1.2. Vulnerability Assessment

Given time, resources, and motivation, an attacker can break into nearly any system. All of the security procedures and technologies currently available cannot guarantee that any systems are completely safe from intrusion. Routers help secure gateways to the Internet. Firewalls help secure the edge of the network. Virtual Private Networks safely pass data in an encrypted stream. Intrusion detection systems warn you of malicious activity. However, the success of each of these technologies is dependent upon a number of variables, including:
  • The expertise of the staff responsible for configuring, monitoring, and maintaining the technologies.
  • The ability to patch and update services and kernels quickly and efficiently.
  • The ability of those responsible to keep constant vigilance over the network.
Given the dynamic state of data systems and technologies, securing corporate resources can be quite complex. Due to this complexity, it is often difficult to find expert resources for all of your systems. While it is possible to have personnel knowledgeable in many areas of information security at a high level, it is difficult to retain staff who are experts in more than a few subject areas. This is mainly because each subject area of information security requires constant attention and focus. Information security does not stand still.

1.2.1. Thinking Like the Enemy

Suppose that you administer an enterprise network. Such networks commonly comprise operating systems, applications, servers, network monitors, firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and more. Now imagine trying to keep current with each of those. Given the complexity of today's software and networking environments, exploits and bugs are a certainty. Keeping current with patches and updates for an entire network can prove to be a daunting task in a large organization with heterogeneous systems.
Combine the expertise requirements with the task of keeping current, and it is inevitable that adverse incidents occur, systems are breached, data is corrupted, and service is interrupted.
To augment security technologies and aid in protecting systems, networks, and data, you must think like an attacker and gauge the security of your systems by checking for weaknesses. Preventative vulnerability assessments against your own systems and network resources can reveal potential issues that can be addressed before an attacker exploits it.
A vulnerability assessment is an internal audit of your network and system security; the results of which indicate the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of your network (as explained in Section 1.1.1.3, “Standardizing Security”). Typically, vulnerability assessment starts with a reconnaissance phase, during which important data regarding the target systems and resources is gathered. This phase leads to the system readiness phase, whereby the target is essentially checked for all known vulnerabilities. The readiness phase culminates in the reporting phase, where the findings are classified into categories of high, medium, and low risk; and methods for improving the security (or mitigating the risk of vulnerability) of the target are discussed.
If you were to perform a vulnerability assessment of your home, you would likely check each door to your home to see if they are closed and locked. You would also check every window, making sure that they closed completely and latch correctly. This same concept applies to systems, networks, and electronic data. Malicious users are the thieves and vandals of your data. Focus on their tools, mentality, and motivations, and you can then react swiftly to their actions.