When is the right time for vulnerability scanning?
February 1, 2023

When is the right time for vulnerability scanning?

All it takes for cybercriminals to breach your mission-critical networks, database, and IT systems is a single unpatched vulnerability. To prevent this and maintain good cyber hygiene, you need to obtain real-time vulnerability data.

Vulnerability scans generate a lot of data that when analyzed reveal several security flaws. Given the time and resources required to fully scan modern IT infrastructures, many organizations (especially those with a large number of digital assets and complex networks) may opt to execute vulnerability scans when they have the capacity to deal with the resultant data. This could be once a month or every quarter.

However, new vulnerabilities emerge almost every day due to the rapidly evolving nature of the threat landscape. If the gap between periodic scans is too long, malicious actors can take advantage of undetected vulnerabilities in your system and launch a range of cyber attacks. To safeguard your IT ecosystem, you need to perform vulnerability scanning at the right time.

Continuous scanning

Since vulnerabilities can crop up from any digital asset at any time, scanning your IT infrastructure on a continuous basis is the most effective approach to vulnerability management. However, continuous scanning can create several problems. Continuous scanning can:

  • Affect the speed of the systems, applications, and networks being scanned
  • Produce a constant barrage of alerts and triggers which could lead to alert fatigue
  • Generate a large number of false positives which drain time and resources

Since these cons outweigh the benefits of continuously executing vulnerability scans, let's take a look at factors that will help you decide the right time for vulnerability scanning.

Compliance standards

Since many compliance standards such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, GDPR, and others explicitly state security scanning frequency, some organizations execute vulnerability scans based on the regulatory frameworks their industry and business operations are subject to.

For instance, PCI DSS requires organizations that handle data related to credit card transactions in the payments industry to run scans every quarter. However, choosing the frequency of vulnerability scanning based entirely on compliance requirements isn't advisable since regulatory frameworks provide a one-size-fits-all guideline that may not be suitable for your business.

As such, using these standards to determine the right time for vulnerability scanning may not be ideal for your use case. And doing so may increase your security risks due to the evolving nature of the cybersecurity landscape. If you're looking to actually secure your digital assets (and not simply tick a box for compliance purposes), it's best to go above and beyond the regulations stipulated in your industry's regulatory frameworks.

Infrastructural changes

While some businesses may have a somewhat static IT environment, most modern organizations such as tech startups, and companies that operate at the forefront of cutting-edge technology continuously make rapid changes to their IT applications, systems, and architecture. These companies continuously make frequent changes to their codebase multiple times a day, deploy new IT assets, decommission existing ones and continuously reconfigure/expand their networks. All these rapid changes create the potential for a slew of security gaps and misconfigurations that could lead to the emergence of security vulnerabilities.

To mitigate the prevalence of these security gaps, you should always conduct vulnerability scans after making changes to your IT infrastructure, and digital assets. Running continuous vulnerability scans is essential to the security of rapidly evolving IT assets such as cloud infrastructure (Google Cloud, Azure, and AWS) where  resources can be provisioned and decommissioned every few minutes.

How to determine the right time to perform a vulnerability scan

Effective vulnerability management isn't a periodic or one-time project. In today's fast-paced cyber environment where ransomware attacks occur once every 11 seconds, monthly or quarterly vulnerability scans aren't enough to safeguard your IT ecosystem and prevent security breaches. Whether it's your firewall, VPN, development framework used by engineering teams, operating systems, web servers, or cloud infrastructure, all these assets can develop new vulnerabilities at any time, even when there are no new deployments or configuration changes.

The continuous assessment of your organization's digital assets, servers, connectivity, and applications enables your security team to stay on top of emerging cyber threats and security gaps within your network. However, this doesn't mean that you should run vulnerability scans around the clock.

Cybersecurity experts recognize the effectiveness of continuous vulnerability scanning and monitoring in protecting digital assets from security threats. As such, they recommend performing vulnerability scans once daily. But to determine if this is the best for your unique use case, you should first define your risk appetite and understand the value of every asset and network device that makes up your digital ecosystem.

Understanding the criticality of an attack on these assets can help you determine how frequently you should execute your vulnerability assessment process. Depending on the complexity of your infrastructure and the severity of the identified vulnerability gaps, it may take a couple of days to properly detect, resolve, and remediate all issues. In such environments, vulnerability scanning should be performed at least twice a week. Always do a follow-up scan after applying the security fixes and patches to ensure the total resolution of previously detected vulnerabilities

Using automated scanning tools

Although it is easier for organizations with few digital assets and a simple network to conduct biweekly scans, doing so may not be necessary due to the static nature of such IT environments. Conversely, daily scans can help detect vulnerabilities lurking in large networks, complex IT ecosystems, and rapidly changing infrastructures. However, the sheer volume of these assets makes this a challenging and resource-intensive undertaking. In such cases, it's best to deploy an intelligent, automated scanning tool that passively scans your growing IT infrastructure and proactively scans new additions or changes to your network.

Maintain cybersecurity

To attain and maintain good cyber hygiene, you need to obtain real-time vulnerability data. Combining daily scanning with continuous monitoring can help you gain 360-degree visibility into your IT ecosystem and provide real-time vulnerability data without fatigue alert.

While most compliance frameworks require you to use third-party vulnerability scanners like Snyk or AWS Inspector to scan your IT environment, a robust compliance platform like Vanta enables you to do so much more.

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