Hackernoon logoRisk Assessment Vs Vulnerability Assessment: Which Assessment Should You Conduct? by@securetriad

Risk Assessment Vs Vulnerability Assessment: Which Assessment Should You Conduct?

Cyril James Hacker Noon profile picture

@securetriadCyril James

13+ years of experience in the Information Technology and Communication industry | Founder of Secure Triad

For securing IT assets, the assessment of risks and vulnerabilities is essential. To understand and mitigate the threats in an IT environment, a comprehensive vulnerability assessment should be done. The two most popular and widely accepted ways to spot threats and analyse them are risk assessment and vulnerability assessment.

Many people confuse a risk assessment with a vulnerability assessment. They may seem similar on the surface but there is a slight difference between these two concepts. In this blog, we will discuss the different aspects of risk assessment and vulnerability assessment.

Let’s begin!

What is a Vulnerability Assessment?

Vulnerability assessment is an important component of the security assessment of an organisation’s IT infrastructure. The major difference between the two is that vulnerability assessment examines systems to spot gaps that could result in exploitation, while risk assessment identifies these recognised threats and evaluates likelihood and impact.

With the help of vulnerability assessment, companies can define and prioritise vulnerabilities that exist in the company’s current network infrastructure, computer systems, and resources.

There are different types of vulnerability assessments that include network-based scans, host-based scans, wireless network scans, and web applications scans depending on the purpose of vulnerability assessment.

When and Why Companies Use Vulnerability Assessment?

Say an organisation has made changes in the configuration of a system or their network or has purchased new systems. New systems and changes impact the threat landscape of the organisation.

A vulnerability assessment is required to evaluate if threats have changed, existing gaps have been plugged or if new threats have cropped up.

Vulnerability assessment also improves the operational efficiency of the system and guards against any issues arising out of deploying new software or hardware. The organisation understands if their IT systems are managed optimally and efficiently or not.

Now what is the apt timing to conduct a vulnerability assessment? The ideal answer is “continued periodic vulnerability scanning” is the only thing that will ensure a company’s data are protected and all cybersecurity programs are in place.

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Importance of Security Assessments

What are The Steps of Vulnerability Assessment?

The goal of vulnerability assessment is to find gaps in the current IT infrastructure, check how protected the systems are, and recommend the methods to prevent the threats from materialising.

Below are the integral steps of a vulnerability assessment:

1. Identify Assets and Risks

Identify the crucial IT assets of the organisation and their location (on-premise or cloud). Then make a list of potential threats that should be assessed for those assets; this leads to a security baseline.

This security baseline will help to understand the configuration of the system in terms of security - whether the current system is safe or not.

2. Create a Detailed Picture

Once the assets and related risks are identified, we move ahead with creating a detailed picture of the current IT structure of the organisation considering the software and programs used.

The knowledge of the team that accesses this software and uses other crucial IT assets included in the list should also be considered. It helps spot weaknesses and prioritise the fixes.

3. Vulnerability Scan

After the system baseline is defined, the next step is to perform a vulnerability scan to detect the existing weaknesses of the current system. It is done using various tools and plug-ins that are designed for vulnerability assessment.

4. Vulnerability Report

The final step is to compile the scan results and summarise each of the vulnerabilities identified during the scan. The report must include the type of vulnerability, potential impact, and the strategy to mitigate each one.

Benefits of Vulnerability Assessment

Theoretical risk assessments are not enough for an organisation; it needs a complete vulnerability scan that will help in the deployment of the right software, hardware, and programs.

There are several advantages of conducting a vulnerability assessment. Some of them are mentioned below:

  • Vulnerability assessment detects the weaknesses that exist in the current IT structure before attackers do.
  • The result is a complete list of IT assets that are important to the organisation along with the vulnerabilities so that the organisation can prioritise fixes thereon.
  • It is a defined assessment that provides a complete report of vulnerabilities and methods to cope, which helps in preparation for future system upgrades and changes.
  • The security records developed during the process can be taken as a reference for later assessment.

