In the world of Cybersecurity today, there are plenty of tests and examinations to make sure that the lines of defense surrounding your business are well-fortified. Typically, both the internal and external environments are critically assessed. One of the primary goals of conducting these exercises is to determine where both known and unknown weaknesses are, and to formulate a strategy to remediate those weaknesses quickly and effectively.
One such test, Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing (VAPT), will be the focal point of this article.
As the name implies, “Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing” consists of two components, which are as follows:
- The Vulnerability Assessment:
This is the process where tests are conducted to determine where the backdoors exist in a particular software application that your company has developed, or within a certain part of your network segment typically known as a “Subnet.” It is important to keep in mind that this kind of exercise is not designed to examine your entire IT and Network Infrastructure; there are other kinds of tests that take a more holistic approach.
- The Penetration Test:
Penetration Testing is a more familiar term to most people, and represents the approach used to unearth weaknesses that reside in a company’s application or Subnet. However, depending on the company’s other security requirements, a Penetration Test can also be used to examine all of the company’s digital assets.
What Causes Vulnerabilities to Exist?
Why are there vulnerabilities in the apps in the first place? Some of the common causes include the following:
- Poor software development:
Very often, testing the source code is a step left to the very end of a project, if it is done at all. In the crunch to deliver the final project to the client, the time required to discover any holes in the source code is often not allocated. Also, many software development teams make use of third-party APIs (which are open sourced based) and in this regard, these software libraries are falsely assumed to be safe to use and are not tested to the unique environment that is being used to create the software application.
With the advent of a near 99% Remote Workforce that is transpiring today, many companies are opting to move their entire On Premises Infrastructure to a Cloud-based platform, such as AWS or Microsoft Azure. While Cloud-based platforms are much more secure environments than On Premises Infrastructures, new vulnerabilities crop up in the virtualized IT/Network Infrastructure when certain settings are not configured properly. The fallacy in thinking is that the settings that worked On Prem will also work in the exact same way in the Cloud-based environment. As a result, making sure that all of the settings have been established after the migration to the Cloud becomes an ignored task, thus resulting in misconfigurations.
- Weak passwords:
Even though many businesses have implemented Two Factor Authentication (2FA) and are moving cautiously towards the Zero Trust Framework, the use of weak passwords persists. Weak passwords are also a root cause of app and Subnet vulnerabilities. For example, even though Password Managers are now widely used to create hard-to-break passwords, human beings are, by nature, creatures of habit. In other words, we want to use the same, easy-to-remember passwords, even when accessing shared resources on company servers.
The Types of VAPT Testing
From within the VAPT Framework, there are number of key exercises that can be performed, and in general, they typically include the following:
- Active Testing:
This is where the tester actually examines the software application or Subnet in real time, by using some sort of test data. As the tests are conducted and the results are reported back, remediations will also be formulated on the spot and sent back to the client. The goal is to fix any vulnerabilities, gaps, or weaknesses in the shortest time possible, before further risks occur.
- Passive Testing:
In this regard, the tester is simply running a rudimentary scan, and there is no test data that is implemented. In other words, whatever gaps show up as a result are collected into one report, and from there, remediation actions are provided to the client.
- Network Testing:
With this type of scan, the tester will carefully examine the current state of configurations in the Subnet and compare that against a list of what should be established. The purpose of this approach is to paint a clear picture of the network thresholds that need to be reset, in the shortest time possible, to prevent further risks to their Cloud-based Infrastructure.
- Distributed Testing:
As mentioned previously in the VAPT model, only one software application or Subnet are typically examined. But if instances arise where multiple apps must be tested at the same time, the scans can be modified to accommodate that goal via the use of “Distributed Testing”.
Additional Benefits of Vulnerability Testing
The benefits of conducting a VAPT exercise are clear, but some of the most important ones include the following:
- It provides another way to examine the level of Cyber Risk in your organization a bit at a time, rather than trying to quantify it one fell swoop.
- It provides one of the best methods available to protect the Personal Identifiable Information (PII) datasets which are housed in your databases.
- It shows to that you are making an earnest effort to come into compliance with both the GDPR and the CCPA.
- It can help mitigate the indirect costs that arise should your company be impacted by a security breach. This will typically include brand/reputation damage, and the cost of losing customers (and trying to win them back) and trying to attract new customers.
VAPT is a specific type of testing—one of many—that can be used to assess and secure a company’s digital assets. There are several methods for deploying VAPT, but all are aimed at finding and fixing vulnerabilities in a specific software application or Subnet.
Ravi Das is a Cybersecurity Consultant and Business Development Specialist. He also does Cybersecurity Consulting through his private practice, RaviDas Tech, Inc. He also possesses the Certified in Cybersecurity (CC) cert from the ISC2.