Understanding vulnerability scanning: Key processes and types

  • Vulnerability scanning is primarily used to identify and mitigate security vulnerabilities in systems and software to prevent breaches and protect sensitive data.
  • Vulnerability scans include external scans for Internet assets, internal scans to detect internal vulnerabilities, authenticated scans from an internal perspective, and unauthenticated scans to simulate external attacks.

Vulnerability scanning plays a crucial role in cybersecurity by proactively identifying and addressing potential weaknesses in systems and software. This practice helps organizations mitigate risks, protect sensitive information, and fortify their overall security posture. This blog explores the essential concepts, types, and processes involved in vulnerability scanning, underscoring its importance in modern digital defenses.

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What is vulnerability scanning?

Vulnerability scanning involves detecting security vulnerabilities and flaws in systems and their software. It forms a crucial part of vulnerability management programs, aimed at safeguarding organizations against breaches and the compromise of sensitive information. Assessments are pivotal in these programs to evaluate security preparedness and mitigate risks, with vulnerability scanning serving as a fundamental cybersecurity measure.

Vulnerability scanning is an automated, advanced test used to find potential security vulnerabilities. It is used solely to identify vulnerabilities, can be initiated manually or automatically, and can be completed in minutes to hours

Common vulnerabilities

Coding flaws, such as web applications that are vulnerable to cross-site scripting, SQL injection, and other injection attacks due to the way they handle user input.

Unprotected open ports in servers, laptops, and other endpoints that hackers can exploit to spread malware.

Configuration errors such as cloud storage buckets that expose sensitive data to the public internet due to inappropriate access permissions.

Missing patches, weak passwords, or other deficiencies in cybersecurity hygiene.

Types of vulnerability scans

1. External vulnerability scans: These scans assess the network from the outside, focusing on vulnerabilities in internet-facing assets like web applications. They also test perimeter defenses such as firewalls, providing insights into potential entry points for external hackers.

2. Internal vulnerability scans: Conducted within the network, these scans identify vulnerabilities that could be exploited by attackers who have breached internal defenses. They reveal potential pathways for lateral movement and assess the risk of data breaches from within.

3. Authenticated scans: Also known as “credentialed scans,” these require access credentials from an authorized user. They examine applications and systems from an insider’s perspective, revealing vulnerabilities accessible to authenticated users. This helps assess risks associated with compromised accounts or insider threats.

4. c: Also called “no-credentialed scans,” these scans operate without access credentials. They simulate attacks from an external perspective, providing insights into vulnerabilities visible to outsiders. Both internal and external unauthenticated scans can be performed to comprehensively evaluate security posture.

Vulnerability scanning process

Preparation: In the vulnerability scanning process, preparation is the initial phase. This involves gathering pertinent information about the network or system to be scanned, such as IP addresses and subnets. This data is crucial for configuring the vulnerability scanner to ensure it accurately scans the designated areas.

Scanning: The second step is the actual scanning process. Here, the vulnerability scanner is activated to identify potential weaknesses within the network or system. Various methods are employed during scanning, including port scanning, protocol analysis, and application testing.

Analysis: Following the scan, the next phase involves analyzing the results generated by the vulnerability scanner. A detailed report is produced, outlining identified vulnerabilities. It’s essential to carefully assess each vulnerability’s severity to prioritize mitigation efforts effectively.

Mitigation: The final step of the vulnerability scanning process is mitigation. This entails addressing and resolving the vulnerabilities identified in the previous steps. Measures may include applying software patches, adjusting system configurations, or implementing additional security protocols. Timely mitigation is critical to prevent potential exploitation and safeguard the network or system.


Sissy Li

Sissy Li, a news reporter at BTW media dedicated in Fintech and Blockchain. She graduated from Macau University of Technology and Science. Send tips to s.li@btw.media.

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