Vulnerability Assessments and Penetration Testing: The Dynamic Duo

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In early 2020, COVID-19 changed the world completely. Along with a global health crisis, the pandemic also ushered in a secondary cyber pandemic that affected thousands of businesses. Thanks to an abrupt shift in the way that people work, the world saw the number of cyberattacks rise like never before.  

In a matter of weeks, companies moved entire departments out of the office and into the cloud, drastically increasing the number of remote endpoints used to access sensitive company applications, databases, and files. 

Cybercriminals wasted no time in their attack. They quickly launched pandemic-themed phishing scams, hitting healthcare and other organizations with a record number of ransomware attempts. By Q3 2020, the daily average of ransomware attacks had increased 50% compared to the previous six months. 

With all these cyberattacks, every business needs an actionable plan when it comes to eliminating the target on their back. The first step of this plan without fail should be a vulnerability assessment and penetration test. Let’s uncover why.

Understanding the Impact of Security Breaches on Businesses

At first glance, startups and SMBs may not seem like the most attractive targets for cybercriminals. However, being opportunists, criminals often seek out these companies for their relatively weaker security postures. 

When these attacks do occur, they can have catastrophic effects on a company’s operations and its bottom line. These can include lost revenue, reduced productivity, legal and compliance penalties, and the incurred costs of remediation and cleanup. In fact, in 2020, the average total cost to clean up after a data breach was $3.86 million.

Even though these numbers tell a grim picture on their own, they aren’t the whole story. While it’s challenging to fully assess the cost of reputational damage, its effects can be much more devastating and long-lasting. When customers don’t feel safe doing business with a company, it won’t be long before the hit to their bottom line becomes obvious.

Improving Security with Vulnerability Assessments and Penetration Testing 

Studies show that 43% of all security breaches are due to application vulnerabilities, mostly as a result of misconfiguration or poor programming. Vulnerability assessments and penetration testing identify both application and network vulnerabilities so they can be fixed before a breach occurs.

Collectively, vulnerability assessment and penetration testing (VAPT) helps in:

  • Identifying programming errors that open the door to cyberattacks
  • Increasing network security against internal and external threats
  • Creating a methodical, step-by-step approach to risk management
  • Streamlining security and improving IT ROI

Although some may think they are the same, there are significant differences between a vulnerability assessment and a penetration test. First, let’s look at their definitions and their main goals.

A vulnerability assessment is a mostly automated process that moves horizontally to assess network and application security. Here, “breadth over depth” is emphasized. Penetration testing, on the other hand, moves vertically to analyze the findings of the vulnerability assessment. It is more goal oriented. It should be done manually to emulate what a malicious user would do in real life. Here, “depth over breadth” is emphasized.

Looking Deeper into Vulnerability Assessments and Penetration Testing

For the most comprehensive risk mitigation, businesses need to combine vulnerability assessment and penetration testing. That way, they can receive an overview that is both deep and wide. To illustrate why vulnerability assessment and penetration testing are better together, let’s take a more granular look at the security benefits each methodology provides:

Vulnerability Assessments 

Vulnerability assessments find system loopholes that are vulnerable to attack. During the assessment, testers use both manual and automated scans to noninvasively search through systems and applications, As a result, these systems and applications cannot be damaged by the scan.

When the assessment is complete, the tester generates a report showing all of the vulnerabilities the assessment uncovered, categorized by severity. 

Penetration Testing 

Penetration tests use the results generated by the vulnerability assessment to look at specific vulnerabilities and how attackers use them to gain access. 

By taking on a malicious user’s persona, the person conducting the testing can prove that exploiting a given vulnerability puts the application or network at risk. The tester then generates a log or screen capture to document their findings. Then, the IT team can address the issues to resolve vulnerabilities.  

Unlike with vulnerability assessments, penetration testing is invasive. Therefore, they can potentially damage the system and in some cases, even introduce new vulnerabilities. 

Generally, In today’s testing environments, automation is crucial for speed and accuracy.  However, automation isn’t the best option when it comes to penetration testing: 

  • Penetration testing allows the tester to think and behave like a real hacker. Automated tools can go through the motions, but they lack the nuanced thought processes of humans.
  • Manual penetration testing is more accurate because it allows the tester to replicate issues to confirm they are authentic, avoiding false positives. 
  • The tester can analyze their findings in real time and provide human input on fixing any security design problems.

Vulnerability assessments and penetration testing are a cybersecurity one-two punch. By identifying holes in your company’s security perimeter then diving deeper to isolate the source and determine the severity of a vulnerability, IT teams can resolve security issues faster and more effectively.

Getting Help from IT Weapons

A comprehensive security strategy requires a broad range of tools and technology to identify weaknesses, monitor system health, and make employees the first line of defense. 

IT Weapons offers all of the security essentials required to protect your business against today’s internal and external threats, including: 

  • Monthly vulnerability scans
  • Awareness training and testing
  • Dark web monitoring
  • Enhanced email security
  • Annual password enumeration
  • Health checks and assessments

Endpoint detection and response 

To learn more about protecting your organization from new and evolving security threats, contact IT Weapons for complete details about all of the security services we offer, including vulnerability assessment and penetration testing.  

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