Challenges with Traditional Vulnerability Scanners

Jul 10, 2021

In today's world, data breaches and cyberattacks are very common. There are many news reports of the latest cyber incident nearly every week. You can understand why cybersecurity is an increasing concern for businesses with lots of data breaches happening all around the world.

Vulnerability scanning is a key factor of all good cybersecurity strategies, but it can be challenging and complicated to get right. Whether your company is about to go on a journey to becoming more secure or you are looking to make the existing security controls better and understand more about vulnerability scanning best practices, this guide will help you. Through this guide, you'll discover the challenges with traditional vulnerability scanners.

What Is Vulnerability Scanning?

Vulnerability scanning is the use of software tools to discover and give reports on security problems that affect your systems.

Vulnerability scanners many times have thousands of automated tests at their disposal. By searching and gathering information about your systems, you can discover security holes that hackers can use to steal sensitive data and gain unauthorized access to your systems.

With this knowledge, a company can then put in effort to rectify the security weaknesses discovered. This ongoing process of discovering and fixing your weaknesses is known as vulnerability management.

  1. Difficulty in Identifying Vulnerable Systems

Your organization attack surface is monolithic, including thousands of assets each susceptible to an infinite number of various attack vectors. Unfortunately, it is difficult to keep track of the different kinds of applications, devices and services used by the organization’s users. As a result, it is hard to target vulnerability scans and risk assessments correctly. 

Most mechanisms for discovering assets are manual. They don't discover and stock IT assets in real time and do not provide enough coverage for all types of assets. Also, covering non-traditional assets such as mobile assets, your own devices, IoT and cloud services is problematic.

  1. Issues with Vulnerability Scanners

Most of the vulnerability scanners being used in organizations today use manual processes that look for known vulnerabilities in networked assets such as routers, endpoints and servers, and subsequently give a report of those vulnerabilities that is sorted based on some severity valuation, such as CVSS score. However, these scans take a lot of time to run. Not only that, targeting the scans to hosts, subnets and other parts of the network has to be managed manually. They will already be out of date by the time the results are ready.

  1. Overwhelming Vulnerability Scan Reports

Understanding the data output from the vulnerability assessment scanner is a vital component of your vulnerability management program. But it is a known fact that vulnerability scan reports are riddled with false positives. Your vulnerability scanner brings forth vulnerabilities in the thousands every time a scan is concluded, leaving your team overwhelmed and battling with how to carry on.

The security teams’ inability to handle the vulnerabilities in a timely manner due to the huge number of action items weakens your ability to keep systems patched. 

  1. Inaccurate and Inefficient Prioritization of Vulnerabilities

It’s not rare for a large organization to have thousands or even tens of thousands of vulnerabilities at any period. The list of vulnerabilities gets longer with each new scan because the security teams are typically not able to patch all vulnerabilities.

However, figuring out which vulnerabilities to assign a priority to becomes a scary task as there are too many updates and too many unpatched systems. Your list of unrequited questions keeps increasing:

  • You don't know which assets have more vulnerabilities based on the usage patterns or whether they are core and where they exist in the network.
  • You don't have an idea of which systems must be patched immediately vs. those which can still wait.
  • You don't know which CVEs are actively being used.
  • You don't know which assets are vital or more crucial than others.
  • You don't know if your security controls are working well to extinguish risk from vulnerabilities on unpatched assets. 

Using archaic risk metrics such as CVSS scores alone or a mere business impact model to prioritize vulnerabilities weakens your patching processes.

  1. Knowing Whether to Act or Not

You don't know if the steps you plan to take will reduce the risk even after knowing which systems need to be patched. What about systems that cannot be patched at all or right away? What do you do about those? Oftentimes, it is not clear what your choice for reducing risk is if patching is not something that can be done, or if you can reduce the risk from an unpatched asset by using a suitable compensating control.

This issue also is clearly revealed when an emergency patch for a vulnerable system is released because there is no system in place for you to get a timely notice about its release. 

The Challenge of Scaling Web Application Security

Scaling web application security can be problematic for any organization. Application development teams focus on not only moving web applications to a production environment as fast as possible, but also directing the security resources which are limited with teams and budgets being strained.

In case an organization has enforced a development framework that results in consistent best practices, the next level is to find out the most effective method of identifying, patching and scanning all vulnerabilities in the web applications. 

Traditionally, desktop scanners presented a simple solution with just a few web applications to scan. With the number of web applications growing dramatically in the past years, a more effective method of web vulnerability scanning is required. 

Vicarius categorizes and discovers vulnerabilities, providing frequent monitoring across different assets so you always recognize your risk exposure. Vicarius is a vulnerability management software that targets cybersecurity officers as well IT operators and managers from the U.S. market.

 

Photo by Hu Chen on Unsplash

Written by

Kent Weigle

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