What is Vulnerability Scanning?

Technology has had a major impact on businesses in modern times. Companies heavily rely on computing systems to handle their database, network, and day-to-day business operations. But technology isn’t perfect. While organizations enjoy the convenience and efficiency that computing technologies offer, there is also the constant risk of external threats from hackers and attackers. There are many ways to secure your company’s network and IT infrastructure from such threats, and one of the key methods is vulnerability scanning.

Organizations must understand what vulnerability scanning is and how it can be implemented as an essential security measure. So read on to know all about vulnerability scanning, its types, benefits, and the process of effectively performing a vulnerability scan.

What is Vulnerability Scanning?

Network systems are prone to many types of vulnerabilities. It could range from something simple such as outdated software, faulty hardware, or weak encryptions to more serious and complicated issues such as flaws in the operating system, misconfigurations in the network, or zero-day vulnerabilities – loopholes in certain software that you may not be aware of but have caught the eye of attackers.

In most cases, organizations cannot identify and pinpoint such vulnerabilities unless they specifically look for them. And that’s exactly what is vulnerability scanning. It’s the process of actively scanning network systems and overall IT infrastructures to detect any possible vulnerabilities. The process is automated and carried out by specially designed software called a vulnerability scanner.

An important thing to know about vulnerabilities is that they are not created or set up by attackers. Rather, they are faults and weak points that have always existed in a system but have not been identified and neutralized yet. Even attackers perform security vulnerability scanning when they try to breach systems to find easy ways to gain access. So, the main purpose of vulnerability assessment scanning is to identify such loopholes and patch them up in advance to prevent possible attacks in the future.

Types of Vulnerability Scanning

There are various types of vulnerability scanning based on what aspect of your system is being scanned. Some of the primary vulnerability scanning types are briefly explained below.

Network Vulnerability Scanning

It is the process of identifying vulnerabilities in the organization’s computing network. That includes both internal networks, such as local servers, and external networks, such as Wi-Fi and internet connection. If you’re unsure what to look for in the network vulnerability scanning, here are some pointers:

  • Malware, adware, spyware, and viruses, which most commonly enter the network via insecure downloads
  • DDoS attacks
  • Poorly configured firewall

Some network vulnerabilities may arise due to human errors, such as an employee opening suspicious emails. So, your employees need to be aware of such things and act cautiously too.

Web Application Vulnerability Scanning

Businesses and organizations are increasingly relying on web applications these days. They are easy to use, work on multiple platforms and systems, and barely have specific requirements other than a working internet connection. But as more and more businesses use various web applications, they also become a prime target for cyberattacks. A proper web app vulnerability scan can help defend your system from such attacks.

Here are some common web application vulnerabilities to look out for:

  • Mismanaged access controls, which allow low-level users to gain access that they shouldn’t normally have
  • Weak credentials that can be easily obtained by attackers
  • Cross-site scripting
  • Directory climbing and indexing
  • Vulnerabilities in coding, which happen more commonly when certain codes are copied and pasted between two or more similar applications

Regular web app vulnerability scanning can identify these issues before attackers exploit them.

Cloud Vulnerability Scanning

The widespread use of cloud technology nowadays doesn’t need to be explained. Statistical research from 2019 showed that 91% of participating enterprises use cloud technology. Since then, the numbers must have increased even more significantly. But cloud computing also has its fair share of vulnerabilities, such as:

Cloud vulnerabilities can be tricky because data in the cloud is not stored in a single physical server but distributed over different servers and often has multiple copies. So, it’s crucial to perform thorough vulnerability scanning in cloud computing. Regular cloud vulnerability scanning and threat detection is a must for every enterprise that uses cloud services.

Database Vulnerability Scanning

Some of the most common cyberattacks, such as SQL injections, target the database of organizations. In the world of technology, data is a gold mine for hackers. And if you want to protect your database at all costs, then database vulnerability scanning becomes essential. In fact, this is one of the most important types of vulnerability scans because most, if not all, companies maintain a database.

  • Weak credentials, or even blank credentials, can happen in companies with a massive database. If certain credentials are removed temporarily but then forgotten about, they get lost amidst hundreds or thousands of credentials, thus leaving a blank credential that hackers can zone in on.
  • Poorly maintained and misconfigured database
  • Buffer overflows
  • Outdated database management and security software

Many things can go wrong if your data falls into the wrong hands, so scanning databases for vulnerability should always be a high priority.

Code Vulnerability Scanning

Code vulnerabilities often arise due to human errors. Of course, you can’t expect developers and coders to be perfect and never make mistakes. You can double-check the code of software and applications and perform vulnerability scanning of the source code to ensure no such errors can be exploited. Particular emphasis should be given to parts of code that deal with security features. Also, make sure to repeat the vulnerability scan every time the code is changed or modified, be it adding snippets of new code as an update to the application or entirely replacing certain sections of the source code.

