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What is Vulnerability Scanning in Security Testing?

Last Updated : 27 Dec, 2023
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Detecting and dealing with system vulnerabilities is the most important thing for any organization or systems administrator. Unauthorized hackers may exploit these flaws to obtain access to the system and abuse it in their ways. Detecting and mitigating vulnerabilities in different systems, applications, or network devices is done step-by-step through vulnerability scanning, one of the security scan domains. In this article we will take a closer look at Vulnerability Scanning explaining its importance (why it’s necessary), giving a brief overview of how it works, discussing its types and more common examples of vulnerability scanning results.

Importance of Running a Vulnerability Scan

Doing vulnerability scanning is a pivotal step in the domain of security testing. Below are some of the most important points highlighting the need to run a vulnerability scan.

  • Identifying the weaknesses present – The main reason for doing vulnerability scanning is to identify the weaknesses possessed by the system, network, or application. Various vulnerability scanner tools, scan for the known vulnerabilities present in the system, network, or the application, which could be exploited by unauthorized personnel.
  • Risk Management – Organizations can manage risks proactively by conducting vulnerability scanning regularly. To protect the system, application, or network from potential invaders, it is vital to identify and neutralize any potential vulnerabilities in the system before hackers take advantage of them.
  • Patch Management – Early vulnerability detection aids in the development of fixes and updates that reduce the probability that the vulnerabilities will be misused and cause serious damage to the system.
  • Minimizing the Area of Attack – Through vulnerability identification and mitigation, organizations lower the likelihood of system attacks. It lessens a system, network, or application’s possible backdoor entry points.
  • Continuous Monitoring of the Assets – Regular vulnerability scans guarantee ongoing system, application, and network monitoring because hackers are always creating new kinds of vulnerabilities. to guarantee the system’s protection against the most recent kinds of vulnerabilities.
  • Prevention of unexpected incidents – It is possible to prevent any significant security lapse or information hacking by routinely fixing the vulnerabilities. To protect sensitive and important data on those systems from hacking, vulnerability scanning must be done on them.

Types of Vulnerability Scanning

1. Network Scanning

One of the main forms of security scanning that is used to protect an organization’s network infrastructure is network scanning. It involves looking into an organization’s whole network infrastructure to find and fix any potential vulnerabilities. Open ports and the services that are using them are found via network scanning. Additionally, it looks for weaknesses in security in networking-related hardware like firewalls, switches, and routers. Security experts can better grasp the whole networking configuration scenario and pinpoint areas that could be vulnerable to attacks by using network scanning.

Popular Network Scanning Tools

  1. Nmap (Network Mapper)
  2. Wireshark
  3. OpenVAS (Open Vulnerability Assessment System)
  4. Nexpose
  6. SolarWinds NPM.

2. Web Application Scanning

Concerning its name, web application scanning mostly emphasizes discovering security loops in web services and apps. This group features some of the widely known vulnerabilities like SQL Injection, XSS, CSRF, and more. Web application scanning tools work like network scanners that delve into web applications to uncover any weak points that can enable hackers or other unauthorized users to access them. It checks for the functionality of the application by looking at both the application itself and examining the code, configuration, and authentication techniques (if present).

Popular Web Application Scanning Tools

  1. Burp Suite
  2. Qualys Web Application Scanning (WAS)
  3. OWASP ZAP (Zed Attack Proxy)
  4. IBM Security AppScan
  5. Acunetix
  6. Netsparker

3. Host Scanning

To find security flaws that could affect the network as a whole, host vulnerability scanning entails checking each host device independently. It searches for vulnerabilities in the operating system, applications, and other setups of any given host system. The purpose of the host system is to guarantee that each system or device is free from vulnerabilities and that its patches are applied correctly, preventing any unauthorized user from accessing it directly.

Popular Host Scanning Tools

  1. Nessus
  2. Qualys Vulnerability Management
  3. Retina CS
  4. Tripwire IP360

Vulnerability Scanning Process

Step 1: Defining the Scope of the scanning process

Clearly defining the scope of the vulnerability scanning process involves recognizing the systems, networks, and applications that will be included in the scan’s scope. Establish the goal of the scanning process and take organizational priorities and risk management into account.

Step 2: Identification and Mapping of the Assets

The assets have to be located and mapped inside the boundaries that were created in the previous phase. This mapping includes servers, networks, databases, web-based applications, network devices, etc. This phase is crucial since improper mapping and identification of the assets could leave certain vulnerable assets undiscovered and unfixed.

Step 3: Stratification of the Assets

It’s time to profile the assets to gain a thorough understanding of their configuration, services, and operating system after they have been identified and mapped. To perform a specific type of vulnerability scanning on all of the assets, this profiling assists in classifying and grouping related asset types.

Step 4: Select the Vulnerability Scanning Tool

It’s time to select the vulnerability scanning tool after profiling. The requirements of the organization, the configuration of the asset, and the desired level of detail are all important considerations when choosing the right scanning tool.

Step 5: Configure the Scanning Tool properly

It’s time to feed the scanner with asset information and configure it according to its specifications after choosing the scanner based on the requirements. Setting the scanning parameter and defining the scanning targets are included in the configuration. If the scanning is going to be more thorough, there may be some authentication configuration that is needed.

