Network Security Assessments: What They Are And Why You Need Them

By Michelle Wu

Posted on Dec 20, 2019

What would happen if your organization’s networks were breached today? Do you know how many records would be exposed? Would you be able to find out immediately that there had been a breach? Most importantly — are your network’s defenses adequate to repel or respond to an attack?

Many organizations don’t know until after the fact, which is why a network security assessment is so important. According to a report from EY, 76% of organizations only increased their security budget after a major cyber attack. Waiting until after the fact to shore up defenses is too late — according to the Ponemon Institute’s 2019 Cost of a Data Breach Study the average cost of a data breach is $3.92 million.

There is, however, a way to measure the impact of an attack without actually suffering one: a network security assessment.

What is a network security assessment?

A network security assessment is, basically, an audit. It’s a review of your network’s security measures which is meant to find vulnerabilities in your system. Such a risk assessment identifies starts by taking stock of any assets that might be compromised by a bad actor, understanding how those assets might be compromised, and then prescribing the steps that should be taken to protect those assets.

There are two kinds of network security assessments: a vulnerability assessment, which shows organizations where their weaknesses are, and a penetration test, which mimics an actual attack.

The purpose of a network security assessment is to keep your networks, devices and data safe and secure by discovering any potential entry points for cyber attacks — from both inside and outside your organization. It’s also a way of running through possible attacks. Penetration tests can test the effectiveness of your network’s defenses and measure the potential impact of an attack on specific assets. What happens if certain systems are breached? What data is exposed? How many records are likely to be compromised. What would have to be done to mitigate that attack? A security assessment serves as a dry run, should your network ever be breached.

A security risk assessment methodology

Most basic risk assessments follow the same general steps:

1. Take inventory of your resources

What are your organization’s most valuable assets? Before you can test them for vulnerabilities, you must first take stock of the networks, devices, data, and other assets your organization wants to secure. You should document your entire IT infrastructure as part of this step. That will give you a complete map of your networks so that if you’re ever attacked you’ll be able to quickly find the attacker.

2. Assess the vulnerability of your assets

Once you know what your assets are, you can start examining them to find vulnerabilities. Threats can come from anywhere: from outside your organization, internal personnel with bad security habits, or third parties with sloppy security practices and access to your network. Because risks can be so varied, your assessment should be comprehensive. A good assessment should include:

  • A comprehensive scan of all your network’s ports and other vectors
  • An assessment of your internal weaknesses
  • A scan of wi-fi, Internet of Things and other wireless networks
  • A review of third parties’ access to your networks and assets
  • A review of policies around employee behavior, like bringing in rogue devices or opening suspicious emails.

3. Test your defenses

At this point, some organizations may want to actively test their defenses by conducting penetration tests to see if their assets are easily breached by an attacker. While an assessment is important in identifying risks, a penetration test will show you how easy it is to breach your network.

4. Shore up the weak spots

By this point, you should have found some weak points in your network. Make a list of your vulnerabilities, and then make plans to remediate them.

5. Continuously monitor your security

The best, most comprehensive network risk security assessment won’t keep your assets safe forever. Because threats and technology are constantly changing, so are your risks, so it’s important to continuously monitor and review your risk environment so that your organization can respond to any new attacks or threats quickly and efficiently.

How SecurityScorecard can help

It’s hard to manage risk unless you have a full picture of your organization’s vulnerabilities. That’s why a network security assessment is so important. It helps you develop a map of your IT infrastructure that shows you where all your weak spots are.

To keep that map current, day to day, it’s important to invest in smart tools that will scan your infrastructure for vulnerabilities. SecurityScorecard, for example, allows you to easily monitor security risk across your entire enterprise for a customized view of your entire footprint.

Our custom scorecards enable portfolio cybersecurity risk monitoring, remediation, and documentation so that your organization can secure its systems, networks, software, and data.

With custom scorecards, your enterprise can gain more detailed information about how different business lines impact your security score. We also provide suggestions that will allow you to address any issues that are bringing your security score down — so that you can keep your network secure continuously.

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