Security Audit

Vulnerability Assessment: A Detailed Overview

Updated on: March 31, 2022

Vulnerability Assessment: A Detailed Overview

Businesses across the world are more concerned about data breaches, business downtime caused by cyber attacks, malware, and ransomware, than the pandemic, natural catastrophes, or some other form of obstruction. According to a report by betanews, 93% of the businesses including energy organizations, government bodies, and IT companies are vulnerable to network breaches.

A study involving pentesters showed that it would take a hacker two days to a month to breach the network perimeter, and access sensitive information. Businesses have too many ways open for hackers from weak passwords, to broken access controls. Your best course of action in times like these is being proactive about security and making vulnerability assessment a habitual part of your business processes. 

What is a vulnerability? How does it creep in?

I’m quite sure you are already aware of the definition of a vulnerability. Let’s just mention it here for the record. A vulnerability in the world of software is a weakness that can compromise the security of your systems and allow intruders to break in and cause harm.

A vulnerability can be anything, from a weak password to a lack of input validation. The important thing to understand here is that the status of vulnerabilities in your systems is not static. 

It is not like you could run a vulnerability assessment, find out some bugs, fix them and never worry about getting hacked again. Sometimes you don’t even have control over the presence of a vulnerability. 

Suppose, you are running a WordPress site and using a cache plugin to speed up your site. Now, if that particular plugin has an exploitable vulnerability that goes public, your site will be at risk until you remove that plugin, or the plugin gets patched, and you get an update to the patched version. Yes, that is how easy it is to have a certain vulnerability and not know about it.

What is the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS)?

A vulnerability is analyzed based on certain metrics and then assigned a score. The process to It is called the common vulnerability scoring system or CVSS. The score assigned to a vulnerability is called its CVSS score or CVS score. It is calculated on a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 signifies the lowest severity and 10 signifies the highest.

How does the CVSS work?

The CVSS score quantifies the severity of a vulnerability by factoring in the exploitability, impact, and scope of a vulnerability. The final CVSS score is a combination of base score, environmental score,  and temporal score. 

The first element of the base score is the exploitability of a vulnerability. It takes attack vectors, attack complexity, and privileges required into account. That means the exploitability subscore is based on things like how easy it is for an attacker to exploit a vulnerability, what the prerequisites of the attack are, and the level of privilege an attacker would need to launch an attack.

The impact subscore attempts to quantify the result of the exploitation in terms of loss of confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the target systems. 

The scope subscore depends on the extent to which the exploitation can affect the target system.

After using these subscores to appear at the base score, the CVSS takes environmental and temporal factors into account. While the base score factors in the intrinsic features of a vulnerability and is, therefore, immutable, the temporal and the environmental scores change with time and target systems.

Vulnerabilities are categorized as critical, high, medium, and low severity depending on the CVSS scores. 

Here’s how the categorizing works.

CVSS Score Severity of the Vulnerability
0.1 - 3.9Low
4.0 - 6.9Medium
7.0 - 8.9High
9.0 - 10Critical

What is the importance of CVSS?    

The primary purpose of the CVSS is to standardize the process of measuring the severity of a vulnerability. It allows developers and security experts around the world to judge the threat posed by a certain vulnerability. It helps them in prioritizing vulnerabilities, allocating limited resources to maximum effect at the time of remediation. They can use the CVSS scores to regulate their response to a certain security incident and minimize the risk.

Astra Pentest Risk Grading
Image: Risk-grading in Astra Pentest

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What is a Vulnerability Assessment?

As the name suggests, vulnerability assessment is the process of detecting the vulnerabilities extant in your systems, analyzing them, and finding out ways to fix them. It’s a popular form of security testing where you use automated tools to scan your systems for vulnerabilities, and categorize them according to their severity. Vulnerability assessment also offers suggestions as to fix the issues.    

What is meant by authenticated and unauthenticated vulnerability assessment?

You would often come across a feature – authenticated vulnerability scanning – while looking for vulnerability assessment tools. What does it really mean? Well, an authenticated vulnerability scanner can scan the pages behind the login screen whereas an unauthenticated scanner can perform a perimeter scan from the outside.

Authenticated vulnerability assessment has some clear benefits, such as:

  • The discovery of hidden vulnerabilities
  • Fewer false positives
  • Visibility into OS functions, applications, inventory, and configuration
  • A detailed picture of patch requirements.

This is a very important feature but a handful of vulnerability assessment providers have this figured out. Astra Security’s login recorder extension, for instance, makes scanning behind the login screen very simple for the users. They can allow to authenticate with the scanner once, and forget about it.

Why is a vulnerability assessment important?

We could just say that vulnerability assessment helps you find out security loopholes in your systems and allows you to fill the gaps before a harmful actor exploits them. But let us really understand the impact a vulnerability can really have on your organization.

Let us say you run a WooCommerce store. You have a stable stream of orders and you are pretty happy with how things are going. Now, a hacker decides to play dirty on your site and buy some stuff for a tiny fraction of its actual cost through PayPal. He’ll just pick some products, add them to the cart, put the billing details in, and then put a traffic interceptor into action while proceeding to PayPal. He’d intercept the request and tamper with the vulnerable parameters to change the price. That way he can get an item worth $100 for $1 or for free if he wants.

Now, the hacker would fail if the IPN (instant payment notification) validation is up, and it invalidates the order, but if the hacker finds a way around it, you are set up for a loot.