Step 6: Initiation of the Scan and Vulnerability Detection

It’s time to start scanning the assets for vulnerabilities after everything has been set up. The scanner establishes whether the system has any vulnerabilities at all by contrasting its properties with a database of known flaws. The database is updated regularly so that it can recognize and detect new vulnerabilities.

Step 7: Risk Assessment and Report Generation

Vulnerabilities are identified and then given a risk level to indicate how serious they are. This risk level aids the team in setting priorities for the remediation process according to the possible consequences and likelihood that those vulnerabilities will be exploited. There are four severity levels: low, medium, high, and critical.

Working Procedure of Vulnerability Scanning

The process of Vulnerability Scanning involves multiple systematic steps. All of them are explained below in brief:

  1. Finding and Creating an Asset Inventory: The first step of the scanning is to identify the assets of the system that will be scanned and then their details such as the Operating System, Network, Servers, Ports, Workstation, etc are mapped within the scope of the scanning.
  2. Initiating the Scanning: The next step is the initiation step, here the scanning tool i.e. scanner starts scanning the assets that were marked and gathered in the previous step for the known vulnerabilities. Various scanning techniques like Port Scanning, Service Identification Vulnerability detection, etc are being used by them.
  3. Detection of Vulnerability: Now the scanner detects vulnerabilities by comparing the characteristics of the target asset with a database of known vulnerabilities stored in them. If the match is found, it means that there is a known vulnerability present in that particular asset. The vulnerabilities database is regularly updated so that it doesn’t become outdated and can detect updated vulnerabilities too.
  4. Risk Assessment: After detection of vulnerability, the scanner assigns a score to each of the systems where vulnerability has been detected, this score signifies the level of risk the asset currently has. This number helps in prioritizing the mitigation process as those with higher risks are considered earlier. The assigned number is calculated and assigned based on the impact of that vulnerability and how much it can be exploited by the hacker.
  5. Report Generation: A detailed report is generated at the last depending on the explored vulnerabilities, their severity, and some recommendations to remove them. This report is useful for understanding the entire security scenario of the system or the applications by the security teams, using this report they can plan the next process which is to mitigate those vulnerabilities.
  6. Remediation Planning: Based on the Vulnerability Report, the security team of the organization develops the step-by-step process to mitigate the identified vulnerability. This may include applying and developing the patches, reconfiguring the settings of those applications, and implementing additional security controls.

Common Vulnerabilities Found in Vulnerability Scanning

  1. Outdated Software and Patch Levels: Failure to update software leaves vulnerabilities unaddressed, risking exploitation by attackers.
  2. Default Credentials: Using default usernames and passwords increases the risk of unauthorized access to systems and applications.
  3. Missing Security Updates: Neglecting to apply security updates exposes systems to known vulnerabilities that could be exploited by attackers.
  4. SQL Injection (SQLi): Exploiting vulnerabilities in database queries to manipulate or retrieve unauthorized information from a database.
  5. Cross-Site Scripting (XSS): Injecting malicious scripts into web pages, which are then executed by unsuspecting users’ browsers.
  6. Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF): Forcing users to perform unwanted actions without their consent by exploiting their authenticated sessions on a different site.
  7. File and Directory Permissions: Inadequate or misconfigured file and directory permissions may allow unauthorized access to sensitive data or system files.
  8. Open Ports and Services: Unnecessary open ports and services increase the attack surface and expose systems to potential exploits if not properly secured.

Vulnerability Scanning Best Practices

  • Define Clear Scope: Define concise goals and objectives of the scanning process. It helps in understanding the outcome of the scanning, the purpose of the scanning, and the scope of the scanning, by taking into consideration risk management and organizational priorities.
  • Regular Update of the Vulnerability Database: It is recommended to update the in-built vulnerability database of the scanning tool so that it can detect newer types of vulnerabilities and doesn’t become useless due to no update.
  • Asset Inventory: Maintain a proper asset inventory, this should include all the system, network devices, and applications that need to be scanned regularly. This helps in carrying out the scanning process faster as the assets are already identified and placed together ready to be scanned.
  • Regular Scanning: Perform regular scanning to prevent the assets from being compromised to new vulnerabilities. Regular Scanning also helps to identify emerging vulnerabilities, track the result of the remediation effort, and ensure ongoing security.
  • Prioritize Remediation: Remedy of the vulnerabilities found in the previous scans need to be prioritized based on their severity. Focusing on high-severity issues is a must to reduce the chance of the exploitation of the vulnerabilities and to mitigate the most significant security threats.
  • Review Scan Results Thoroughly: The scan results need to be reviewed thoroughly to understand the condition of the assets. Understand the severity of the threats present in the asset, examine the potential impact, and verify the accuracy of the result.


In conclusion. vulnerability scanning plays a crucial role in the field of security testing. This process involves systematic steps, including clear scopes, maintaining an up-to-date asset inventory, regularly scanning the assets for vulnerability, and most importantly updating the vulnerability database regularly to detect newer types of vulnerabilities. Best practices of vulnerability scanning involve defining the clear scope, regularly updating the vulnerability database, maintaining the asset inventory, conducting scanning regularly or at a certain interval in a periodic manner, prioritization the remedy of the vulnerabilities found, and reviewing the scan results thoroughly. Continuous improvement and adaptation to newer threats ensure the organization or system’s security.

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