they cost.
What is a Vulnerability Assessment?
A vulnerability assessment systematically evaluates your system for security flaws and vulnerabilities. The assessment gives the security team information they may use to categorize, rank, and fix vulnerabilities. Assessments go beyond what you’d find in a standard vulnerability scan and are typically carried out by a dedicated team or a group of external, ethical hackers.
Owing to this, vulnerability management has taken on critical importance in the contemporary, digitally dependent corporate environment.
What is a Penetration Test?
A penetration test, also commonly known as a pen test, is a controlled cybersecurity activity wherein an ethical hacker will replicate actual cyberattacks on a system, network, or application. The security laws under consideration determine the length and frequency of the pen tests.
Security experts write a penetration test report after testing your systems’ vulnerability. The vulnerabilities are described in this report, along with the solutions. They also need to conduct a re-scan once the vulnerabilities have been fixed to ensure all gaps are filled and your system is secure. This testing and certification is necessary for various sectors to achieve specified local and international security compliance for their business.
The company must address high-risk discoveries as soon as penetration testers notify them to lower the attack surface before hackers exploit them. To pass auditor requirements for the majority of security certifications, like ISO 27001 or attestations, including SOC 2, PCI DSS, and other frameworks, as well as to abide by cybersecurity and privacy legislation, such as HIPAA or industry-specific rules, penetration testing is necessary.
Why Do You Need a Vulnerability Assessment?
In an organization, vulnerability assessment is no longer merely a nice-to-have resource. Depending on the nature of the organization, you may be required to conduct routine vulnerability assessments (VA) to maintain compliance. Different compliance rules have been developed to address the constantly changing security problems. Such examples include adhering to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), and the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPRs).
To guarantee they protect sensitive consumer data, these guidelines mandate that organizations conduct VAs regularly. A vulnerability assessment is a comprehensive security procedure that entails various tasks, including:
- Checking for password intrusions on routers and Wi-Fi networks;
- Performing security control inspections;
- Assessing the resilience of the network against threats, including network intrusions, distributed denial of service (DDoS), and man-in-the-middle assaults (MITM); and,
- Checking network ports for threats and known vulnerabilities.
A VA report, which acts as an organization’s security policy and other security products, results from a vulnerability assessment. To carry out a VA, you must employ various tools, including vulnerability scanning tools and technical judgment. Following completion, the VA suggests steps that can assist in reducing the risks that have been identified.
Why Do You Need a Penetration Test?
Companies can assess the entire security of their IT infrastructure through penetration tests. A business may have effective security procedures in one area but not another. No organization should wait for a real-world situation before moving on the offensive due to the tremendous cost of a successful cyber attack. Security professionals and pen testers can remedy any flaws before they become serious risks by using penetration testing technologies to reveal gaps in a company’s security layer.
With penetration testing, you get to:
- Test security controls to learn how well your application, network, and physical security layers are functioning as a whole;
- Identify the endpoints in your computer systems that are most vulnerable to attacks from enemies should be made visible;
- Ensure information security compliance so that your organizations can uphold industry requirements; and,
- Reinforce security posture, which, in turn, helps companies prioritize their vulnerabilities and address them with a security program.
What are the Steps For a Vulnerability Assessment?
Here are the steps of a vulnerability assessment:
- Defining the Scope
The network owner must establish the scope of the evaluation to specify which networks, systems, and applications will be tested. Typically, distinct domains or subdomains are used to define further and divide the scope.
The scope could also outline the precise methodology for testing vulnerabilities, among other things. For instance, some businesses may specify that testing email vulnerabilities must utilize a certain email address and cannot include phishing attempts against their employees.
- Review System Functions
The security team will analyze various scope systems and apps before doing the vulnerability assessment. The review stage assists in assessing the potential effects of a vulnerability exploit on business operations.
- Perform the Vulnerability Scan
Hackers can test a system’s integrity using various tools and methods. Automated scans are a frequent testing starting point since they seek the most prevalent vulnerabilities in host machines, network infrastructure, and application software.
The testing team uses a manual testing strategy that employs customized code to find flaws. It can take a lot of effort to code manually, but it is essential for finding application-specific problems and zero-day vulnerabilities.
- Create the Vulnerability Assessment Report
The evaluation report lists vulnerabilities found during scans and emphasizes corrective actions. The security team can choose which vulnerabilities to fix first because these suggestions have a severity rating.
The following are typically listed in vulnerability disclosure reports:
- Name of the weakness and the date of discovery
- Based on CVE databases, the risk score for the vulnerabilities
- What systems are affected by the vulnerability
- Demonstrations of potential exploits or proof-of-concept use for the flaws and other remedial actions.
What are the Steps of a Penetration Test?
Here are the steps involved in engineering a penetration test:
- Scoping Systems
In this initial step, the organization must decide which operating systems and techniques will be employed in the penetration test. Before starting the pen test, both parties should sign a non-disclosure agreement, given that the pen tester might be given access to private information as part of their obligations.
- Acquiring Information
The pen tester will gather information that is readily accessible to the public once the parameters of your pen test have been agreed upon to comprehend how your company and its systems function fully. This can involve employing web crawlers to identify the most desirable targets among your business’s network names, domain names, and mail servers.
- Identifying Vulnerabilities
The pen tester will uncover potential flaws and develop an attack plan in the third stage. They’ll search for flaws, open ports, and other access points that could reveal details about the architecture of your system.
- Launching Attacks
This step is self-explanatory by using well-known web app techniques, including SQL injection and cross-site scripting, to exploit detected vulnerabilities, the pen tester will attempt to imitate the effects of an actual assault. This suggests that the pen tester will concentrate on gaining access to restricted, private, and/or confidential data.
- Upholding Duration
Once the assault has begun and the pen tester has gained access to your system, they will start gathering information and attempting to extend the attack’s length. The intention is to acquire wide access while faking a constant presence. To access sensitive data, sophisticated attackers frequently linger in a company’s system for months or longer.
- Remedying Weaknesses
The pen tester will typically provide you a preliminary report of their results at this time and an opportunity to fix any vulnerabilities they detect. When remediation is finished, the company will repeat those known exploits to see if the fixes are sufficient to thwart further attacks.
- Analysis and Reporting
The pen tester provides your company with a final report in this step, which reveals the following:
- Exploitable weaknesses and potential repercussions of a breach (prioritizing vulnerabilities should be done according to their kind and level of danger);
- Access to material that is limited, private, or confidential;
- How long did the pen tester compromise the company’s networks;
- Whether the found vulnerabilities were successfully fixed.
The report should also highlight technical dangers that need to be handled (for instance, by security enhancements) and the most important strategic concerns from a business standpoint (for management).
How Much Do Vulnerability Assessments and Penetration Tests Cost?
The cost of a vulnerability assessment can range from $999 to $4500 every year, depending on your demands and the vulnerability assessment service, but this can vary significantly. On the other hand, penetration testing may be a little more expensive, costing anywhere between $4,000-$100,000. A high-quality, professional pen test can cost $10,000-$30,000.
The cost of both cybersecurity practices varies according to the size of your applications, the number of attack vectors, and the test style you choose. To get an accurate quote, you must perform a scoping exercise first.
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