Vulnerability assessments are one of the best methods to take the pulse of your organization’s network security.
Consider for a moment the lifecycle of a vulnerability – of any size – in the security of the network infrastructure that your organization relies upon. If discovered by malicious online actors, they may choose to exploit it. They can implement everything from dedicated denials of service, which stun your organization's activities, to rootkits that allow more subtle, gradually destructive access.
For that matter, information security teams lucky enough to find their company’s flaws first don't really have that much of a leg up: Tenable's research on this very subject found that malicious actors generally have between 5 and 12 days to throw all their exploits at a vulnerability before a business discovers it. Simply put: If a loophole isn't almost immediately patched upon its discovery, someone unwelcome will try to get through it.
This is why vulnerability scans are so important. If you consider yourself a relative tech novice, you may be hearing all this and asking, "Wait, what is vulnerability assessment, anyway?" Fear not – we've got you covered.
Vulnerability assessments gauge the effectiveness of cybersecurity measures
Vulnerability assessments examine the protective measures your organization has in place to safeguard its digital assets, catalogs the security flaws that exist and helps security teams understand what types of cyberattacks could most easily affect the network as a result of said flaws.
Frequency matters – conduct assessments based on risk and industry
All organizations, be they in the public, private or nonprofit sectors, can benefit from completing vulnerability assessments. At an absolute minimum, you should do this weekly, and in today’s threat-rich environment, it may be worthwhile (and then some) to run such tests more frequently than that: every few days or even every 24 hours.
You must also consider other factors when determining how often to carry out vulnerability assessments. One is your history of cyberattacks and breaches and perceived level of risk thereof. For example, if your network has been breached before – even if it was some time ago and you've addressed the specific vulnerability that led to the incident – it's probably best if you run scans for network flaws more often than an organization with no history of cyberattacks.
Businesses operating in industries that have proven to be particularly vulnerable, such as finance and health care, should complete vulnerability assessments frequently. (Regulations such as HIPAA often dictate exactly how often such scans must occur.) One thing is for certain, regardless of industry or attack history, if you've never run a vulnerability scan before, it's imperative to do so now.
Strive to be diligent (and never settle for minimalism)
In a world where data breaches have evolved from an esoteric threat to a fairly commonplace danger and network vulnerabilities are multiplying like never before, the importance of vulnerability assessment cannot be overstated. Cybersecurity should never be something where you “set it and forget it.”
However, some businesses do just that. Tenable Research's Cyber Defender Strategies report surveyed more than 2,100 organizations and found that 33% of them could be considered “minimalist” in terms of how they conducted their vulnerability assessments. This means scans were carried out only as a compliance mandate, in a one-system-at-a-time format. Only 5% of respondents were “diligent,” covering all assets comprehensively and in a differentiated fashion to address varying use cases.