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The truth about Vulnerability Management and Pen Testing


No matter how sure you are that your network is secure, you may still be at risk of cyberattacks. It's no exaggeration Cybercriminals are constantly working to stay one step ahead of organisations and security professionals, exploiting any vulnerability they can in even the most sophisticated systems.

At the time of writing, a CMS system used by the US Army was found to have a serious vulnerability that could be exploited relatively easily to gain full access to the system[1]. While this vulnerability was resolved in an update, it throws a spotlight on the need for all organisations to regularly probe their own systems for potential risks. Neglecting to do so places them at risk of serious breaches, leaving them at risk of data loss, costly fines and lasting reputational damage.

While regular updates are certainly important in this regard, they are only part of the picture. Let's consider how we can best develop an effective cyber security strategy that ensures vulnerabilities can be identified and resolved before they lead to incidents…

Why relying exclusively on patch management is a mistake

With the battle between criminals and security professionals continually escalating, it's not enough to rely on patching to keep your infrastructure secure. It can often take months for organisations to realise they have been hacked, and even then, patches can rarely be implemented quickly enough to mitigate the damage. The answer is regular Vulnerability Management.

There is some confusion surrounding this term, as it is often used interchangeably with Penetration Testing. Both are undoubtedly part of any effective security posture (and are, in fact, among the important preventative measures required for compliance standards such as ISO 27001 and PCI) but they are fundamentally different in terms of both intent and approach. In simple terms:

  • Vulnerability Management involves automated scanning of network devices in order to detect vulnerabilities at both the network and application level. IT teams then receive automatic alerts, allowing them to resolve any vulnerabilities detected before they lead to incidents. This can also be used to drive more efficient, effective patching, where all patches are implemented as soon as they become available, rather than in response to breaches.

  • A Pen Test takes a more aggressive, hands-on approach to finding and resolving vulnerabilities, with a dedicated tester actively probing vulnerabilities within a network and reporting their findings. This requires considerable specialist knowledge, both of the network and the methods utilised by hackers, as testers will typically conduct tests with multiple tools, settings and parameters.

Pen Testing is certainly vital and should at least take place on an annual basis - as recommended by security professionals and typical sector requirements - but it can be costly, time-consuming and often requires expertise that is not available internally, particularly if all infrastructure must be tested. In contrast, Vulnerability Scanning can be left to run in the background throughout the entire year and will only require internal intervention when a vulnerability is detected. Rather than a one-off investment, it can be thought of as an always-on safety net - much akin to home insurance - that will more than justify the initial cost if just a few vulnerabilities are detected and patched each year.

Developing an efficient, effective security ecosystem

A managed Vulnerability Scanning service is an especially attractive option for many companies, ensuring the process does not become a drain on internal IT teams, while still providing them with the resources they need to pre-empt any potential risks and anticipate how the threat landscape is likely to evolve in the future. With Pen Testing taking place at least once a year and a reputable cyber security specialist handling ongoing Vulnerability Scanning and patch management, organisations are freed to move from a reactive approach to security to a proactive one, with regular improvements and innovations inherent in the design.

To find out more about Vulnerability Management, Pen Testing and how to successfully implement them within your own security ecosystem, join us for our webinar on 15th October. Our cyber security experts will explore the different ways in which cyberattacks are evolving, and what you can do to ensure your data stayssecure at all times, with plenty of practical, actionable advice, drawn from our experience working with a wide range of organisations across the UK.

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