What is vulnerability scanning?
Vulnerability scanning is the action of conducting an automated review of your system to look for potential risks and vulnerabilities. For budding information security professionals (or even those who have worked in the field for years), there is always something new to learn. Not only is it a highly intricate and advanced field but, on a daily basis, there is a cat-and-mouse game happening between security engineers and hackers. Engineers look for new ways to secure their systems, hackers look for new ways to break those security measures, and the cycle goes on and on.
You don’t have to know every vulnerability or risk out there, though, because there are tools that do it for you. This is the magic of vulnerability scanning.
What does vulnerability scanning mean?
Think of it as a scan to check for any unlocked doors that a thief could use to get in or to get access to your confidential data. Vulnerability scanning is a vital part of a strong security posture, and it’s even required for compliance with certain security standards and certifications.
What is a vulnerability scanner?
A vulnerability scanner is a tool that performs an automated vulnerability scan for your system. There are numerous different vulnerability scanners on the market, and each one has its own processes and covers different digital assets. It’s important to understand what your system entails so you can examine various vulnerability scanners to find the best fit.
What is a vulnerability scan?
The term “vulnerability scan” can be used in a few different ways. It can refer to the process of scanning for vulnerabilities, such as, “We’re running a vulnerability scan today.” Or, it can refer to the report you receive as a result of the scan, such as, “According to our vulnerability scan, these are the issues we need to address.”
Types of vulnerability scans
Vulnerability scanning doesn’t vary from one brand to another. There are different types of scans you can choose to perform based on what you want to know about your system. Most noticeably, you’ll see options for internal vs. external vulnerability scans and authenticated vs. unauthenticated vulnerability scans.
Internal vs. external vulnerability scans
Proper data security involves not only locking down your system from access by unauthorized users but also locking down sensitive, confidential data on a need-to-access basis. Internal and external vulnerability scans assess your security from both of these angles.
An internal vulnerability scan is conducted from within your network. The goal is to find any vulnerabilities that could be exploited by an internal user like an employee. An external vulnerability scan, on the other hand, is conducted from outside your network to find vulnerabilities that could be exploited from outside the network.
The most comprehensive choice, of course, is to perform both internal and external scans. In fact, this is required for some security standards like PCI DSS.
Authenticated vs. unauthenticated vulnerability scans
Another distinction that can be made between vulnerability scans is authenticated vs. unauthenticated vulnerability scans. An authorized vulnerability scan is a scan conducted using valid log-in credentials for your system to see what a logged-in user could access and how they could move through your system. An unauthorized vulnerability scan, on the other hand, evaluates what a person could access if they weren’t able to get valid log-in credentials.
Note that you might also see the terms “credentialed vulnerability scan” and “non-credentialed vulnerability scan.” These are used interchangeably with authenticated and unauthenticated vulnerability scans.
How is vulnerability scanning different from penetration testing?
Vulnerability scanning may sound similar to another type of security evaluation technique called penetration testing. After all, they are both ways to assess your security posture and identify missing pieces and opportunities for problems. They work in different ways, though.
In vulnerability scanning, an automated tool performs a scan of your system to look for known vulnerabilities from its database. It’s all about finding security gaps that a hacker could hypothetically exploit.
In penetration testing, on the other hand, a hired expert runs through operations to try to hack into your system and access confidential data.
How does vulnerability scanning work?
A vulnerability scanner works by using a database of known vulnerabilities and looking for these vulnerabilities in your system. It checks various interfaces and runs various scenarios within your system to identify any potential risks. The best part is that this is all done on an automated basis, so it’s hands-off for your team.
Is vulnerability scanning a requirement?
For most organizations, vulnerability scanning is a voluntary way to keep your data and your infrastructure secure. It is, however, a requirement for compliance with certain security standards like PCI DSS.
In addition to this, there are other standards that don’t necessarily require vulnerability scanning by name, but they do require you to have a process in place for identifying vulnerabilities. Vulnerability scanning is an efficient and reliable way to meet that requirement.
Why is vulnerability scanning important?
Protecting your organization and your clients’ data needs to be an ongoing effort, and there are always new vulnerabilities that may arise. To keep your data secure, you need to have a way to detect these vulnerabilities when they appear and resolve them promptly.
A vulnerability scanner doesn’t only give you a reliable way to do this but it also takes the manual work off your hands. It’s always a good idea to stay on top of the latest news about discovered vulnerabilities, but a vulnerability scanner ensures that you don’t need to check your system manually; if there is an opportunity for hackers, it will alert you.
Find the ideal vulnerability scanner for your organization
Finding a vulnerability scanner that works for your organization comes down to understanding your system and finding a vulnerability scanner that suits it well. Learn more about security and how to protect your data through vulnerability scanning and more on our information security blog and explore how Vanta’s automated compliance software can empower your security.