What is Risk Assessment?

Risk assessment is the process of identifying, analysing, and evaluating the risks associated with a specific action or event. The aim is to prevent application security defects and reduce the likelihood of potential threats within a company’s network and information systems.

A thorough risk assessment allows the organisation to view the entire system carefully from the perspective of an attacker.

Being an integral part of an organisation’s information security risk management process, risk assessment helps make informed decisions about resources and tools, and aids in the implementation of security control measures.

When and Why Companies Use Risk Assessment?

An organisation may not be aware that there could be underlying hazards and risks associated with the company’s networks and systems. A company must know whether it is lacking in strategic control, and which tools are available to reduce the security risks

Performing a security risk assessment will help you identify loopholes in existing controls, if any, and work on strategies to prevent risks from happening.

When companies are occupied with their day-to-day operations, preventive controls like security assessment often take a back seat, which in turn leads to loss of compliance with regulations and policies.

Running regular risk assessments helps an organisation stay compliant with security standards and more importantly, save money, as failing to be compliant will cost them huge fines and penalties.

Another crucial consideration point is the timing of running a risk assessment. Risk assessments should be conducted at regular intervals depending on the size and complexity of a business for e.g., once every 6 or 12 months.

It is also important and beneficial to invest in risk assessments before the start of new projects, or before making changes in existing systems and processes, for the company to identify and categorise risks beforehand.

What are The Steps of Risk Assessment?

Risk assessment is a comprehensive activity that begins with documentation review, information gathering, and brainstorming, and continues till the organisation creates a risk register.

A risk register contains a list of risks, with their root causes, potential responses, and risk categories. This risk register is updated periodically, or otherwise throughout the lifecycle of a project

A risk assessment on any application, function, or process, follows the below steps in general.

1. Identify Risks

Identifying the risks is the foremost and crucial step to get started with risk assessment. If not done correctly, the team can miss out some serious, potential threats.

A list of IT assets and processes should be compiled considering the types of threats that an attack can pose. It will help to monitor and track the potential threats.

2. Perform Analysis

The next crucial step in the process of risk assessment is analysis in which the assessing team determines the likelihood of each risk leading to an issue in the system and the potential impact to the company.

This investigation can help comprehend how a successful breach could take place and what should be done to mitigate the risks associated with it.

3. Evaluate

Evaluation of risks is the final step that results in prioritising risks in different categories based on the likelihood of occurrence and the impact each may leave.

Usually, risks are categorised as critical, high, medium, and low, but there can be more categories depending on the complexity of the business.

Finally, the team must determine effective methods to eliminate and/or prevent the risks from occurring.

Benefits of Risk Assessment

Risk assessment is extremely beneficial as it spots weaknesses in the IT landscape and strengthens security in the simplest form. If we go in depth, it has many more positives to offer.

Below are a few advantages of risk assessments.

  • Identifying security issues that arise out of various internal and external factors like inefficiencies, non-compliances with set standards etc.
  • Determining new security requirements to strengthen the company’s systems’ security.
  • Creating awareness among employees about the risks and measures to eradicate the issues.
  • Better planning of the IT structure and resources of the company and developing new security plans and policies.

Choosing The Right Assessment

When it comes to the security assessment of an organisation’s systems, vulnerability and risk assessments go hand in hand. Weak spots within the current setup are uncovered with a vulnerability assessment.

Risk assessment considers these in addition to external factors which helps the organisation estimate the types of attacks that can occur and be prepared to mitigate them.

Both assessments must be performed regularly. Right before a major project or system upgrade, vulnerability assessment will help identify security loopholes and bridge them.

Vulnerability assessment also ensures compliance with the set standards. This should be followed by a risk assessment to analyse, evaluate, and categorise risks.

We hope this blog has been informative and useful.😊

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