NEWS: How Often Should I Be Scanning for Vulnerabilities

October 19, 2023

The window of opportunity for hackers to exploit a newly discovered vulnerability is shrinking rapidly, with the average time being 12 days. Consequently, organizations are realizing the necessity of frequent vulnerability scanning to ensure their cybersecurity. The concept of “continuous vulnerability scanning” is gaining traction as it offers a more comprehensive security approach than infrequent, one-off scans.

Hackers Don’t Wait for Scheduled Scans

Traditionally, organizations conduct one-off scans either to demonstrate their security measures to clients, auditors, or investors, or as part of a periodic scanning protocol, typically performed quarterly. These scans provide a snapshot of the organization’s vulnerability status at a particular point in time, identifying issues such as SQL injections, XSS, misconfigurations, and weak passwords. While useful for compliance purposes, these scans do not offer a comprehensive view of the organization’s security posture or contribute significantly to a robust attack surface management program.

Given that a new CVE (Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures) is created every 20 minutes on average, relying solely on periodic scans can result in an outdated security perspective. The 25,000 CVE vulnerabilities disclosed last year alone highlight the potential for security breaches between scheduled scans. Furthermore, patching vulnerabilities can take weeks or even months, during which time the organization is at risk. Therefore, continuous scanning is a critical component of cybersecurity in 2023, offering 24/7 surveillance of the IT environment and automation to lighten the load on IT teams. By identifying and addressing issues promptly, continuous scanning minimizes the risk of hacker intrusion and potential breaches.

Compliance’s Slow Progress

Many companies embark on their cybersecurity journey because of external pressure, such as customer demands or industry compliance requirements. Unfortunately, many of these requirements are outdated, still referencing concepts like an “annual penetration test” or “quarterly vulnerability scan”. These notions stem from a time when cyber threats were less prevalent and such measures were considered a bonus rather than a necessity.

As a result, many organizations view vulnerability scanning as a luxury or a compliance requirement to be fulfilled. However, there’s a stark contrast between occasional scanning and continuous vulnerability testing and management. Understanding this difference is key to enhancing security rather than merely investing in it. With new vulnerabilities being disclosed daily, the potential for a breach is ever-present, especially with frequent updates to cloud services, APIs, and applications. Even a minor change or newly discovered vulnerability can leave an organization vulnerable. Continuous coverage is no longer optional; it’s a necessity that more cybersecurity-mature organizations recognize.

Continuous Attack Surface Monitoring

Monitoring new vulnerabilities is not the only critical aspect of cybersecurity. An organization’s attack surface changes daily with the addition or removal of devices, exposure of new services online, and updates to applications or APIs. These changes can expose new vulnerabilities, which need to be identified and addressed promptly to prevent exploitation.

Many traditional tools fail to provide the necessary detail or business context for prioritizing vulnerabilities, treating all attack vectors (external, internal, cloud) equally. Effective continuous attack surface monitoring should provide the business context and cover all attack vectors, including cloud integrations and network changes.

Attack surface management is no longer solely a technical issue. Board members are increasingly recognizing its importance, reflecting a shift in the perception of cybersecurity from a technical problem to a business risk.

The Role of Continuous Scanning in Robust Cybersecurity Programs

Continuous scanning has emerged as a vital component of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy, helping to protect business operations. It is also a prerequisite for many cyber insurance policies. However, the key question that arises is, how much scanning is adequate?

The Fine Line Between Continuous Scanning and Constant Scanning

Continuous scanning does not equate to constant scanning, which could result in a flood of alerts, triggers, and false positives. These can be challenging to manage and potentially slow down systems and applications. They can also tie up your team in prioritizing issues and separating false positives from genuine threats.

Compliance Scanning Frequency: A Matter of Requirements

The frequency of scanning for compliance varies depending on the specific compliance standards you are adhering to. While SOC 2 and ISO 27001 offer some flexibility, standards like HIPAA, PCI DSS, and GDPR specify scanning frequencies ranging from quarterly to annually. However, using these standards to ascertain the appropriate scanning frequency may not be suitable for your business, as it could increase your exposure to security risks in a rapidly evolving security environment.

Going Beyond Compliance for Enhanced Security

If the goal is to secure your digital assets effectively rather than merely achieving compliance, it is necessary to exceed the requirements set by these standards. Some of these standards may not be in alignment with current security needs. Businesses that operate in an agile SaaS environment, online retailers processing high-volume transactions or card payments, and those in highly regulated industries such as healthcare and financial services require continuous scanning to ensure adequate protection.

The Need for an Improved Approach to Vulnerability Management

The traditional approach to vulnerability management is no longer effective. With the continuous evolution of technology, including the creation of new cloud accounts, network modifications, and deployment of new technologies, one-time scans are insufficient to keep pace with change. Reducing the gaps in cybersecurity that attackers can exploit necessitates a shift from a reactive to a proactive approach.

The Benefits of Continuous Scanning

Continuous scanning minimizes the time taken to identify and rectify vulnerabilities. It provides valuable threat data and remediation advice, and it reduces risk by prioritizing threats based on the context of your business needs. In a world where cybersecurity threats are continuously evolving, continuous scanning is not just a best practice – it’s a necessity.