So, if you want to protect your website, your e-commerce store, or your web app from this sort of exploitation, you have to make regular vulnerability assessments a habit. That is not all. You need vulnerability scanning for a bunch of other reasons.

The benefits of vulnerability assessment

  • You need it to maintain compliance with security regulations relevant to your industry vertical. You can use the compliance reporting feature in Astra’s Pentest dashboard to get a picture of your compliance situation as the vulnerability scan report is produced.
  • Improving your security posture has a direct impact on your revenue stream.
  • It also helps you build trust among customers and retain the trust and loyalty you have acquired over the years.

What is the process of vulnerability assessment?

We can divide the entire process of vulnerability assessment into three simple parts.

The first step is to determine the scope of the vulnerability assessment. This depends on the assets that you want to scan for vulnerabilities. According to the scope of the scan, you can decide whether to use an application scanner, network scanner, or host-based scanner.

The second step is the vulnerability scan. In this step, the automated scanner uses a vulnerability database to scan the target system for common vulnerabilities.

Then comes the vulnerability assessment report. It documents the vulnerabilities that were found during the scan along with their CVSS score. It also suggests necessary steps to fix a certain vulnerability. 

Once you have received the vulnerability scanning report, it is time for vulnerability remediation. You can assign the vulnerabilities to the developers in your company, who can follow the suggestions in the report and consult security experts if need be, to fix the issues detected.

What is the significance of a vulnerability assessment report? 

A vulnerability assessment report lists down the vulnerabilities found in a system according to their severity, and the risk they pose to the system and to the organization. It plays an important part in the vulnerability management cycle.

The vulnerability assessment report 

  • helps you prioritize the critical vulnerabilities,
  • helps the developers find the fixes faster,
  • helps you understand the standing of your organization with respect to compliance requirements.

Read also: 5 Qualities of an Actionable Vulnerability Assessment Report

How Are Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing Different?

As you’ve already figured, vulnerability assessment is a mostly automated process that helps you detect common vulnerabilities in a system.

It has some limitations:

  • The automated scanner misses some vulnerabilities.
  • False positives are a devastating problem when you’re trying to run an agile development process.
  • Remediation guidance is not too robust.
  • There is no human support available if developers hit a roadblock trying to follow the fix guidelines.

Manual penetration testing tackles these issues. 

  • The involvement of human intelligence makes it easier to uncover difficult vulnerabilities. 
  • Manual pentesters can ensure zero false positives.
  • Pentest reports are more exhaustive and contain thorough guidelines for remediation.
  • Some pentest companies like Astra Security offer expert remediation support through collaboration with the developers.

Read also: Penetration Testing – What, Why & How [A Complete Guide]

The Top 5 Vulnerability Assessment Tools

1. Astra Pentest

A feature-rich tool for automated vulnerability scanning and manual pentesting. It is a comprehensive solution with provisions for continuous scanning, scanning behind the login screen, and CI/CD integration.

It is one small security loophole v/s your entire website / web app

Get your web app audited & strengthen your defenses!
See Pricing
Starting from $99/month

2. Tenable Nessus 

Nessus is a powerful vulnerability scanning tool with features like malware detection, asset discovery, sensitive data discovery, and configuration error discovery.

3. Wireshark

Wireshark is a useful network protocol analyzer. It is a great tool for protocol inspection and analysis of live data on a network.

4. Burp Suite

Burp Suite is a widely used tool for request interception, automated pentest, brute forcing, fuzzing, and vulnerability scanning.

5. Acunetix

Acunetix has a powerful vulnerability scanner that works wonderfully for detecting web misconfigurations, web security scanning, and password testing.

Advantages of Using Astra’s Pentest Suite

Astra’s Pentest Suite offers both automated vulnerability scanning and manual pentesting. The combination of both approaches makes it a perfect tool for any business across industries. The vulnerability assessment tool by itself is an elegant tool with top-of-the-charts features.

vulnerability assessment by Astra Security
Image: Vulnerability Assessment by Astra
  • 3000+ tests adhering to OWASP top 10, SANS 25, and covering ISO 27001, SOC2, HIPAA, and GDPR compliance requirements
  • CI/CD integration ensuring continuous scanning of your web application with every code update
  • Intuitive dashboard for vulnerability monitoring and management.
  • Compliance monitoring within the pentest dashboard.
  • Step-by-step guidance for remediation

The detailed vulnerability assessment report with risk scores for each vulnerability helps you prioritize critical vulnerabilities. The security engineers and researchers at Astra stay on their toes to include new CVEs in the scanner database as soon as they’re discovered ensuring that your systems get minimum exposure to new threats.

The manual pentest by Astra’s security experts on top of the vulnerability assessment ensures zero false positives, detection of business logic errors, and other hidden vulnerabilities. And you can collaborate seamlessly with the security experts to remediate the issues.    

Conclusion

Periodic vulnerability assessment is no longer a choice, it has become a compulsion for businesses given the current cyber threat landscape. However, it does not have to be a hurdle. With the right tool, the right strategy, and the right vulnerability assessment partner, you can easily integrate vulnerability assessment with your SDLC. With some support from security experts, you can turn the vulnerability scanning exercises into a high ROI event. The sooner you implement it, the better.

Want to know more or have a quick question? Talk with our engineers!

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Saumick Basu

Saumick is a Technical Writer at Astra Security. He loves to write about technology and has deep interest in its evolution. Having written about spearheading disruptive technology like AI, and Machine Learning, and code reviews for a while, Information Security is his newfound love. He's ready to bring you along as he dives deeper.
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