Scanning for Vulnerabilities: Popular Scanning Tools

by | Jul 7, 2023 | Penetration Testing

What is a Vulnerability Scan?

A vulnerability scan is an automated process that scans computer systems, networks, or applications for potential security vulnerabilities. The scan is designed to identify vulnerabilities that attackers could exploit to gain unauthorized access, steal data, or disrupt normal operations. These tools typically use a database of known vulnerabilities to compare against the target system or application to identify security weaknesses.

Vulnerability scanning is a critical component of cybersecurity that involves using specialized tools to identify potential security issues in computer systems, applications, and networks. Vulnerability scanning aims to identify potential security weaknesses before attackers can exploit them, allowing organizations to take proactive measures to protect their assets and data. However, more than simply conducting a vulnerability scan is required – the results must be validated to ensure that they are accurate and relevant to the organization’s security posture.

Vulnerability scanning can be done in two ways: internal and external. Internal scanning is performed from inside the organization’s network, while external scanning is performed outside the network, mimicking an attacker’s perspective.

Vulnerability Scanning vs. Penetration Tests

Penetration testing and vulnerability scanning are two different approaches to identifying and addressing potential security vulnerabilities in an information system.

Vulnerability scanning involves using automated tools to scan a system for known vulnerabilities. The scanner identifies vulnerabilities such as unpatched software, default passwords, misconfigured servers, and other security issues. The scan output is a report that identifies vulnerabilities that need to be addressed.

Penetration testing, on the other hand, involves an active attempt to exploit vulnerabilities in a system. A penetration tester tries to simulate a real-world attack by attempting to exploit vulnerabilities in a system, gaining unauthorized access to data or systems, and demonstrating how an attacker could exploit those vulnerabilities. Penetration testing typically involves a combination of automated tools and manual testing techniques.

While vulnerability scanning is a passive approach that a single person can conduct, penetration testing requires skilled professionals who can interpret the results of the tests and provide detailed recommendations for addressing identified vulnerabilities. Penetration testing is more time-consuming and expensive than vulnerability scanning but provides a more comprehensive assessment of a system’s security posture.

scanning for vulnerabilities: MS17-010
Nmap Scanning for MS17-010 vulnerabilities

Why is Vulnerability Scanning Important?

Vulnerability scanning is important for several reasons. First and foremost, it helps organizations identify potential security vulnerabilities before attackers can exploit them. This is critical in today’s threat landscape, where cyber attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated and frequent. By identifying vulnerabilities early, organizations can take proactive measures to patch or remediate them, reducing the risk of a successful attack.

Additionally, vulnerability scanning is important for compliance purposes. Many regulatory frameworks, such as HIPAA and PCI DSS, require regular vulnerability scanning to ensure that organizations meet minimum security requirements. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in hefty fines and legal action.

Finally, vulnerability scanning can also help organizations identify areas where they must invest in additional security measures. For example, suppose a vulnerability scan reveals that a certain application or network segment is particularly vulnerable. In that case, an organization may implement additional security controls, such as firewalls or intrusion detection systems, to protect against potential attacks.

How Often Should Scanning Be Conducted?

The frequency with which vulnerability scanning should be conducted depends on several factors, including the size and complexity of the organization’s infrastructure, the level of risk associated with the assets being scanned, and the regulatory requirements the organization must comply with.

For example, a small organization with a relatively simple IT environment may be able to conduct vulnerability scanning every quarter. At the same time, a large financial institution with a complex network of interconnected systems may need to conduct scans weekly or even daily.

In addition to regular scanning, organizations should conduct vulnerability scans whenever significant changes are made to their IT infrastructure, such as deploying a new application or adding a new network segment. This helps ensure that any new vulnerabilities introduced by the changes are identified and remediated before attackers can exploit them.

By 2023, there will be 3X more networked devices on Earth than humans, according to a report from Cisco.