Determine whether the GDPR applies to you and if so, if you are a processor or controller (or both)
Do you sell goods or service in the EU or UK?
Do you sell goods or services to EU businesses, consumers, or both?
Do you have employees in the EU or UK?
Do persons from the EU or UK visit your website?
Do you monitor the behavior of persons within the EU?
Create a Data Map by taking the following actions
Identify and document every system (i.e. database, application, or vendor) which stores or processes EU or UK based personally identifiable information (PII)
Document the retention periods for PII in each system
Determine whether you collect, store, or process “special categories” of data
Determine whether your Data Map meets the requirements for Records of Processing Activities (Art. 30)
Determine whether your Data Map includes the following information about processing activities carried out by vendors on your behalf
Determine your grounds for processing data
For each category of data and system/application have you determined the lawful basis for processing based on one of the following conditions?
Take inventory of current customer and vendor contracts to confirm new GDPR-required flow-down provisions are included
Review all customer contracts to determine that they have appropriate contract language (i.e. Data Protection Addendums with Standard Contractual Clauses)
Review all in-scope vendor contracts to determine that they have appropriate contract language (i.e. Data Protection Addendums with Standard Contractual Clauses)
Have you performed a risk assessment on vendors who are processing your PII?
Determine if you need to do a Data Protection Impact Assessment
Is your data processing taking into account the nature, scope, context, and purposes of the processing, likely to result in a high risk to the rights and freedoms of natural persons?
Review product and service design (including your website or app) to ensure privacy notice links, marketing consents, and other requirements are integrated
Does the notice to the data subject include the following items?
Does the notice also include the following items?
Do you have a mechanism for persons to change or withdraw consent?
Update internal privacy policies to comply with notification obligations
Update internal privacy notices for EU employees
Determine if you need to appoint a Data Protection Officer, and appoint one if needed
Have you determined whether or not you must designate a Data Protection Officer (DPO) based on one of the following conditions (Art. 37)?
If you export data from the EU, consider if you need a compliance mechanism to cover the data transfer, such as model clauses
If you transfer, store, or process data outside the EU or UK, have you identified your legal basis for the data transfer (note: most likely covered by the Standard Contractual Clauses)
Have you performed and documented a Transfer Impact Assessment (TIA)?
Confirm you are complying with other data subject rights (i.e. aside from notification)
Do you have a defined process for timely response to Data Subject Access Requests (DSAR) (i.e. requests for information, modification or deletion of PII)?
Are you able to provide the subject information in a concise, transparent, intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language?
Do you have a process for correcting or deleting data when requested?
Do you have an internal policy regarding a Compelled Disclosure from Law Enforcement?
Determine if you need to appoint an EU-based representative, and appoint one if needed
Have you appointed an EU Representative or determined that an EU Representative is not needed based on one of the following conditions?
If operating in more than one EU state, identify a lead Data Protection Authority (DPA)
Do you operate in more than one EU state?
If so, have you designated the Supervisory Authority of the main establishment to act as your Lead Supervisory Authority?
Implement Employee Trainings to Demonstrate Compliance with GDPR Principles and Data Subject Rights
Have you provided appropriate Security Awareness and Privacy training to your staff?
Update internal procedures and policies to ensure you can comply with data breach response requirements
Have you created and implemented an Incident Response Plan which included procedures for reporting a breach to EU and UK Data Subjects as well as appropriate Data Authorities?
Do breach reporting policies comply with all prescribed timelines and include all recipients i.e. authorities, controllers, and data subjects?
Implement appropriate technical and organizational measures to ensure a level of security appropriate to the risk
Have you implemented encryption of PII at rest and in transit?
Have you implemented pseudonymization?
Have you implemented appropriate physical security controls?
Have you implemented information security policies and procedures?
Can you access EU or UK PII data in the clear?
Do your technical and organizational measure ensure that, by default, only personal data which are necessary for each specific purpose of the processing are processed?
