Let’s face it: Security assessments aren’t much fun for the team on the receiving end. When you’re viewing an assessment through the lens of the people who carefully designed and implemented an organization’s security program, it’s easy to see an assessment as outsiders coming to pass judgement on your work.
That’s probably the biggest myth about security assessments. In reality, they play a very important role in protecting an organization’s information assets. When approached collaboratively, they can help security teams grow and develop their knowledge and skills. With that misconception dispelled, let’s explore some other common facts and fallacies surrounding cybersecurity assessments.
Fallacy: Only Large Businesses Need Cybersecurity Assessments
Regular cybersecurity assessments are crucial for businesses of all sizes and industries. The threat of cyberattacks is present across all sectors, and failing to conduct regular assessments can leave organizations vulnerable to potential breaches. While larger businesses may have more resources to devote to cybersecurity, smaller businesses are often targeted by cybercriminals precisely because they may lack a high level of protection.
That said, assessors should consider smaller businesses’ limited resources as they design and scope their work. Controls that are common at a Fortune 500 company may not be appropriate at a smaller firm. The key outcome of a security assessment should be to identify how well the organization is meeting its security objectives.
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Fact: Every Business Should Conduct an Annual Penetration Test
During a penetration test, the assessors play the role of a cybersecurity adversary. They use the same hacking tools and techniques and adopt the mindset of an attacker trying to break into the organization’s network. This provides valuable information to cybersecurity professionals, who don’t often get to take a step back and view their own systems and services from the perspective of a trained attacker. The purpose of the test is to identify vulnerabilities in the organization’s infrastructure that might not be detected by automated vulnerability scans and provide the cybersecurity team with information that can help improve existing controls.
Fallacy: Automated Vulnerability Scans are Obsolete
Organizations that conduct periodic penetration tests might be tempted to view those tests as stronger and more sophisticated than automated vulnerability scanning. While that’s true, penetration tests don’t replace automated vulnerability scans. These scans can quickly and accurately test thousands of systems for thousands of different vulnerabilities, and they can rerun those scans on a weekly basis without ever getting bored or tired. There’s just no way that any penetration testing team could keep up with that pace. In fact, penetration testers often use automated vulnerability scans as a starting point for their own assessments, helping them to identify the initial vulnerabilities they will exploit as they try to gain a foothold on an organization’s network.
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Fallacy: Only Legally Required Assessments are Needed
Organizations that rely solely on legal requirements to guide their cybersecurity assessments may be laboring under a false sense of security. While regulatory compliance provides a minimum level of security, it does not necessarily address all potential threats and vulnerabilities. Regular cybersecurity assessments and exercises, including penetration testing and vulnerability scans, can help organizations identify potential weaknesses in their security controls and mitigate risks before they become significant problems. By taking a proactive approach to cybersecurity, organizations can protect their data and reputations, minimize the risk of costly data breaches, and ensure that they remain competitive in an increasingly security-conscious marketplace.
The percentage of respondents who conduct monthly vulnerability scans
Source: RapidFire Tools, RapidFire Tools 2021 Vulnerability Scanning Survey, 2021
Fact: Organizations Should Conduct General Reviews of Cybersecurity
While technical tests like penetration testing and vulnerability scans are important, they focus only on a specific set of technical controls. General reviews of cybersecurity can provide a more comprehensive look at an organization’s security posture. These reviews may include policy reviews, security awareness training for employees and tabletop exercises that simulate real-world cyberattacks.
By taking a broader approach, organizations can identify weaknesses in their overall security programs, such as gaps in employee training or deficiencies in security policies. Addressing these issues can help organizations improve their security posture and reduce the risk of a successful cyberattack.
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Fact: Cybersecurity Teams Should Engage in External Assessments
Internal cybersecurity teams should not just sit back and let an assessment occur without their participation. While internal teams are experts on organizational systems and processes, they can become myopic and miss potential vulnerabilities that an external assessment might uncover. Engaging with external assessors allows internal teams to gain a fresh perspective on their security posture and identify vulnerabilities that they may have overlooked. Additionally, external assessments can help internal teams justify security investments to management by providing independent validation of their findings.
By working together with external assessors, internal teams can complement their own knowledge and skills with the expertise of outside professionals to improve the overall security of their organizations.
Conducting regular cybersecurity assessments is critical for businesses looking to stay ahead of emerging threats and keep their systems secure. It’s important that these assessments be tailored to an organization’s unique needs and risks, and they should be supplemented with more general reviews of cybersecurity practices. By avoiding common fallacies and embracing best practices in cybersecurity assessments, organizations can better protect themselves from the growing threat of cyberattacks and safeguard their sensitive data and assets.
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