What is the Vulnerability Testing Process that Companies Should Follow

As the threat landscape expands, businesses are becoming the primary targets and are constantly on the radar of hackers. Also, securing IT environments and delivering business goals at the same time is not an easy task. Then what should businesses actually do in order to avoid the risks?

IBM’s 2018 Cost of Data Breach study predicted something really terrifying. It states that the average cost of a data breach has skyrocketed to around $3.9 million, a 6% increase over the past year. Moreover, each stolen record may cost your organization around $150. Isn’t that alarming?

It is high time that businesses take note of these high stakes. And one way of doing so and ensuring a level of data security is carrying out regular vulnerability assessments.

What is Vulnerability Testing and Why it is Necessary?

Appknox Vulnerability Testing Process

Vulnerability testing or assessment usually involves the use of some automated or manual techniques to identify vulnerabilities in systems, networks, and hardware. This important practice not only assesses serious security vulnerabilities but also helps identify major improvements that can be made in the security infrastructure.

Vulnerability assessment typically validates the optimum level of security that must be applied. It often acts as a precursor to more specialized tests like penetration tests. It won’t be an overstatement if we say that vulnerability testing shifts your company’s cybersecurity approach from reactive to proactive.

Despite its effectiveness, vulnerability testing is not a straightforward process. It is often very technical and organizations need to follow a well-structured approach in order to make it a success. That is why it becomes essential to understand the various phases of the vulnerability testing process and reduce the margin of error.

Here are the five key steps of the vulnerability testing process that companies must follow in order to stay ahead in the race of cybersecurity:

1. Planning and Reconnaissance

The planning and reconnaissance stage of the vulnerability testing process is more like the preparation phase. In this step, the major aim is to set the scope and goals of the test.

Moreover, the testing methods and the systems to be addressed are also identified. Some of the critical systems which should be focused on are critical web applications, important IT infrastructure, and so on.

Also known as open-source information gathering or OSINT phase, in this step, the purpose and drivers behind the test are also identified. It is important to note here that that the laid out plan must cover all the major systems and networks. It should also ensure the protection of all the critical enterprise data.

2. Scanning

The next step in the process involves scanning of the system or network. It can be done either by implementing manual or automated tools. Other functions performed during this stage include identification of open FTP portals, running services, open shared drives and so on.

Using techniques like threat intelligence and going through vulnerability databases may also help in filtering out the false positives. Moreover, in the case of web apps, the scanning phase can be either static or dynamic.

In static analysis, an application’s code is inspected to estimate the way it will behave while running. On the other hand, dynamic analysis scans the application’s code in the running state to get a real-time view.

3. Gaining Access

In this step, a blueprint of the target system or network is prepared with the help of information gathered from the first two steps. Later on, the vulnerabilities discovered during the first two phases are exploited so as to gain access to the target network.

Specific attacks like SQL injection, cross-site scripting and backdoor may be used to uncover critical vulnerabilities. Consequently, these vulnerabilities are exploited by intercepting traffic, escalating privileges, stealing data, etc. in order to measure their impact.

4. Maintaining Access

This step checks whether the vulnerability could be used by the attacker to achieve a persistent presence in the system. Basically, this stage of the vulnerability testing process checks whether the attacker is able to stay for long and gather as much data as possible. The vulnerabilities which remain unnoticed for longer duration are exposed in this stage.

5. Analysis

Further ahead in the vulnerability testing process, the analysis phase comes up. Here a detailed examination of the causes of vulnerabilities, their impact and remedies are discussed. Vulnerabilities may also be ranked on the basis of their severity and the damage they could cause in case of a potential breach. Further in the process, key findings are systematically reported in order to initiate a proper follow-up plan.

Some Other Points to Consider

After all the above-mentioned stages, a suitable follow up becomes crucial. This may help reduce risks in the long term and also across the whole company. Some of the steps of the follow-up process may include:

  • Addressing the root cause of the vulnerabilities.
  • Initiating improvement programs.
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of the vulnerability testing process.
  • Creating and monitoring action plans.

Moreover, when it comes to vulnerability testing, another important aspect that requires attention is the choice of a suitable security service provider. Based on your specific requirements, you could specifically screen the potential vendors. It can be done on the basis of their past experiences or the range of services they provide.

The vendors who adopt a systematic and structured approach, understand your business requirements, and are efficient at planning and conducting the tests must be preferred. Always remember the fact that a professional tester will necessarily have a better understanding of the security context.

Final Thoughts

Around 4.1 billion consumer records were exposed in the first six months of 2019 via data breaches. This isn’t very comforting for any business, is it? Therefore, it becomes essential to lay down all the security measures possible. It would suit your business even better if you start with vulnerability testing.

When planned, performed and followed-up properly, vulnerability testing may highlight nearly all the security weaknesses in your organization. And in order to get the best results, understanding the process flow and identifying the areas of improvement becomes necessary.


Published on Dec 4, 2019
Harshit Agarwal
Written by Harshit Agarwal
Harshit Agarwal is the co-founder and CEO of Appknox, a mobile security suite that helps enterprises automate mobile security. Over the last decade, Harshit has worked with 500+ businesses ranging from top financial institutions to Fortune 100 companies, helping them enhance their security measures.
Beyond the tech world, Harshit loves adventure. When he's not busy making sure the digital realm is safe, he's out trekking and exploring new destinations.


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