Vulnerability scanning is a process used to identify weaknesses or vulnerabilities in a computer system, network, or application. It involves automated tools that scan for known vulnerabilities in software, configurations, or network infrastructure. The primary purpose of vulnerability scanning is to proactively identify security issues before they can be exploited by attackers.

Here’s how vulnerability scanning typically works:

  1. Discovery: The scanning tool identifies active devices on the network, such as servers, routers, switches, and workstations.
  2. Enumeration: The tool then collects information about the software and services running on these devices, including versions and configurations.
  3. Vulnerability Assessment: Using a database of known vulnerabilities, the tool compares the collected information to identify potential weaknesses. This includes vulnerabilities in operating systems, applications, and network services.
  4. Reporting: The scanning tool generates a report detailing the vulnerabilities found, their severity level, and recommendations for remediation.  If you are using a managed security services provider (MSSP) to perform these scans, they will also provide a prioritized list of the vulnerabilities which have the most likelihood of being exploited and the most impact to your organization.  This will help you prioritize your remediation efforts.

The frequency of vulnerability scanning depends on various factors, including the size and complexity of your network, the sensitivity of the data you’re protecting, and the rate at which your environment changes. However, it’s generally recommended to perform vulnerability scanning:

  • Regularly: Vulnerability scanning should be conducted on a regular basis to ensure that new vulnerabilities are identified promptly. This frequency could range from monthly to quarterly, depending on your organization’s risk tolerance and resources.  It would not be valuable to run these scans more often than your organization can address the issues as they could become distracting and seem like an unachievable task to remediate.
  • After Significant Changes: Whenever significant changes are made to your network or systems, such as deploying new software or hardware, updates to existing software, or changes in network configurations, it’s essential to perform vulnerability scanning to detect any new vulnerabilities introduced by these changes.
  • After Security Events: If your organization experiences a security incident or breach, it’s crucial to conduct a vulnerability scan afterward to identify any weaknesses that may have been exploited by attackers.
  • Compliance Requirements: Certain regulations or industry standards may mandate specific frequency for vulnerability scanning. Make sure to comply with any applicable requirements.

Regular vulnerability scanning is an essential component of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy, helping to identify and mitigate potential risks to your organization’s systems and data.