Part I: Vulnerability Scanning and Penetration Testing

A SecurityMetrics study found out that it took about 166 days for attackers to breach an organization after detecting vulnerabilities. Once the attackers managed to compromise the systems, they could harvest sensitive data for about 127 days until those breaches were finally detected. One of the easiest means of determining whether malicious actors are trying to tamper with your IT infrastructure, is vulnerability scanning. 

Quite a few people reference vulnerability scanning and penetration testing interchangeably, and while these two concepts are crucial to cybersecurity analysis and closely linked, they are not entirely the same. In a nutshell, penetration testing involves exploiting vulnerabilities in your systems, while vulnerability scanning is the act of assessing or identifying existent flaws/threats in network systems like routers, servers, and other applications. 

Vulnerability Scanning and PCI DSS

Business organizations that deal with cardholder data need to comply with PCI (payment card industry) standards. They also need to conduct vulnerability scanning quarterly, especially after making changes to their networks. 

These scans are carried out by qualified and independent personnel. Vulnerability scanning experts take full responsibility for configuring the machines for their scanning procedure. If the scan isn’t successful, you may have to reschedule another one within one month to ensure that all critical risks and vulnerabilities are patched. 

For an organization to meet PCI DSS standards, their listed items should have minimal risks. Critical or high-risk items will also need to be remediated.

Penetration Testing and PCI Compliance

Penetration testing requires the use of sophisticated tools; it’s more or less the same as ethical hacking. Since cyber-criminals often target small businesses, vulnerability scans and penetration tests allow organizations to determine the effectiveness of their cybersecurity solutions and how to improve them.

PCI DSS requirements state that penetration testing should be conducted annually when you make any significant changes to your network systems. These tests should be performed by professionals using the appropriate tools. 

However, you should note that penetration testers carry out live experiments when exploiting vulnerabilities. This means that the operation may end up affecting your work schedule, so it’s advisable to schedule these tests outside of your working hours to avoid disruptions. 

Penetration Testing VS. Vulnerability Scanning

Both penetration testing and vulnerability scanning hinge on certain key factors such as scope, risks, and asset criticality, as well as cost and time. Since penetration testing is targeted, human factors come into play. There is no automation involved in the test procedures; everything revolves around the use of complex tools.

An experienced penetration tester knows exactly how to script, or alter parameters during testing based on the tools they are using. The scope could cover a specific department or an entire organization’s infrastructure. However, due to time and cost factors, it may be impractical to test all your infrastructure and applications. Penetration tests can be costly, and they usually last for a few days or weeks. 

When it comes to vulnerability scanning, the process can be automated. The aim is to find potential vulnerabilities in a network or application layer. Unlike penetration testing, vulnerability scanning doesn’t necessarily exploit vulnerabilities. The scope of a vulnerability scan is business-centered, and it requires the application of automated tools to look after assets. 

An administrator or a security person can run vulnerability scans provided they are conversant with networking. Compared to penetration testing, vulnerability scanning costs are lower. The best way to remediate security flaws is to strictly go with the vulnerability management cycle.

How to Manage Vulnerabilities with Cybersecurity Solutions

Having a vulnerability plan is critical when you manage network systems. To improve your organization’s security protocols, here are a few ways to uncover vulnerabilities in your network:

  • Understand your PCI scope and contact security experts such as certified PCI DSS assessors. If you don’t scope your organization correctly, the scan may miss crucial networks
  • Conduct external vulnerability scans and get PCI-approved scanning vendors to verify your compliance every year. When you receive your scan report, be sure to fix the security loopholes.
  • Apart from working with approved scanning vendors (ASV), having an internal security set-up in your network also adds to your security.
  • Schedule vulnerability scans regularly; every organization, including small businesses, need to run more vulnerability scans based on the number of targets they have. Some scanning vendors offer unlimited vulnerability scanning services for single targets. You may also want to run more scans beyond the stipulated annual or quarterly scans.

Vulnerability scans are automated scanning procedures that reveal security loopholes. For better results, organizations need to test patches before adopting any of these strategies. Cenetric even offers a free network assessment for businesses to find out where there are inefficiencies, any security and compliance issues they might have, and more.

Companies like Cenetric are well equipped to provide expert cybersecurity solutions, and compliance services.

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