Nowadays, online security is as crucial as that in people’s daily lives. To ensure that the network services are safe and sound, companies conduct network security assessments. Thus, a network security assessment is a process of identifying weaknesses, analyzing them, and evaluating the potential security risks affecting an organization’s assets. This is a critical component of risk management and data protection efforts.
In addition to detecting potential vulnerabilities, many organizations also need a network security assessment to acquire the needed certification for operating within a certain field of activity. In other words, they must be compliant with, say, HIPAA requirements for offering medical-related services.
Purpose of a network security assessment
Now, having answered the question “What is a network security assessment?”, we need to know what is it used for and why. The primary purpose of a network security assessment is to identify critical assets, vulnerabilities posing the most risk to the business operations, impact, and the likelihood of exploitation of the threats and risk appetite of an organization.
To put it into perspective, network security assessments play a key role not only in finding out network security vulnerabilities but also in sealing up these security breaches to improve the organization’s overall security posture. The specialists conduct network security assessments and provide suggestions to reduce the risk of successful attacks in the future. Using such assessment services greatly helps businesses to avoid suffering significant money losses and scandals regarding personal information leaks.
Thus, network security assessments deal with the following issues:
- The chances of breaching a system
- Identifying entry points of these breaches
- Assessing the impact of possible attacks
- Using the right risk mitigation techniques to reduce the effects of these attacks.
- Taking the right network’s security measures.
Types of network security assessments
Essentially, any network security assessment can be divided into two main groups: a penetration test and a vulnerability assessment.
It is used to assess computers, networks, and systems for security weaknesses. The main idea behind VAs is to identify potential vulnerabilities and threats in network devices such as routers, firewalls, servers, or applications. To put it simply, this kind of network scanning looks for known security issues in your system and reports potential exposures, but it only identifies them and does not exploit vulnerabilities.
Also known as a pen test, is a much more comprehensive scan than VA, and attempts to exploit a system’s weaknesses instead of identifying them. It is also much more rigorous than vulnerability scanning since it is basically a controlled form of hacking performing an actual attack. Penetration testing not only exploits the threats within the architecture of your IT infrastructure but also determines the degree to which a hacker can gain unauthorized access to your assets, including valuable and sensitive data. The analysts often referred to as ethical hackers, work on behalf of an organization, search for new vulnerabilities in its system, and then try to prove that they can be exploited.
Conducting a network security assessment
To conduct a network security assessment, most organizations hire the above-mentioned professionals. But how does the process go? Here are the steps of a typical security risk assessment:
- Data audits. Before assessing the risks, we first need the data, its value, and whereabouts. Data audits are aimed to answer the questions like: What data is collected? Where is it stored? How is it protected? Who has access to this data?
- Identify and prioritize assets. Valuable assets could be servers, databases, key people, sensitive documents, customer contact information, Intellectual Property, and other assets.
- Identify adversarial threats. Generally, two types of threats are part of this phase. It involves malicious threats related to internal or external attacks and non-malicious threats.
- Identify network security vulnerabilities. This section deals with specifics with real chances of happening. It includes cataloging and discovering internal weaknesses in your network.
- Determine the likelihood and assess the impact. It is fundamental to calculate the risk probability to reduce the possibility of futuristic events from happening.
- Prioritize risk and recommend security controls. In this section, pre-defined or generic risk levels such as high, medium, and low are taken as a basis to determine risk mitigation measures and provide the right security controls.
IT infrastructure vulnerability assessments
Nobody knows where and when a potential security risk may come from. It can be everything from a simple human error or a wrong email usage to a cybersecurity risk coming from the outside. The business importance of such threats is not to be underestimated; therefore, a solid vulnerability assessment must feature:
- Network scanning. This process includes scanning the physical network of the organization. Those can be a wifi router, IoT, and all kinds of wireless networks to be found in the office.
- Network enumeration. Used to discover hosts, various devices, collecting usernames and group information, shares, and services of networked computers.
- Third-party review. Assessing the depth of access third parties have to the organization’s networks and specific assets.
- Information security policy review. Inspection of internal personnel and their abilities to put the network security at risk.
Frequently Asked Questions
Network security assessments consist of holding data audits, identifying assets valuable for the organization, detecting internal weaknesses and vulnerabilities, assessing a potential impact, documenting the results, and taking the right measures.
Also known as a risk assessment is defined as the analysis of the threats and vulnerabilities to discover possible risks to the information system.
The main goal of a security assessment is to reveal the organization’s vulnerabilities regarding its networks and find ways to fix them as efficiently and fast as possible.
There are two types of network security assessments: penetration testing and vulnerability assessment. The latter usually takes no longer than several hours to perform, while penetration tests can take up to several days or even weeks, as they are basically a simulated cyber attack.