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Ultimate Guide to Vulnerability Scanning Automation in 2024

With digital transformation, businesses and organizations rely heavily on technology for their day-to-day operations. With this dependency comes the increased risk of cyber attacks, which can cause devastating consequences such as 

  • data breaches (can cost a company up to 4.35 million on average per IBM)

To mitigate these risks, vulnerability scanning has become a critical component of cybersecurity. However, manually performing vulnerability scans can be time-consuming, tedious, and prone to human error. 

To address these challenges, automation has emerged as a powerful solution. This article will explore 

  • The benefits of vulnerability scanning automation
  • Best practices of vulnerability scanning automation
  • How can vulnerability scanning automation help organizations enhance their security posture

Why is vulnerability scanning important?

In Q1 of 2021, over 8,000 vulnerabilities were published, and at the moment, the National Vulnerability Database (NVD) has over 176,000 vulnerability entities in its database.1Considering that 76% of applications have at least one vulnerability, vulnerability scanning is essential to maintaining strong cybersecurity defenses for businesses and organizations.2

Identify weaknesses

Vulnerability scanning helps to identify vulnerabilities or weaknesses in the network, applications, and systems that attackers could exploit to gain unauthorized access.

Proactive security 

Data breaches in Q3 of 2022 exposed approximately 15 million data records worldwide, a 37% rise from the Q1. 3 Regular vulnerability scans provide a proactive approach to security by allowing organizations to address vulnerabilities before attackers can exploit them, averting data breaches. 

Compliance requirements

Many industries and regulatory bodies require regular vulnerability scanning to ensure compliance with security standards and regulations. The Global Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Health Information Privacy and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard are a few examples of such compliance standards (PCI-DSS).

Cost-Effective

Vulnerability scanning is a cost-effective way to identify and address security vulnerabilities, reducing the likelihood of expensive data breaches. According to IBM, vulnerability scanning can help a business save an average of $3 million while containing the breach 28 days sooner. 4

Reputation management

Data breaches resulting from vulnerabilities can cause significant damage to a company’s reputation. Vulnerability scanning helps to prevent such incidents and safeguard the company’s reputation.

Source: Impreva5

Figure 1: Vulnerability assessment: Security scanning process

Vulnerability scanning is crucial in maintaining strong cybersecurity defenses and protecting businesses’ and organizations’ sensitive data and assets from potential cyber threats.

What are the types of vulnerability scanning?

Source:Balbix6

Figure 2: Types of Vulnerability Assessment Scans

Automated vulnerability scanning can be classified into five categories

1- Network-based Scans

This type of vulnerability scanning focuses on identifying vulnerabilities in network infrastructure, such as routers, switches, firewalls, and servers. It involves scanning network devices for known vulnerabilities and configuration weaknesses that attackers could exploit.

2- Application Vulnerability Scanning

Application vulnerability scanning involves identifying vulnerabilities in software applications, such as web applications, mobile apps, and desktop applications. It typically involves automated testing of the application’s code and input fields for common vulnerabilities, such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and buffer overflow.

3- Database Vulnerability Scanning

This type of vulnerability scanning focuses on identifying vulnerabilities in database systems, such as SQL servers and Oracle databases. It involves scanning databases for known vulnerabilities and misconfigurations that attackers could exploit.

4- Cloud Vulnerability Scanning

Cloud vulnerability scanning identifies vulnerabilities in cloud infrastructure and services, such as AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud. It typically involves automated scanning of cloud instances, storage buckets, and other cloud services for known vulnerabilities and configuration weaknesses.

5- Configuration Vulnerability Scanning

Configuration vulnerability scanning involves identifying vulnerabilities in system and application configurations, such as weak passwords, open ports, and misconfigured security settings. It typically involves automated scanning of system and application configurations for known vulnerabilities and common misconfigurations.

How to automate vulnerability scanning? 

Automating vulnerability scanning involves leveraging tools and technologies to perform vulnerability scans without manual intervention. Here are some steps to automate vulnerability scanning:

1-Choose vulnerability scanners

The first and most vital step to automate vulnerability is choosing a vulnerability scanning tool. There are many vulnerability scanning tools available in the market, such as Nessus, Qualys, and OpenVAS. Choose an automated vulnerability scanner that meets your organization’s needs, budget, and technical requirements.

2-Define scan targets

Identify the assets and systems that need to be scanned. This could include servers, applications, network devices, and databases.

3-Schedule scans

Set up a schedule for vulnerability scanning. Depending on the organization’s needs, this could be daily, weekly, or monthly. With the help of automated tools, a more frequent vulnerability scanning schedule could provide better chances of catching errors. Nevertheless, a daily or weekly scanning may not be necessary for every organization.

4-Configure scan settings

Configure the vulnerability scanner settings, such as the types of vulnerabilities to scan for, the severity levels, and the scan scope.

5-Automate reporting 

Configure the vulnerability scanner to automatically generate reports and alerts when vulnerabilities are detected. This will help ensure that you or the QA team is notified and can take immediate action to remediate the vulnerabilities.

6-Integrate with other security tools

To streamline vulnerability management, consider integrating the vulnerability scanner with other security tools, such as patch management systems and security information and event management (SIEM) solutions.

By automating vulnerability scanning, organizations can reduce manual effort, save time, and proactively identify and remediate vulnerabilities before attackers can exploit them. This will help organizations maintain strong cybersecurity defenses and protect against cyber threats.

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Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst
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Altay Ataman
Altay is an industry analyst at AIMultiple. He has background in international political economy, multilateral organizations, development cooperation, global politics, and data analysis. He has experience working at private and government institutions. Altay discovered his interest for emerging tech after seeing its wide use of area in several sectors and acknowledging its importance for the future. He received his bachelor's degree in Political Science and Public Administration from Bilkent University and he received his master's degree in International Politics from KU Leuven .

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