Consider streamlining GDPR compliance with automation
Transform manual data collection and observation processes into continuous monitoring
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Develop a roadmap for successful implementation of an ISMS and ISO 27001 certification
Implement Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) process to recognize challenges and identify gaps for remediation
Consider ISO 27001 certification costs relative to org size and number of employees
Clearly define scope of work to plan certification time to completion
Select an ISO 27001 auditor
Set the scope of your organization’s ISMS
Decide which business areas are covered by the ISMS and which are out of scope
Consider additional security controls for business processes that are required to pass ISMS-protected information across the trust boundary
Inform stakeholders regarding scope of the ISMS
Establish an ISMS governing body
Build a governance team with management oversight
Incorporate key members of top management, e.g. senior leadership and executive management with responsibility for strategy and resource allocation
Conduct an inventory of information assets
Consider all assets where information is stored, processed, and accessible
- Record information assets: data and people
- Record physical assets: laptops, servers, and physical building locations
- Record intangible assets: intellectual property, brand, and reputation
Assign to each asset a classification and owner responsible for ensuring the asset is appropriately inventoried, classified, protected, and handled
Execute a risk assessment
Establish and document a risk-management framework to ensure consistency
Identify scenarios in which information, systems, or services could be compromised
Determine likelihood or frequency with which these scenarios could occur
Evaluate potential impact of each scenario on confidentiality, integrity, or availability of information, systems, and services
Rank risk scenarios based on overall risk to the organization’s objectives
Develop a risk register
Record and manage your organization’s risks
Summarize each identified risk
Indicate the impact and likelihood of each risk
Document a risk treatment plan
Design a response for each risk (Risk Treatment)
Assign an accountable owner to each identified risk
Assign risk mitigation activity owners
Establish target dates for completion of risk treatment activities
Complete the Statement of Applicability worksheet
Review 114 controls of Annex A of ISO 27001 standard
Select controls to address identified risks
Complete the Statement of Applicability listing all Annex A controls, justifying inclusion or exclusion of each control in the ISMS implementation
Continuously assess and manage risk
Build a framework for establishing, implementing, maintaining, and continually improving the ISMS
Include information or references to supporting documentation regarding:
- Information Security Objectives
- Leadership and Commitment
- Roles, Responsibilities, and Authorities
- Approach to Assessing and Treating Risk
- Control of Documented Information
- Internal Audit
- Management Review
- Corrective Action and Continual Improvement
- Policy Violations
Assemble required documents and records
Review ISO 27001 Required Documents and Records list
Customize policy templates with organization-specific policies, process, and language
Establish employee training and awareness programs
Conduct regular trainings to ensure awareness of new policies and procedures
Define expectations for personnel regarding their role in ISMS maintenance
Train personnel on common threats facing your organization and how to respond
Establish disciplinary or sanctions policies or processes for personnel found out of compliance with information security requirements
Perform an internal audit
Allocate internal resources with necessary competencies who are independent of ISMS development and maintenance, or engage an independent third party
Verify conformance with requirements from Annex A deemed applicable in your ISMS's Statement of Applicability
Share internal audit results, including nonconformities, with the ISMS governing body and senior management
Address identified issues before proceeding with the external audit
Undergo external audit of ISMS to obtain ISO 27001 certification
Engage an independent ISO 27001 auditor
Conduct Stage 1 Audit consisting of an extensive documentation review; obtain feedback regarding readiness to move to Stage 2 Audit
Conduct Stage 2 Audit consisting of tests performed on the ISMS to ensure proper design, implementation, and ongoing functionality; evaluate fairness, suitability, and effective implementation and operation of controls
Address any nonconformities
Ensure that all requirements of the ISO 27001 standard are being addressed
Ensure org is following processes that it has specified and documented
Ensure org is upholding contractual requirements with third parties
Address specific nonconformities identified by the ISO 27001 auditor
Receive auditor’s formal validation following resolution of nonconformities
Conduct regular management reviews
Plan reviews at least once per year; consider a quarterly review cycle
Ensure the ISMS and its objectives continue to remain appropriate and effective
Ensure that senior management remains informed
Ensure adjustments to address risks or deficiencies can be promptly implemented
Calendar ISO 27001 audit schedule and surveillance audit schedules
Perform a full ISO 27001 audit once every three years
Prepare to perform surveillance audits in the second and third years of the Certification Cycle
Consider streamlining ISO 27001 certification with automation
Transform manual data collection and observation processes into automated and continuous system monitoring
Identify and close any gaps in ISMS implementation in a timely manner
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Determine which annual audits and assessments are required for your company
Perform a readiness assessment and evaluate your security against HIPAA requirements
Review the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights Audit Protocol
Conduct required HIPAA compliance audits and assessments
Perform and document ongoing technical and non-technical evaluations, internally or in partnership with a third-party security and compliance team like Vanta
Document your plans and put them into action
Document every step of building, implementing, and assessing your compliance program
Vanta’s automated compliance reporting can streamline planning and documentation
Appoint a security and compliance point person in your company
Designate an employee as your HIPAA Compliance Officer
Schedule annual HIPAA training for all employees
Distribute HIPAA policies and procedures and ensure staff read and attest to their review
Document employee trainings and other compliance activities
Thoroughly document employee training processes, activities, and attestations
Establish and communicate clear breach report processes
to all employees
Ensure that staff understand what constitutes a HIPAA breach, and how to report a breach
Implement systems to track security incidents, and to document and report all breaches
Institute an annual review process
Annually assess compliance activities against theHIPAA Rules and updates to HIPAA
Continuously assess and manage risk
Build a year-round risk management program and integrate continuous monitoring
Understand the ins and outs of HIPAA compliance— and the costs of noncompliance
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