It is Important to Regularly Perform Vulnerability Scanning for Several Reasons:

  1. Identify New Vulnerabilities: New vulnerabilities are always discovered, and it’s essential to scan regularly to identify any new vulnerabilities that may affect your systems.
  2. Ensure Compliance: Many compliance standards, such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), require regular vulnerability scanning to maintain compliance.
  3. Reduce Risk of Security Breaches: Regular vulnerability scanning can help reduce the risk of a security breach by identifying and fixing vulnerabilities before attackers can exploit them.
  4. Improve System Performance: Vulnerabilities can impact system performance, and identifying and fixing vulnerabilities can help improve system performance.
  5. Save Time and Resources: Regular vulnerability scanning can help save time and resources by identifying issues early on and fixing them before they become bigger problems.

scanning for vulnerabilities: Nessus

What is Validating Vulnerability Scan Results?

Validation of a vulnerability scan refers to the process of verifying the accuracy and reliability of the vulnerability scan results. This is important because scan tools can sometimes generate false positives. To ensure that the vulnerabilities identified by the scan are legitimate, it’s necessary to perform some form of validation or verification.

Validation of a vulnerability scan typically involves several steps. The first step is to review the scan results and identify any potential false positives or false negatives. This may involve manually checking each identified vulnerability to see if it is actually present and exploitable or running additional tests or scans to confirm or refute the findings.

The next step is to prioritize the vulnerabilities based on their severity and potential impact on the organization. This is important because it allows the organization to focus its resources on addressing the most critical vulnerabilities first.

Once the vulnerabilities have been prioritized, the organization can develop a plan to address them. This may involve patching software, updating configurations, or implementing additional security controls to mitigate the risk posed by the vulnerabilities.

It’s worth noting that validating vulnerability scan results is an ongoing process. Vulnerabilities can appear and disappear over time, and new vulnerabilities are constantly being discovered. As a result, organizations should regularly perform vulnerability scans (e.g., weekly, monthly, or quarterly) to ensure they remain aware of any new or existing vulnerabilities. Additionally, it’s important to regularly review and update the organization’s security policies and procedures to ensure they remain effective in the face of changing threats and vulnerabilities.

Scanning for vulnerabilities: group policy preferences
Group Policy Preferences Vulnerability Confirmed

Why is Validating Results Important?

While vulnerability scanning is an important first step in identifying potential security vulnerabilities, the results of the scan must be validated to ensure that they are accurate and relevant to the organization’s security posture. There are several reasons why this is important:

  1. False Positives: Vulnerability scanning tools are not perfect and can sometimes generate false positives – identifying a vulnerability that does not exist. Validating the results of a vulnerability scan helps ensure that any identified vulnerabilities are legitimate and require remediation.
  2. Contextualization: Vulnerability scanning tools generate many findings, and not all are relevant to an organization’s specific security posture. Validation of vulnerability scan results helps contextualize the findings, identifying the most relevant to the organization’s risk profile.
  3. Prioritization: Validating results also helps prioritize which vulnerabilities require immediate attention and which can be addressed later. This is important for organizations with limited resources, as it lets them focus their remediation efforts on the most critical vulnerabilities first.
  4. Compliance: Finally, validating results is often required for compliance purposes. Many regulatory frameworks require that vulnerability scan results be validated to ensure they are accurate and relevant to the organization’s security posture.

scanning for vulnerabilities: Report

Most Commonly Used Vulnerability Scanning Tools Used by Pentesters:

  1. NmapNmap is a popular open-source tool for network exploration, management, and security auditing. Pentesters use it to scan for open ports, discover hosts, and identify potential vulnerabilities in a network.
  2. NessusNessus is a widely used commercial vulnerability scanner used by pentesters to identify vulnerabilities in network infrastructure, operating systems, and applications. It offers comprehensive features, including the ability to customize scans, schedule scans, and generate detailed reports.
  3. OpenVASOpenVAS is an open-source vulnerability scanner that is designed to be used by pentesters and security professionals. It offers various options, including vulnerability scanning, configuration auditing, and malware detection.
  4. Burp SuiteBurp Suite is a web application testing tool that is used by pentesters to identify potential vulnerabilities in web applications. It offers a range of features, including intercepting and modifying HTTP traffic, crawling and scanning web applications, and identifying and exploiting vulnerabilities.
  5. MetasploitMetasploit is a popular framework used by pentesters to test the security of computer systems and networks. It offers a range of tools and modules for vulnerability scanning, exploitation, and post-exploitation activities.
  6. NiktoNikto is an open-source web server scanner used by pentesters to identify potential issues in web servers. It offers a range of features, including scanning for outdated software versions, default configurations, and misconfigured servers.
  7. Qualys Cloud Platform Qualys Cloud Platform (formerly QualysGuard) is a cloud-based vulnerability management tool used by pentesters to scan for vulnerabilities in network infrastructure, web applications, and databases. It offers a range of features, including customized reporting and prioritization of vulnerabilities.

