How often should you perform vulnerability scanning? Best practices shared

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To understand how often vulnerability scanning should be performed, it’s important to delve into the drivers behind this objective. Vulnerability management includes the treatment of risks identified during the vulnerability assessments. This is a vital element of the risk management regime for any organisation. Without making informed choices around risk appetite, an organisation may not get the best out of a vulnerability management programme. 

Frequency of vulnerability scanning

It is important to understand the drivers behind this objective to make an informed choice. Here are the following best practices to consider when deciding on the frequency of vulnerability scanning. 

  • Compliance scanning

In the past, even to date – some of the compliance requirements are considered a tick in the box approach. If done at ground level, compliance requirements are often a great business case to build a security-aware culture within the business.

Based on the compliance requirements such as PCI DSS, ISO 27001, audits, the frequency of scans is often quarterly or based on specific requirements. These frequencies mostly vary between quarterly scans and annual penetration tests. 

One word of caution to businesses living by compliance requirements is the threat exposure window. Certain vulnerabilities are exploited well within a 90 days window, meaning assets remain exposed to cyber attacks before the next vulnerability scan. Therefore, monthly basis vulnerability scans are recommended in such scenarios. Additionally, incremental scans should be conducted when changes take place in the infrastructure or code.

  • Changes (either code or infrastructure)

Code or infrastructure changes in modern technology environments are crazy fast, mainly due to functional requirements and the pressures on businesses to match and reach customers tastes. These changes are multi-dimensional and bring along configurational changes that may lead to the introduction of security weaknesses. These vulnerabilities in code or infrastructure or both could stay for longer if not checked in time. 

Therefore, it is the responsibility of the security team to ensure there is a minimal window between vulnerability and exploitation by a threat actor. Vulnerability identification, triage and remediation is a significant factor to deliver the balance of technology and security to the business. In this case, vulnerability scanning is performed on a weekly, on-demand or fortnightly basis.

  • Proactive approach

Organisations with mature cyber security processes prefer a proactive approach to a reactive approach. Security researchers are discovering new vulnerabilities every other week in addition to data breaches and attacks in the news. It makes staying on top of the latest threats to your assets before attackers. In these cases, vulnerability scanning is performed on a monthly basis or after changes to code or infrastructure.

  • Threat based 

Despite a vulnerability scanning and management process in place, unfortunately, situations arise where gaps are present due to the latest exploits in the wild. This type of threat often remains out of the scope of vulnerability scanners as no scanning plugins are available for zero days. Vulnerabilities that are exploited in the wild before a patch is released offer an increased likelihood of attacks. It is important that vulnerability scanning offers support by scanning vulnerabilities and helping customers with compensatory controls or virtual patches. 

Network Vulnerability Assessments

To perform a vulnerability assessment, an organisation must start with the identification and classification of assets. Identification of assets is important and is often based on a number of factors such as operating system, addresses (IP addresses, MAC addresses, inventory trackers), etc. Classification of assets includes criticality or risk appetite of each asset offering value to the business.

By defining risk appetite, security teams can strategically plan vulnerability management program to ensure ongoing efforts are planned in advance based on resources utilisation and relevant efforts. For instance, internet-facing systems, internal servers, endpoints all have different risk appetite and importance to the business. This input is the deciding factor to confirm which type of vulnerability scans will benefit the scope. 

It is very important to ensure tool-sets in use are configured in line with the target environment. This includes bandwidth utilisation, target device types, reporting and scanning configuration. High-performance scanners contain many options to ensure thorough scanning resulting in fewer false positives. 

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Analysis of vulnerability scanning results is a significant step in ensuring relevant risk ratings are calculated. Treatment of risk is often down to the risk management plan of an organisation. Based on the fixes applied, revalidation of fixes is performed to ensure all mitigated vulnerabilities do not offer any risks.

Conclusion

The most common formats of vulnerability scanning are weekly, monthly and quarterly. Latest managed services offerings include vulnerability scanning including an annual penetration testing exercise to ensure a thorough view of threats to the target assets. Just like networks and technologies are expanding, security vulnerabilities keep increasing and ongoing vigil is needed to ensure the protection of systems, applications, users and other assets. 

Timely identification of threats acts as a catalyst to the threat analysis and risk treatment phases, followed by the verification phase. This is an ongoing exercise that keeps providing a continuous picture of gaps in your environment. 

Cyber security service providers such as Cyphere add a human edge in terms of skill-set, analysis and false-positive removal that are otherwise not available to internal security teams. This also ensures that internal security teams can focus on other efforts by outsourcing this task with minimal costs and maximizing their efficiency. Not to mention, this is a helpful service to assist your proactive security efforts including but not limited to just compliance requirements. 

The more proactive you are, the safer your business will, the more customer trust and brand royalty will add to your business growth. Get in touch to discuss any security concerns or vulnerability scanning requirements.

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