Container Vulnerability Scanning

Containers are like packets within the software containing units of essential components such as the application’s code, various libraries, dependencies, configurations, etc. They usually consist of a complete runtime environment for the software. The purpose of containers is to allow the software to run smoothly across different systems and platforms, regardless of which platform or system the software was originally built on.

So, what is container vulnerability scanning? It’s the process of identifying errors and faults specifically in the containers rather than the entire software or system. One of the most common platforms for managing containers is Kubernetes. And it has its own specialized vulnerability scanning process, referred to as Kubernetes vulnerability scanning.

Since containers are essentially smaller packages of entire software, so they are susceptible to similar vulnerabilities as the software itself, such as the insertion of malicious code and lack of regular updates. With Kubernetes particularly, vulnerabilities often arise due to outdated software because the platform can be quite difficult to manage, and users would need to implement patches and upgrades without fail at least once a year.

Vulnerability Scanning Process

Now the next important question is how to perform a vulnerability scanning process? As mentioned earlier, the process is automated. Most of the work is done by a special vulnerability scanner software. The role of IT professionals in an organization is to properly set up the software and run the automated scan from time to time.

There are 7 major types of vulnerability scanners:

  1. Port scanners
  2. Network-based scanners
  3. Host-based scanners
  4. Wireless scanners
  5. Application scanners
  6. Database scanners
  7. Source-code scanners

But how exactly does a vulnerability scanner work? The scanner contains a huge list of all known vulnerabilities. When the scanning process starts, it analyzes all aspects of the network and computing infrastructure to find any elements that match any vulnerability in the scanner’s own database. Whenever any known vulnerability is detected, the user is notified. However, it is up to the user to determine what elements of their system they want the software to scan. So, it’s important to ensure that no part of the overall IT infrastructure is left out when performing a running vulnerability scan.

To ensure maximum security, here are some vulnerability scanning best practices to keep in mind.

  • Perform regular scans. If there are long intervals without running any scan, it can give attackers enough time to discover and exploit new vulnerabilities. Of course, not all components of your IT system need to be required simultaneously. Some may only require a scan every year, while some components may require more frequent scanning, such as monthly or quarterly scans. Discuss with your IT team to develop the most appropriate frequency for scanning various parts of your system. As a general rule of thumb, dynamic, constantly changing systems and those with weaker security measures require more frequent scanning, while stable and robust systems do not need to be scanned as often.
  • Scan everything, be it servers, databases, and computers, or more recent additions such as IoT devices, smart systems, or even remote devices. Anything slightly related to your computing and networking ecosystem should be scanned. And to do so, you must also have a well-maintained inventory and documentation of every component of your IT infrastructure.
  • Do not discount the human factor. Systems, software, computers, and technical components are not the only thing susceptible to vulnerabilities. You also need to consider human errors. Establish shadow IT policy and strict security measures for your employees, especially regarding authorization and information sharing.

Benefits of Vulnerability Scanning

The importance of vulnerability scanning is undeniable. It is a significant aspect of cybersecurity and benefits an organization. Here are some of the most prominent vulnerability scanning benefits:

  1. It helps you to take precautions in advance. As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Rather than waiting for an attack to happen and then defending your system, vulnerability scanning takes a proactive approach, identifying potential security threats before they happen.
  2. It saves your business money. The financial repercussions of withstanding a cyberattack and then recovering from it can be huge. All that money can be saved by protecting your system from such attacks beforehand.
  3. Regular vulnerability scans ensure that your business complies with cybersecurity regulations set up by regulatory bodies.
  4. It identifies weak spots in your system and gives you in-depth insights into where your networking system is lacking. This information, in return, helps you come up with long-term strategies to improve your organization’s security further.

FAQs about Vulnerability Scanning

How do you perform a vulnerability scan?

A vulnerability scan is performed with the help of special tools and software called vulnerability scanners.

What does a vulnerability scan do?

Vulnerability scans thoroughly scan networking and computing systems to identify vulnerabilities – errors, flaws, loopholes, or any issues that can allow attackers to breach the system.

What are examples of vulnerability scanning?

Network scans, web application scans, cloud scans, and database scans are some examples of vulnerability scanning.

What is vulnerability scanning used for?

Vulnerability scanning is used to identify vulnerabilities within a system so that they can be patched or neutralized before they can be detected and exploited by external attackers. Organizations perform vulnerability scans to strengthen their security measures and prevent potential cyberattacks in the future.

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