In addition to these tools, pentesters may also use specialized tools or scripts to identify vulnerabilities in specific applications or systems. It’s important to note that vulnerability scanning is just one part of the pentesting process, which also includes manual testing and analysis to identify potential weaknesses that automated scanning tools may not detect.

BurpSuite Pro
BurpSuite Pro Tool

Why is it Important to Hire a Professional Penetration Services Company?

It’s important to hire a professional penetration testing company to perform vulnerability scanning for several reasons:

  1. Expertise: Professional penetration testing companies have the knowledge and experience to perform thorough vulnerability scanning. Experienced penetration testers deeply understand different vulnerabilities, how they can be exploited, and how to fix them.
  2. Customized Testing: Professional penetration testing companies can customize the testing to fit an organization’s specific needs. They can tailor their testing to specific systems, applications, and networks and identify vulnerabilities specific to an organization’s environment.
  3. Comprehensive Testing: Professional penetration testing companies can perform extensive testing, including automated and manual scanning. Automated scanning can identify known vulnerabilities, while manual testing can identify complex and advanced vulnerabilities that automated scanners may miss.
  4. Independent Assessment: A professional penetration testing company independently assesses an organization’s security posture. They can provide an unbiased view of the organization’s security and identify vulnerabilities that may have been overlooked.
  5. Compliance: Many compliance standards require that organizations perform regular vulnerability scanning by an independent third party. Hiring a professional penetration testing company ensures that organizations meet these compliance requirements.

That is why hiring a professional penetration testing company to perform vulnerability scanning provides organizations with the expertise, customized testing, comprehensive testing, independent assessment, and compliance requirements needed to maintain a secure environment.

Interested in a Professional Penetration Test for your Organization? Book a Call with Artifice Security.

Artifice Security is a well-known cybersecurity service provider that specializes in penetration testing. Companies should consider hiring Artifice Security for the following reasons:

  1. Expertise and Experience: Artifice Security employs highly skilled and experienced penetration testers who deeply understand the latest threats and attack techniques. They have worked with diverse clients from various industries, which has given them a broader perspective on security challenges and solutions.
  2. Comprehensive Testing: Artifice Security’s pen testing methodology is all-encompassing, covering all aspects of a company’s security posture. They employ a mix of automated and manual testing techniques to identify vulnerabilities and evaluate the overall effectiveness of existing security controls.
  3. Customized Approach: Artifice Security tailors the scope and depth of their pen testing to each client’s specific needs. They work closely with clients to understand their objectives and goals, developing a testing plan that aligns with them.
  4. Actionable Results: Artifice Security delivers detailed and actionable reports that clearly pinpoint vulnerabilities and provide remediation recommendations. The reports are user-friendly and understandable to both technical and non-technical stakeholders, offering clear guidance on improving the organization’s security posture.
  5. Compliance: Artifice Security’s pen testing services satisfy the requirements of multiple compliance regulations, such as PCI DSS, HIPAA, and GDPR. By contracting Artifice Security to conduct a pen test, companies can ensure they fulfill the necessary compliance requirements and avoid potential fines and legal issues. Artifice Security is a trustworthy and dependable partner for companies serious about safeguarding their assets and data from cyber threats. Our expertise, comprehensive testing approach, customized methodology, actionable results, and experience make us an excellent choice for any company seeking to enhance its security posture.

Want to learn more about vulnerability scanning and penetration testing? Read our Ultimate Guide to Penetration Testing page.

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