Vulnerability scanners — also known as vulnerability assessments — are automated, digital solutions specifically designed to identify vulnerabilities and gaps in an organization’s website, application, and network security systems.
Various reactive cybersecurity tools — such as antivirus software or firewalls — can offer some protection. However, they only respond after a cyberattack or data breach occurs. Modern cybersecurity requires organizations to leverage a combination of reactive and proactive solutions, and vulnerability scanners are no exception.
Continue reading to learn more about vulnerability scanners and the purposes they serve. You’ll also discover three different types of vulnerability scanning your organization could use to bolster your cybersecurity posture.
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Vulnerability Scanner Categories
Vulnerability scanners typically fall into four categories — external, internal, authenticated, and unauthenticated. Each of these categories describes a specific area within an organization’s cybersecurity. Below is a brief description of each vulnerability scan category and its purpose.
External vs. Internal
As their names suggest, external and internal scans are designed to identify vulnerabilities in either an external or internal attack scenario. External vulnerability scanners detect gaps an outside attacker can exploit, whereas internal scanners identify potential insider threat attacks.
Authenticated vs. Unauthenticated
Many cybercriminals have the shared primary goal of gaining access to user credentials to execute an attack. Authenticated scans evaluate vulnerabilities threat actors can access with a user account. In contrast, unauthenticated scanners test which vulnerabilities are accessible if an attacker does not have specific access to a website, application, or network.
For more information, also see: Vulnerability Scanning Tools
3 Types of Vulnerability Scanners
With the remote work trend and cybersecurity risks on the rise, businesses need to leverage multiple cybersecurity solutions. Research suggests many employees report making mistakes that result in repercussions for themselves or their employers while working from home. With the right vulnerability scanners, companies can proactively identify gaps in their cybersecurity program.
Here are three common types of vulnerability scans: Network-based, application, and cloud vulnerability scanners. Learn about their features, pros and cons, how they work, and when to use each type.
1. Network-Based Vulnerability Scanners
A network-based vulnerability scan is one of the most vital types of scans in cybersecurity. These scans identify vulnerabilities across an organization’s entire network.
How Network-Based Vulnerability Scans Work
These scans identify and analyze all the systems and devices within an organization’s network infrastructure. Then it determines how they are connected to the network and adds them to an inventory.
The scanner analyzes each asset in the network inventory to detect vulnerabilities and common exploitable ports and services. Additionally, these scans can identify weak passwords and authentication errors.
- Reduces manual labor and time
- Identifies and prevents external threats
- Gauges the overall security of an organization’s network
- Helps meet compliance requirements
- Constant updates required
- Occasional false positives
- Implications of vulnerabilities can be unclear
- Can miss some vulnerabilities
3 Features of Network-Based Vulnerability Scans
Here are some essential features of network-based vulnerability scans:
- Robust scanning capabilities
- Centralized hub or dashboard for continuous monitoring
- Vulnerability scoring and reporting
When to Use Network-Based Vulnerability Scans
Consider using network-based vulnerability scanners to identify vulnerabilities such as unpatched systems, poorly configured network devices, or a weak network infrastructure. Regardless of type or size, every company should consider using network-based scans.
2. Application Vulnerability Scanners
One of the most widely used scanner types is the application vulnerability scanner. Its primary purpose is to scan an organization’s web and mobile applications across the network to find vulnerabilities and potential exploits.
How Application Vulnerability Scanners Work
Application scanners analyze coded and unsecured applications from the web on devices like laptops, tablets, and smartphones. This type of scanner discovers applications on a company’s systems to check for outdated versions, permissions, and security protocols.
These scanners also test code rigidity through penetration testing, another commonly used cybersecurity tool, business and client-side logic, database security, configuration, and more.
- Helps assess the current state of vulnerabilities
- Shows risks posed by vulnerabilities
- How much damage vulnerabilities could cause
- Detects breaches or anomalies
- Could be inaccurate or fail to detect vulnerabilities
- Might be expensive
- Some scanners cannot analyze custom-built applications
3 Features of Application Vulnerability Scans
Here are essential features to look for in application vulnerability scanners:
- Identifies the most common app vulnerabilities (SQL and Command injection, cross-site scripting)
- Provides results with the highest level of accuracy
- Scalable, flexible, and affordable
When to Use Application Vulnerability Scanners
Companies and individual employees leverage various web and mobile applications throughout the workday. Organizations looking for a basic level of protection or those relying on web applications should use application scanners.
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3. Cloud Vulnerability Scanners
Cloud vulnerability scanners essentially analyze a company’s cloud infrastructure for vulnerabilities. Scanners are an integral part of even the most simple cloud security strategy.
How Cloud Vulnerability Scanners Work
A cloud vulnerability scanner works in four stages — scope, scan, report, and remediate. The scanner must identify cloud-based assets in the first stage and how often they need to be checked for vulnerabilities. Policies set by cloud providers have to be factored in during the initial step. Then, the scanner identifies the vulnerabilities within cloud-hosted services.
It reports its findings and lists all vulnerabilities based on severity. Finally, the cloud scanner offers suggestions for fixing these vulnerabilities, allowing a company to work its way down the list and prioritize patching according to severity.
- Enables companies to remain secure using the cloud
- Offers visibility across all cloud assets
- Assists with compliance
- Real-time analysis
- Limited to only scanning cloud infrastructure
- Must account for a cloud provider’s security policies
- Might not consider new or emerging cloud vulnerabilities
3 Features of Cloud Vulnerability Scans
Every cloud vulnerability scanner should include the following key features:
- Detailed reporting with video of proof of concept exploits
- Compatible with the most popular cloud service providers
- Automates the continuous integration and continuous delivery or CI/CD pipeline
When to Use Cloud Vulnerability Scanners
Cloud scanners are automated tools capable of identifying common vulnerabilities in cloud-hosted services, such as Google Cloud Platform, Amazon Web Services, and Microsoft Azure. Any organization using these cloud services should use these specific vulnerability scanners for the best protection.
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Bottom Line: Types of Vulnerability Scanners
As the business world becomes more reliant on big data and digital technologies, it’s never been more critical for companies to identify and mitigate common security vulnerabilities. A common cybersecurity solution that large corporations and small to medium-sized businesses can use to defend their networks and sensitive data are vulnerability scanners.
Thankfully, IT experts and cybersecurity professionals created various types of vulnerability scanners to help organizations protect themselves – the three types of scanners outlined above are essential for every kind of business. Other notable types of scanners exist, such as database or host-based.
Consider all the different types of scanners available before making any major decisions. Companies should take advantage of free trials before investing to learn if the scanner suits their cybersecurity needs.
For more information, also see: Data Security Trends