What Is a Vulnerability Assessment? Types, Steps & Benefits

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Vulnerability assessment is the process of finding and analyzing gaps or weaknesses in a network, application, or organization’s IT and security systems.

Vulnerability assessment is part of the larger vulnerability management process, and the goal is to prioritize vulnerabilities so they can be patched or mitigated.

Vulnerabilities that could potentially be used by attackers to obtain unauthorized network access, steal data, or harm a system or network are identified and analyzed using a variety of tools and technologies. Network security depends on a security team’s ability to spot weaknesses and vulnerabilities in systems and follow them through all stages of patching and development until they are fixed. Attackers are quick to act on vulnerability information as soon as it becomes public, so it becomes a race to patch a vulnerability before an attacker can exploit it.

8 Types of Vulnerability Assessments

To obtain a thorough vulnerability assessment of an organization’s security systems and networks, security teams need to test a range of systems. These are the most common types of vulnerability assessments:

  • Network vulnerability assessment: This focuses on identifying vulnerabilities in a network infrastructure, including routers, switches, and security tools such as firewalls.
  • Host-based vulnerability assessment: This assessment focuses on a specific host or server, including scanning ports and vulnerabilities, securing connections, and reviewing access, patch management, updates, configurations and unneeded services and processes.
  • Application vulnerability assessment: This type includes assessments of web applications, mobile apps, and other software platforms, looking for code vulnerabilities, unapplied patches, access management issues, and more.
  • Database vulnerability assessment: This makes sure that the sensitive data stored in a database is protected by examining the database configuration, data structures, access controls, and other elements that affect the database’s performance and security.
  • Physical security vulnerability assessment: This form of assessment focuses on finding weaknesses in physical security, including perimeter security, access controls, and surveillance systems.
  • Wireless network vulnerability assessment: This type of assessment focuses on finding weaknesses in wireless networks, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth networks, and connected devices.
  • Social engineering vulnerability assessment: This focuses on identifying human vulnerabilities that can be used by attackers to trick people into disclosing sensitive information that may jeopardize the security of their system. Social engineering methods include phishing, baiting, and tailgating.
  • Cloud-based vulnerability assessment: This focuses on assessing an organization’s cloud-based infrastructure and applications. It scans the organization’s cloud environment using automated tools for known vulnerabilities, configuration errors, and other security problems.

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3 Main Components of Vulnerability Assessments

The vulnerability assessment process can be categorized into 3 main components:

  • Identification: This involves the discovery of all the assets that must be evaluated within the network of an organization. It includes hardware devices, software programs, data storage, and other sensitive assets.
  • Scanning: After locating all the assets, the next step is to look for vulnerabilities. This typically involves using vulnerability scanning tools to find a potential vulnerability, security flaws and configuration errors.
  • Analysis: After getting the results from the scans, vulnerabilities are analyzed and categorized based on its severity and potential impact to the organization.

See the Top IT Asset Management (ITAM) Tools for Security

7 Steps of the Vulnerability Assessment Process

Those three components can be broken down further into seven vulnerability assessment steps.

It helps to have a framework to focus a vulnerability assessment, and there are a number of key steps that can help. Finding vulnerabilities within a system or network, analyzing potential risks and threats that could affect those assets, identifying assets that need to be protected, and calculating the likelihood and impact of a successful attack are all part of the vulnerability assessment process.

Here are the 7 steps of the vulnerability assessment process:

  • Step 1: Define Parameters and Plan Assessment This is where the scope and objectives of the assessment are identified, and a plan is developed to identify assets and establish baselines for each one’s unique security capabilities, risk tolerance, user permissions, configuration, and other characteristics.
  • Step 2: Scan Network for Vulnerabilities This next step is done to manually or automatically examine your network for security flaws using vulnerability scanning tools.
  • Step 3: Analyze Results After scanning successfully, the massive amounts of unstructured vulnerability data are analyzed and organized. 
  • Step 4: Prioritize Vulnerabilities — Identify and fix the most severe vulnerabilities first. Immediately after that, address the vulnerabilities that could potentially be exploited by malicious actors in the future.
  • Step 5: Create the Vulnerability Assessment Report — The findings are compiled into a report that lists the vulnerabilities discovered and offers suggestions for fixing them.
  • Step 6: Use Results to Inform Remediation and Mitigation — The report should also identify corrective actions that could enhance the organization’s general security posture.
  • Step 7: Regularly Repeat Vulnerability Assessments — New vulnerabilities emerge all the time, so a vulnerability assessment needs to be an ongoing process.

It is important to find the components of your network that need to be evaluated, and establish the assessment’s parameters first. To do that properly, you need to know where your biggest risks are and your most valuable assets.

The assessment team should investigate the flaws to identify the source, and the potential repercussions for the organization’s data and security systems. Recommended solutions for addressing the vulnerabilities may include software updates, configuration modifications, or other steps to lower the likelihood of a successful attack.

A final test should be conducted to confirm that the vulnerabilities have been adequately mitigated.

Further reading:

Top 3 Popular Vulnerability Assessment Tools

There are a range of products that can help security teams conduct vulnerability assessments; here are a few of the more popular ones, and we’ll list more resources below.


