What is Vulnerability Scanning?

Vulnerability management is one of the core responsibilities of a security team. It covers assessing, reporting and if needed, mitigating on an organization’s security vulnerabilities. Yet vulnerabilities can be tackled with if and if only they are known to the IT security team. In order to find out vulnerabilities of a system or software, vulnerability scanning is conducted. It is a security technique whose purpose is identifying security weaknesses in a system. It can be conducted by individuals or network administrators for security reasons but also by hackers in order to identify the best way to gain access to a network or system.

Vulnerability scans are needed and useful for upgrading the security of a system but they can result in computer crashes if the operating system decides that vulnerability scan is invasive.

A vulnerability scanner is an application that goes through every element of all the systems connected to a network and creates an inventory. It identifies each device and also the operating system that device has, any software installed, open ports, user accounts and other attributes.

After creating the inventory, the vulnerability scanner cross-checks every single item in the list with an extensive database of vulnerabilities to see if any of the items are tend to any of the vulnerabilities in the database.

Vulnerability scanners range from advanced and pricey products to free tools. Types of scanners include:

  • Port scanner that checks a server or host for open ports.
  • Network enumerator that retrieves information about users and groups in a network.
  • Network vulnerability scanner that proactively looks out for any vulnerabilities.
  • Web application security scanner that checks for vulnerabilities within an application.
  • Computer worm, which is a malware that can be used to find out vulnerabilities.

Vulnerability scanning and penetration testing

Often confused, vulnerability scanning and penetration testing are different procedures aiming different purposes.

Vulnerability scanning identifies known vulnerabilities in a system or network while penetration test aims to point weaknesses in system configurations and organizational processes that can be used against or exploited.

A penetration test (also known as pen test) can involve using social engineering, intercepting and using encrypted passwords sent through the network, or sending phishing e-mails in order to gain access.

After vulnerability scanning, a wholistic vulnerability assessment requires an in-depth evaluation of risks that identified vulnerabilities pose, treatment of such vulnerabilities and finally, reporting on which vulnerabilities have been treated and how.