Today, data is one of your business’s most valuable assets. More than that, losing access to your data can stop your business in its tracks. Add to that, your data in the wrong hands can lead to legal troubles and a loss of customer trust.
While even small to medium-sized businesses put effort into securing buildings and other property, IT systems are often not as secure as we would like to think. Even if we believe we are following the best practices, there is still the chance that our data is at risk. Keeping our software up to date, performing regular backups, maintaining a secure firewall, and using the latest in anti-virus and malware software is essential. However, this may not be enough.
The only way to ensure that we are doing all we can to keep our data secure is to conduct a thorough IT vulnerability assessment, also known as an IT security assessment.
What is an IT Vulnerability Assessment?
An IT vulnerability assessment is a process of discovering and identifying vulnerabilities in your computer network that could put your data at risk. These weak spots may be related to hardware, software, or the configuration of the system. The point of the assessment is also to take active steps toward remediation.
Not only can the process address current areas that need attention, but it may help your organization take proactive steps to become even more secure against unknown future threats.
By conducting an IT vulnerability assessment regularly, organizations can move from the possibility of needing to react to a cyber threat to the more confident position of proactively defending systems and data from cyber risks. In the current cyber landscape, hackers are continually evaluating systems looking for the latest ways to gain access to valuable data. Businesses need to take the same approach to keeping those hackers out.
Should You Outsource Your IT Vulnerability Assessment
The very first question to answer when preparing for an IT vulnerability assessment is whether you should conduct your own or if you should hire an outside firm to do it for you. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. However, there are some situations where the choice is more obvious.
If you are a medium-sized business, you may not have the specialized staff to conduct the assessment properly and may need the time and expertise of a reputable vendor. There are additional advantages to this route. Outside firms often bring with them more knowledge and experience with similar tests. They also have a fresh perspective on all aspects of your organization and data.
There are also situations where it makes more sense to keep the assessment in-house. This is especially true if there are complexities in the structure or required compliance of data that would be better understood by an in-house technician. Using current staff can also represent a cost savings and the project may be easier to schedule.
No matter which route you choose, a third-party vendor or in house staff, ensure that they have the knowledge, tools, skills, and experience to provide a thorough assessment of your network and data security.
Steps to an IT Vulnerability Assessment
No matter whether you choose to work with an outside vendor or keep your assessment in-house, there are some necessary steps to follow. Even if you are working with experts, it is good for everyone to have a general understanding of how the process works.
Every good assessment begins with proper planning. At the most basic level, a company needs to decide what systems will be tested and which of those contain the most sensitive data. This is also an excellent time to ensure that everyone understands the basic structure of the network and how different systems relate to one another.
Another aspect of the planning stage could be an assessment of the different levels of risk tolerance for each system and type of data on the network. Finally, a good plan ensures that all stakeholders are aware of the process and the intended outcome.
Once everything is clear, it is time to get to work on evaluating the network. There are both manual and automated ways to accomplish this. Exactly how this scan is performed and what it includes should be determined during the planning stage. There are numerous ways to access threat intelligence and databases of vulnerabilities to identify common weaknesses.
In many cases, initial scans may return an overwhelming number of vulnerabilities. However, they may not all be concerning or create enough risk to warrant addressing. These will be addressed in the next step.
With a list of all the potential threats in hand, the analysis step is about making sense of the problems. Through the use of the information shared in the planning stage, the vulnerabilities can be cross-referenced with the critical nature of the data. All of the weaknesses can then be ranked based on the nature of the data, the potential damage of a breach, the severity of the vulnerability, and the cause.
It is important here to realize that it may not be possible to fix every potential vulnerability, at least not right away. So, it is essential to rank these flaws as a way of determining which of them need to be addressed first.
This is the part where you get to do something about what your vulnerability assessment has uncovered. It makes sense, to begin with the most critical flaws that carry the most risk. However, this needs to be combined with information about the cost of the remediation in terms of both IT and overall system downtime.
There may be some critical issues that may need to wait for budgeting or an opening for extended system downtime. There also may be less critical elements that the team can fix quickly and inexpensively.