OpenVAS (Open Vulnerability Assessment System) is an open source IT infrastructure vulnerability assessment and scanner. Given that OpenVAS is free and open-source software, his may be a good choice for organizations looking for a regular vulnerability assessment tool on a tight budget.


  • There is a large and established community of developers contributing to its continuing growth and maintenance.
  • It is extremely adaptable and works with many different operating systems and software platforms.
  • It offers a wide range of reporting options, including configurable reports that may be tailored to the particular requirements of a company.
  • It is simple to use and navigate thanks to its user-friendly UI.


  • When scanning big networks or running extensive scans, OpenVAS might be resource-intensive and impede network performance.
  • Setting it up and configuring it might take some technical know-how, which could be difficult for smaller firms or those without dedicated IT employees.
  • It might generate a lot of false positives, which would make it more difficult for the IT team to examine and validate the data.


  • Free


If you are looking for a vulnerability assessment tool that offers ongoing monitoring and real-time notifications, Tenable.io might be a good choice.


  • Tenable.io is a cloud-based platform and thus doesn’t need to be installed on customer premises.
  • It includes a wide range of scanning options, including compliance testing, configuration auditing, and vulnerability scanning.
  • Organizations can prioritize and address vulnerabilities depending on their seriousness and possible impact thanks to the thorough reporting and analytics it offers.
  • Numerous third-party tools, including ticketing platforms and security information and event management (SIEM) systems, are integrated with it.


  • For larger enterprises or those with complicated IT network environments, Tenable can be pricier.
  • Particularly for inexperienced users, its user interface might be complicated and challenging to operate.
  • Setting it up and configuring it might take some technical know-how, which could be difficult for smaller firms or those without dedicated IT employees.
  • It might generate a lot of false positives, which would make it more difficult for the IT team to parse the data.


  • Pricing ranges from a free version to paid plans that start at $3,190 per year, depending on the size of the organization.


Formerly known as Netsparker, Invicti is a website and application vulnerability scanning tool which aids businesses in locating and fixing security flaws in their web applications.


  • Web application scanning capabilities from Invicti are thorough and include both automatic and manual testing.
  • Organizations can prioritize and address vulnerabilities depending on their seriousness and possible impact thanks to the thorough reporting and analytics it offers.
  • Numerous third-party tools, including ticketing platforms and SIEM programs, are integrated with it.
  • It offers ongoing monitoring and immediate notifications, enabling enterprises to take swift action in the event of a security danger.
  • Non-technical persons can use Invicti with ease thanks to its user-friendly UI.


  • Invicti may be pricier, especially for larger companies or for those with complicated web application environments.
  • Setting it up and configuring it might take some technical know-how, which could be difficult for smaller firms or those without dedicated IT teams.
  • It might generate a lot of false positives, which would make it more difficult for the IT team to examine and validate the data.


  • Invicti includes a free version with limited capability, and subscription plans with more features and functionalities. The starting price for paid plans is $2,999 per year.

Further reading:

What Are the Benefits of Vulnerability Assessments?

A vulnerability assessment program can help improve IT security and provide a number of other benefits too:

  • Save time and resources by automating the scanning and reporting process, which is often considerably more effective than manual testing.
  • Find security flaws in an organization’s systems, networks, and applications before they can be used by attackers.
  • Increase consumer trust with reliable security while avoiding negative publicity from data breaches.
  • Identify the vulnerabilities that place your organization at the greatest risk.
  • Improve an organization’s overall security posture by identifying needed improvements.
  • Achieve compliance with data privacy laws and other regulations.

How Much Do Vulnerability Assessments Cost?

If you have a good security team and use free or low-cost tools, a vulnerability assessment can give you a high return on investment (ROI) just by preventing a data breach or two. Given that a data breach can cost in the millions, almost any good IT security pays for itself.

Depending on the needs of your organization, the cost of vulnerability assessment tools will vary based on the extent, frequency, and size of the assessment, as well as the complexity of the organization’s systems, networks, and applications. Vulnerability assessments often range from cost-free open-source tools to enterprise-level solutions that can run into the tens of thousands of dollars annually.

If you need to hire outside help, the cost of a vulnerability assessment will be considerably greater, although pricing can vary greatly among consultants and service providers. Before choosing a vendor or consultant and settling on a price, thoroughly analyze the scope, tools, expertise, frequency, and requirements of a vulnerability assessment for your organization.

Bottom Line: Vulnerability Assessment

Vulnerability assessments are a crucial cybersecurity practice for any organization handling important and sensitive data. Taking a risk-based approach to vulnerabilities will maximize your efforts and give you the greatest improvement in security preparedness. Carefully consider the scope and requirements of a vulnerability assessment, and choose a provider who can meet your needs while staying within budget.

It is also important to note that a vulnerability assessment is not a one-time solution to security flaws; it should be an ongoing process to find and fix vulnerabilities. By adopting a proactive security strategy and conducting regular vulnerability assessments, you lower the risk of cyber attacks, thus safeguarding you and your clients’ data, systems, and assets.

Further Reading:

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