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vulnerability scanner

What Does A Vulnerability Scanner Do?

ConnectSecure  |   Dec 8, 2022

To build a cyber-resilient organization, you need to identify all vulnerabilities.

Flag cyber vulnerabilities, before they become breaches. But how do you actually do it? While bad actors have always posed a threat to organizations, the rise of remote and hybrid work has dramatically expanded the attack surface and the need for decisive action.

Whether large or small, no company can afford to take network security lightly. In fact, based on sales figures from the Dell’Oro Group, a market research firm, companies are actively investing in strengthening their security posture. The network security market grew 17% in the third quarter of 2022 and the strong sales are expected to continue as the remote work trend has become a permanent fixture of modern businesses.

In this area, managed service providers (MSPs) can effectively step in to either meet escalating demand or strike a proactive stance with customers who may be unaware of the high stakes. By introducing vulnerability scanning to your small to medium-sized business (SMBs) clients, you can build trust and grow your business. The ability to clearly articulate business risk is a key piece of how you can bring value to your end customers.

So, how does a vulnerability scanner work?

This specialized tool is used to identify vulnerabilities in computer systems, networks, and applications. Once detected, the scan regularly probes each system for attributes, such as operating systems, open ports, installed software, user accounts, file system structure, system configurations, and more.

The probes pick up data which is then automatically evaluated with the help of several databases of publicly known vulnerabilities, such as NIST’s National Vulnerability Database (NVD) and OEM sources. If the results show that the organization is vulnerable to an attack, mitigation should come next.

Mitigation follows detection

Ratings and scores, such as Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS), an open framework for communicating the characteristics and severity of software vulnerabilities, inform the evaluation and help determine which vulnerabilities should take priority. The scores are not a catchall but one of many factors that contribute to accurate vulnerability identification with low false positive rates. Given the broad data sets analyzed, effective prioritization is crucial to addressing risks with the highest likelihood of exploitation in the near future.

In short, vulnerability scanners are an essential component of effective vulnerability management, which involves not just identifying vulnerabilities, but also classifying, prioritizing, and mitigating them to reduce the risk of cyberattacks.

What scanners are available?

There are several types of scanners, each designed to identify vulnerabilities in different environments:

  1. Network vulnerability scanners — networks and infrastructure, including routers, switches, virtual and physical servers, printers, access points, databases, firewalls, and more.
  2. Web application scanners — such as those used for online banking or e-commerce.
  3. Mobile device scanners — such as smartphones and tablets.
  4. Cloud scanners — cloud computing environments, including infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and software as a service (SaaS).

Four benefits to consider

Using a vulnerability scanner brings a range of benefits, including, for example:

  1. Improved efficiency: It enables the automation of vulnerability identification, thereby improving the efficiency of a vulnerability assessment.
  2. Increased accuracy: It identifies a wide range of vulnerabilities, including those that may not be detected through manual testing and inspection.
  3. Better coverage: It provides full visibility into a wide range of systems and software, including networks, web applications, mobile devices, and cloud environments.
  4. More informed conversations: It raises the credibility of MSPs, allowing them to confidently speak about risk with their SMB customers and relay key information during an insurance provider’s due diligence process.  

Final word on cybersecurity best practices

First of all, in order to ensure all vulnerabilities are accurately identified, it’s important to regularly update the scanner with the latest information. Secondly, it’s essential to implement a patch management process that expediently springs into action as soon as patches and updates become available. And, finally, there’s the human factor that should not be overlooked.

A large percentage of breaches can be traced back to employee and user mistakes. Therefore, educating employees and users about cybersecurity best practices can help prevent vulnerabilities from being exploited. This can include training on how to recognize phishing attacks, secure passwords, and identify and report potential vulnerabilities.

Summing up

Vulnerability scanners are a valuable tool for identifying vulnerabilities in computer systems, networks, and applications. When used in combination with other vulnerability management practices, they can help organizations significantly reduce their risk of being targeted by cybercriminals and improve their overall security posture.

Read more:

Understanding the big picture of cybersecurity starts with NIST

What MSPs should look for in a vulnerability management solution

5 ways vulnerability testing can drive profits for MSPs