How Continuous Vulnerabilities Assessment and Penetration Testing Protect You Against Cyber Attacks

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More than half (55 percent) of SMBs will experience a cyber attack during any given year.

Even worse, 60 percent will go out of business within six months because of the associated “clean up costs.” And it’s easy to see why considering that the average clean up cost for a small businesses is $690,000 and over $1 million for middle market companies.

It’s no joke. A major cyber attack can derail operations and bring an organisation to its knees.

But as the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This definitely rings true when it comes to cybersecurity.

Never has it been more critical for companies to be proactive and take measures to mitigate threats rather than respond to a crisis that’s already in full effect. Two of the most effective techniques for accomplishing this are performing continuous vulnerabilities assessment and penetration testing.

Key Differences Between the Two

These two terms are often used interchangeably. However, there are some fundamental differences.

A vulnerabilities assessment typically involves using automated testing tools such as security scanners to generate reports on website or network weaknesses. Some specific elements of the process include:

  • Uncovering potential exploits (e.g. bugs in your code)
  • Performing authenticated and unauthenticated vulnerability scans for operating systems, databases and web applications
  • Performing content scanning for data that should not be stored on desktops and servers

From there, a list of vulnerabilities are generated. At that point, the results are evaluated to determine where potential risks lie along with recommended solutions.

Note that you often have an option of storing the the vulnerability data locally or remotely so that it’s not sent out across the Internet.

Penetration testing is more goal-oriented and involves an authorised attempt by registered testers to exploit flaws and gain access to your company’s data assets. It mimics what would happen during an actual cyber attack and attempts to obtain sensitive data and/or disrupt normal operations.

After which, you’ll receive a comprehensive report along with suggestions of how to remediate any known issues. Some common areas that are covered include:

  • Web application penetration testing
  • Mobile application penetration testing
  • Network and infrastructure penetration testing
  • Internal penetration testing
  • External penetration testing
  • Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) penetration testing

The key difference between the two is that a vulnerabilities assessment is primarily list-oriented while penetration testing is more goal-oriented.

Benefits of Continuous Vulnerabilities Assessment

This is an integral strategy for taking a proactive stance against cyber crime. It allows you to identify critical weaknesses and potential exploits before attacks are able to.

By scanning things like operating devices, network devices and desktop applications, you’ll be alerted of any issues that may be present both internally and externally. This form of early detection is crucial for addressing security deficiencies and thwarting would-be attacks.

Another benefit is that it helps you create a comprehensive network map of your organisation’s digital infrastructure. For instance, you can take inventory of all of the devices on your network including device type, operating system, application version and so on. This is important because you can pinpoint machines that were unofficially connected to your network and are therefore unsecured.

A vulnerability assessment will also check for misconfigurations with your network and systems. In turn, steps can be taken to ensure that everything is properly configured to enhance the efficiency of your network/system.

On top of this, it can aid in your organisation’s cybersecurity planning. A report will highlight which issues are most serious and which are of lesser significance. In turn, this allows you to effectively prioritise your efforts and ensures that you’re tackling the most pressing problems first.

In the long run, you’re able to allocate your IT resources in a way that enhances cybersecurity without overspending on needless features.

Benefits of Continuous Penetration Testing

You can think of this as a cybersecurity self-assessment. Testers are essentially performing mock attacks with the goal of finding vulnerabilities. Therefore, it’s ideal for staying ahead of cyber criminals.

One of the top benefits is that it reveals real risks that could be used to initiate attacks. Forget about hypotheticals. You’ll know exactly which issues are compromising your organisation’s cybersecurity and putting your data assets in peril. This is huge because you’ll know which specific areas need to be addressed and in which order.

There’s also the issue of compliance. Multiple laws and regulations have been set in place that are designed to protect the personal information of consumers as well as employees. Some examples are the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and the ISO 27001.

Depending on your industry, your company may be required to perform a certain level of penetration testing in order to safeguard sensitive information. Even if it doesn’t, you can greatly reduce the risk of putting this data in harm’s way and ultimately getting hit with costly penalties.

Sometimes this can mean the difference between your company’s longevity and having to close your doors prematurely after sifting through the wreckage of an attack.

It’s also advantageous from a business continuity standpoint. If a cyber criminal is able to execute something like a ransomware of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, your company’s operations will come to a screeching halt.

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And as studies have discovered, downtime can be incredibly costly. In fact, a recent survey from Information Technology Intelligence Consulting found that just one hour of downtime costs  $100,000 for 98 percent of businesses.

Just imagine the implications if your company experienced multiple hours or even multiple days of downtime. The consequences would be catastrophic. You could lose a large percentage of your customers and see your profitability plummet.

Penetration testing is ideal because it uncovers potential threats that could leave you exposed to disruptive attacks. As a result, you can drastically reduce the chances of your company experiencing major downtime.

In turn, this can be advantageous for preserving your reputation. If you’re hit with a major cyber attack or data breach, this can quickly dissolve any level of trust or loyalty you’ve established with your customers. Many will feel compelled to turn to a competitor with whom they feel their personal information is safe.

In fact, 70 percent of consumers say that they will stop doing business with a company that has experienced a data breach. It’s just too risky.

But by using penetration testing to stop attacks and breaches before they happen, your brand reputation needn’t take an unnecessary hit.

Using Them in Tandem

Although both processes are beneficial on their own, it’s best to use them both in tandem. This is known as vulnerability assessment and penetration testing (VAPT).

VAPT is ideal because it will provide your organisation with a more detailed, comprehensive evaluation than would be possible with a single test on its own. Not only are you scanning for weaknesses for potential threats, you’re also performing an authorised attack to identify real issues.

As a result, your testing is more robust, which helps better protect your company from the full scope of cyber attacks. Any advantage you can have in this day and age, the better.

The Importance of Consistency

The key word with testing is continuous. You really want to get into the habit of having testing done on a consistent basis. After all, a one-off approach is usually insufficient for addressing the serious cybersecurity concerns that modern organisations face.

In fact, it’s required for many companies. As of August 1, 2018, the PCI DSS will mandate that at least one penetration test is performed every six months for certain service providers. However, you may want to have VAPT performed even more frequently depending on your industry and level of risk.

With cyber criminals becoming more and more sophisticated and their attacks increasingly advanced, diligence is necessary for keeping the edge in this never-ending game of cat and mouse.

Staying on the Offence

Cyber crimes that compromise the sensitive personal information of consumers happen all the time. And if these attacks can affect multi-billion dollar companies, what does that mean for much smaller businesses with limited protection?

Although serious measures are being taken to combat these attacks, it appears that cyber criminals are winning the battle at least for the moment. This means that companies need to be meticulous and more diligent about cybersecurity than ever and take every possible precaution to mitigate their risk level. They need to stay on the offence.

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Two of the best ways to do this is through continuous vulnerabilities assessment and penetration testing. These techniques have proven to be instrumental in helping organisations pinpoint weaknesses before actual cyber criminals do.

Utilising them is what helps your company make the necessary fixes to keep cybersecurity at the level it needs to be. Ideally, these two processes will be used in conjunction with one another to ensure more comprehensive, robust cybersecurity.

What are your company’s primary cybersecurity concerns? Please let us know:

 

Image Credits

Featured image: geralt / Pixabay

In-post image 1: Christiaan Colen / Flickr

In-post image 2: Negative Space / Pexels

 

 

 

Ajay Unni

Ajay Unni is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Stickman. Ajay specialises in helping customers manage the growing threat of data breaches and compliance with globally accepted industry standards for data security and compliance. More articles by Ajay Unni

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