The 38% increase in cyberattacks in 2022, according to the 2023 Security Report by Check Point Research, certainly has security professionals concerned. And rightfully so. With the cost of a breach at a record high of $4.35 million according to IBM’s annual report, companies have a lot at stake.
But how can an organization get a true understanding of how a cyberattack can affect them? By performing a network security assessment.
What is a Network Security Assessment?
A network security assessment aims to identify weaknesses in your organization’s current security controls by conducting a thorough review of your system. Attackers can exploit an organization’s vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data or leak other important company information in a data breach.
There are two basic types of network security assessments:
- Penetration testing. Also known as a pen test or PT, penetration testing is a form of ethical hacking that attempts to attack your organization’s network, system, application or devices to identify potential vulnerabilities.
- Vulnerability assessment. The process of identifying, organizing and prioritizing weak points in your organization’s network, systems, application, software and device policies. These assessments are often automated with tools such as network scanners.
A network security assessment helps your organization measure the impact of an attack on specific assets without it having to suffer an actual attack.
Why are Network Security Assessments Important?
Network security assessments help keep your networks, devices and data secure by discovering security threats an attacker could exploit. They need to be conducted regularly because an organization’s network, systems and software are constantly updated, introducing new vulnerabilities.
They also help your organization:
- Measure the impact of an attack. After mapping assets and determining their value, you’ll have a better understanding of the impact of an attack on specific assets.
- Evaluate current security measures. This determines how effective they are in the event of an actual attack.
- Discover new entry points for attackers. You’ll need to then implement a plan to proactively mitigate vulnerabilities.
- Meet compliance requirements. The different security standards depend on the industry. For example, health industries must comply with HIPAA, while financial industries need to comply with PCI DSS.
A Six-Step Plan to Conduct a Network Security Assessment
A network security assessment may be conducted by a person or group within a company or with the help of an external third party.
The steps include:
1.) Take inventory of your resources and determine their value.
First, you’ll need to identify your networks, devices and data, as well as all of the company’s specific assets to prioritize their importance.
The next step is to not only determine which assets are the most valuable assets (i.e. your crown jewels), but also what other assets need to be secured. One effective method of evaluating the value of data or assets is by developing a data classification policy. Other ways to determine value is by assessing the potential impact of this data being leaked in terms of revenue, loss of reputation and the time and resources it would take to replace the information or data.
Depending on your organization’s resources and needs, you might want to include your wi-fi access points, web applications and wireless networks, and possibly map your entire IT infrastructure as well.
2.) Assess your assets and vulnerabilities.
Threats can originate from internal, external or third-party resources. Since the source of the threat can be so varied, it’s important to have a comprehensive security risk assessment process.
This process should include:
- Network scanning. This should take into account your network’s ports and other attack vectors in addition to wi-fi, IoT and wireless networks. It should also identify accessible hosts and network services (e.g., HTTP, FTP, SMTP and POP-3).
- Internal weaknesses. Common examples include weak passwords, outdated software, lack of user awareness and insufficient logging and monitoring to be able to detect and respond to attacks.
- Network enumeration. Network enumerationgathers information from a network such as the hosts, connected devices, usernames, and other data with the goal of fingerprinting the operating system. Once an attacker knows the operating system in use, the attacker can target that operating system with known vulnerabilities.
- Third-party review. Evaluate third-party access to your network and valuable assets.
- Information security policy review. What is your company’s policy regarding BYOD and email usage? What is the policy regarding employee training?
3.) Test your defenses by simulating cyber attacks.
You’ll want to test both your security controls and risk mitigation techniques to see if they are effective in the event of an attack. Attacks can be simulated with the use of manual penetration testing or ethical hacking tools.
4.) Document results in a network security assessment report.
The report should include each specific vulnerability, the security risk it poses to your organization and a plan for remediation. Documenting results will help you better understand your company’s infrastructure, identify your most valuable data and improve operational efficiency and security.
5.) Implement security controls to improve cybersecurity.
After you’ve simulated attacks, you may have found a weak spot in your security, so you’ll want to implement new security controls. Security controls can be technical, such as multi-factor authentication and encryption, or physical such as locks or biometrics. They can also be preventative (e.g., firewalls and encryption) or detective (e.g., security event log monitoring and network intrusion detection).
6.) Continuously monitor your security.
Networks are dynamic and threats are constantly evolving. Network security assessments need to be performed on an ongoing basis so that your organization can respond quickly to new attacks quickly and effectively.
How Panorays Can Help
Network security risk assessments can be complex and time-consuming, especially when it comes to third parties. Panorays gives you a comprehensive view of how secure your third parties are (or aren’t), identifying any security gaps while also providing remediation plans to mitigate any gaps. We’ll also help assess your third parties’ compliance with the latest security standards and regulations. Our automated security questionnaires and external attack surface assessments, combined with the business context of your vendors, deliver full visibility of your third-party cyber risk.
Register for your Free Starter Account today and start building cybersecurity trust with your third-parties.
What is a network security assessment?
A network security assessment is an audit of your organization’s IT infrastructure that reviews your network’s security measures. Its goal is to identify vulnerabilities to determine if your organization is secure in the event of an attack or data breach.
What are the two types of network security assessments?
There are two basic types of network security assessments: penetration tests and vulnerability assessments. Penetration tests, or pen tests, are methods of legitimate hacking used to simulate attacks on your organization to help you identify vulnerabilities before they are exploited by hackers. In contrast, vulnerability assessments use tools to detect vulnerabilities in your organization rather than exploit them.
What is included in a security assessment?
Security assessments help your organization evaluate security risk and meet compliance with regulatory requirements. They can include an in-depth assessment of systems such as infrastructure analysis, server and system analysis, network analysis, application scanning, information security analysis, company policies and third-party security analysis.