Vulnerability Scan Benefits

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Do you know what’s tested in a vulnerability scan? You should if you plan to take the Security+ exam and this post should help. As an example, can you answer this sample Security+ question?

Q. Which of the following tools is the MOST invasive type of testing?

A. Pentest

B. Protocol analyzer

C. Vulnerability scan

D. Host enumeration

More, do you know why the correct answer is correct and the incorrect answers are incorrect? Answer and explanation at end of this post.

Vulnerability Scan as a Management Control

Security administrators use vulnerability scanners as a management control to identify which systems are susceptible to attacks. Vulnerability scanners identify a wide range of weaknesses and known security issues that attackers can exploit. Most vulnerability scanners combine multiple features into a single package. A vulnerability scanner includes the following capabilities:

  • Identifying vulnerabilities
  • Identifying misconfigurations
  • Passively testing security controls
  • Identifying lack of security controls

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Identifying Vulnerabilities and Misconfigurations

Vulnerability scanners utilize a database or dictionary of known vulnerabilities and test systems against this database. For example, the MITRE Corporation maintains the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) list, which is a dictionary of publicly known security vulnerabilities and exposures. This is similar to how antivirus software detects malware using virus signatures. The difference is that the CVE is one public list funded by the U.S. government, whereas antivirus vendors maintain proprietary signature files.

Additionally, attackers often look for systems that are misconfigured, but vulnerability scanners can detect some common misconfiguration settings. Some of the vulnerabilities and common misconfigurations discovered by a vulnerability scanner include:

  • Open ports. Open ports can signal a vulnerability, especially if administrators aren’t actively managing the services associated with these ports. For example, not all web servers use File Transfer Protocol (FTP) so if TCP ports 20 and 21 are open, it indicates a potential vulnerability related to FTP. Similarly, Telnet uses port 23 but Secure Shell (SSH) using port 22 is a recommended alternative.
  • Default accounts and passwords. Operating systems and applications can have default usernames and passwords. Basic operating system and application hardening steps should remove the defaults, and a scan can discover the weaknesses if operating systems and applications aren’t. For example, some SQL database systems allow the sa (system administrator) account to be enabled with a blank password. Scanners such as Nessus will detect this.

 Vulnerability Scan - Nessus

  • Weak passwords. Many scanners include a password cracker that can discover weak passwords or verify that users are creating strong passwords in compliance with an organization’s policy. It is more efficient to use a technical password policy to require and enforce the use of strong passwords. However, if this isn’t possible, administrators use a separate password cracker to discover weak passwords.
  • Sensitive data. Some scanners include data loss prevention (DLP) techniques to detect sensitive data sent over the network. For example, a DLP system can scan data looking for patterns such as Social Security numbers or key words that identify classified or proprietary data.
  • Security and configuration errors. Vulnerability scans can also check the system against a configuration or security baseline to identify unauthorized changes.

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Administrators can scan specific systems or an entire network. For example, many organizations perform periodic scans on the entire network to detect vulnerabilities. If an administrator makes an unauthorized change resulting in a vulnerability, the scan can detect it. Similarly, if a rebuilt system is missing some key security settings, the scan will detect them. It’s also possible to scan a new system before or right after it’s deployed.

Passively Testing Security Controls

An important point about a vulnerability scan is that it does not attempt to exploit any vulnerabilities. Instead, a vulnerability scan is a passive attempt to identify weaknesses. This ensures that the testing does not interfere with normal operations. Security administrators then assess the vulnerabilities to determine which ones to mitigate. In contrast, a penetration test is an active invasive test that attempts to exploit vulnerabilities.

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INCLUDES QUESTIONS TO HELP YOU PREPARE

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You'll see a graphic explaining what you might be required to do on the actual exam to match different types of attacks with the name of the attack type. You'll then have five questions that test your knowledge and ability to correctly answer the questions. This question also includes a link to a graphic showing the end solution for the overall performance based question simulation.

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- Performance Based Question - Set 5

You'll see a graphic explaining what you might be required to do on the actual exam to match protocols and ports. You'll then have seven questions that test your knowledge and ability to correctly answer the questions. This question also includes a link to a graphic showing the end solution for the overall performance based question simulation.

- Performance Based Question - Set 6

You'll see a list of security controls along with a graphic showing devices and locations within an organization, along with instructions on what you might be required to do on the actual exam to match the controls with the devices and locations. You'll then have four questions that test your knowledge and ability to correctly answer the questions. This question also includes a link to a graphic showing the end solution for the overall performance based question simulation.

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You'll see a list of authentication methods and authentication factors along with instructions on what you might be required to do on the actual exam to match the authentication methods with the authentication factors. You'll then have six questions that test your knowledge and ability to correctly answer the questions. This set also includes a link to a graphic showing the end solution for the overall performance based question simulation.

- Performance Based Question - Set 8

You'll see a graphic explaining what you might be required to do on the actual exam to match different types of attacks with the name of the attack type. You'll then have five questions that test your knowledge and ability to correctly answer the questions. This is similar to Set 2 but expands on the possibilities. The set also includes a link to a page showing the end solution for the overall performance based question simulation.

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Identifying Lack of Security Controls

Vulnerability scanners can also identify missing security controls, such as the lack of up-to-date patches or the lack of antivirus software. Although many patch management tools include the ability to verify systems are up to date with current patches, vulnerability scanners provide an additional check to detect unpatched systems.

Remember this

A vulnerability scanner can identify vulnerabilities, misconfigured systems, and the lack of security controls such as up-to-date patches. Vulnerability scans are passive and have little impact on a system during a test. In contrast, a penetration test is intrusive and can potentially compromise a system.


 

Q. Which of the following tools is the MOST invasive type of testing?

A. Pentest

B. Protocol analyzer

C. Vulnerability scan

D. Host enumeration

Answer A is correct. You might have jumped on C because the topic of this post is vulnerability scanning. However, this is a great example of how to interpret a CompTIA Security+ question. A vulnerability scan can verify if security controls are in place and it does not try to exploit these controls using any invasive methods. In other words, a benefit of vulnerability scanning is that it is passive rather than invasive.

A pentest (or penetration test) is the most invasive type of test listed and can potentially compromise a system.

A protocol analyzer is not invasive. It is often used with vulnerability scanners, but does not perform all the scans of a vulnerability scanner.

Host enumeration identifies hosts on a network, but does not check for security controls.

See Chapter 8 of the CompTIA Security+: Get Certified Get Ahead: SY0-401 Study Guide for more information on checking vulnerabilities.

You might also like to view the post about Security+: Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Test.

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CompTIA Security+: Get Certified Get Ahead: SY0-401 Study Guide

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