A network security assessment is an exhaustive audit designed to uncover vulnerabilities attackers may exploit that could harm an organization’s business operations or expose sensitive information.

Think of it as an extensive check on your building premises to see if any doors or windows that could allow thieves to enter have been left unlocked.

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A network security assessment protects networks, devices, and sensitive data against unauthorized access by uncovering potential attack vectors from inside and outside a network before attackers can access them.

What Are the Different Network Security Assessment Types?

There are two basic types of network security assessments:

  • Vulnerability assessment
  • Penetration testing

The first type, vulnerability assessment, identifies, organizes, and prioritizes weaknesses in your organization’s network, systems, applications, services, and device policies. This assessment is time-consuming and resource-intensive, so it is often automated with tools like network scanners or external attack surface management (EASM) platforms.

The second type is penetration testing, also known as “pen testing.” It is a form of ethical hacking where pen testers try to attack your organization’s network, systems, applications, or services to identify potential vulnerabilities. Pen testers or ethical hackers use the same techniques and tools threat actors employ to assess an organization’s current security posture.

What Are the Steps in a Network Security Assessment?

Performing a network security assessment requires the following six steps.

Step #1: Take Stock of All Assets

The first step is to identify all your digital assets. Since you can’t assess them all simultaneously, you must determine how critical each is to your operations. You also need to consider how much damage, in terms of revenue and reputation, each asset can cause if it is exploited.

Step #2: Assess Risks

You should know that threats can come from all directions—internal or external resources. Conduct a thorough network scan, taking stock of network ports, Wi-Fi access points, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and accessible hosts and network services. Check for weak passwords, outdated software, and logs to quickly detect and respond to attacks. In addition, evaluate third-party network access to cover all your bases.

Step #3: Test Defenses

The next step is to test security controls and risk mitigation techniques to see if they effectively prevent and defend against attacks. You can simulate attacks using manual penetration testing or ethical hacking tools.

Step #4: Document Findings

Ensure your report includes specific vulnerabilities, the security risks they pose to your organization, and remediation plans. Documenting results will help you better understand your infrastructure, identify your most valuable assets, and improve operational efficiency and security.

Step #5: Take Action

After finding all the weak spots in your security, you must implement new security controls. Security controls can be technical, such as multifactor authentication (MFA) and encryption, or physical, such as locks or biometrics. They can also be preventive, like firewalls and encryption, or detective, like security event log monitoring and network intrusion detection.

Step #6: Stay Updated

Networks and threats constantly evolve. That said, performing a network security assessment is not a one-time thing. Such an assessment should be performed continuously so your organization can respond quickly and effectively to new attacks.

Steps in a Network Security Assessment

What Questions Does a Network Security Assessment Answer?

A network security assessment answers the following questions:

  • Which of your network components need protection?
  • What programs need updating, patching, or proper configuration?
  • Are there signs of a data breach?
  • Do all employees have sufficient security training?
  • Do you employ sufficient user access control (UAC)?
  • What attack vectors can attackers potentially exploit?
  • What damages can a successful attack cause?
  • What data is at risk of exposure should a breach occur?
  • Have all third parties with access to your network been vetted?
  • What mitigation steps can help you thwart attacks?

Specific industries, such as financial services and healthcare, require organizations to perform a network security assessment to comply with mandated regulations like the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), respectively.

Key Takeaways

Sources

  • https://www.msspalert.com/native/what-is-a-network-security-assessment-and-why-you-need-it
  • https://www.pempal.org/sites/pempal/files/event/2021/Internal%20Audit%20COP%20Events/Apr19_Videoconference/files/network_security_audit_checklist_1.pdf