In today’s society, almost everybody, including people and businesses, has an online presence. Be it just a social media platform or an extensively designed eCommerce website, people use or operate these digital platforms on a daily basis.As the cyber threat landscape is constantly evolving, it is important for organizations to regularly assess and improve their security posture. VAPT is a crucial tool in achieving this goal.

Many of these websites contain sensitive or confidential information, whose security is of paramount importance. Some contain user data or personal information like contact details, addresses, and credit card numbers, and others contain business secrets or other proprietary information. Altogether, all websites need to be secured from any kind of unauthorized access, destruction, or change. This is where VAPT comes in.

VAPT is a useful tool for organizations to assess and improve their security posture. However, it is important to note that VAPT is not a one-time event and should be conducted regularly to ensure that new vulnerabilities are identified and addressed in a timely manner. In this blog, we will provide detailed information on the latest VAPT techniques, tools, and best practices, to help you stay ahead of the curve in 2023.

What do you Mean By VAPT?

VAPT is an acronym for Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing. It is a process of identifying, assessing, and mitigating security vulnerabilities in a digital system or platform. The aim is to find all the weaknesses in the system that could be exploited by attackers and then take steps to fix them. It is divided into two main components: vulnerability assessment and penetration testing.

Vulnerability assessment involves identifying and classifying vulnerabilities in a system or network using automated tools. Penetration testing involves actively attempting to exploit vulnerabilities in order to gain unauthorized access. VAPT can be used on any kind of digital platform, including websites, web applications, mobile apps, and even IoT devices. Therefore, it is an essential security measure for any organization that wants to protect its data and systems from attack. It is a multi-step process that includes vulnerability scanning, assessment, testing, and reporting.

  • Vulnerability scanning is the first step of VAPT which involves identifying the weaknesses or vulnerabilities in the system.
  • Assessment is the second step which involves analyzing the risks associated with the identified vulnerabilities.
  • Testing is the third step involving exploiting the identified vulnerabilities to check if they can be exploited to gain unauthorized access to the system.
  • Reporting is the final step of VAPT which involves documenting the findings of the assessment and testing phases.

What are the Objectives of VAPT?

The objectives of VAPT are to identify, assess, and mitigate risks posed by vulnerabilities in digital assets. Altogether, by conducting a VAPT, organizations can protect their systems and data from being compromised by cyber attackers. As a matter of fact, the specific objectives involved include:

Identify vulnerabilities 

In order to identify vulnerabilities, a VAPT must first be conducted. This will help organizations to know what type of vulnerabilities are present in their systems and how these vulnerabilities could be exploited by attackers. Additionally, this includes identifying both known and unknown vulnerabilities. This can include software vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and other issues that could be exploited by an attacker. For example, a vulnerability assessment might identify that a server is running an outdated version of software that has a known security vulnerability.

Assess risks 

Albeit this involves determining the likelihood of an attack and the potential impact if successful, it is important to also consider the risks posed by vulnerabilities. This includes evaluating the likelihood of the vulnerability being exploited, as well as the potential consequences if the vulnerability is exploited. For example, a vulnerability that allows an attacker to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data would be considered high impact. These risks can be mitigated through patching, configuration changes, and/or additional security controls.

Mitigate risks

This can include steps to patch or update software, change configurations, or implement security controls. For example, if a vulnerability assessment identifies that a server is running an outdated version of software, the VAPT report would recommend that the software be updated to the latest version. Additionally, it is important to have a plan in place for how to respond if an attack does occur. This plan should include steps for containing the damage, identifying the source of the attack, and recovery.

Testing and implementing security controls:

After all, this includes implementing measures to prevent future attacks. This might include strengthening authentication measures, increasing surveillance, or hardening the infrastructure. Taking these steps can help reduce the risks posed by vulnerabilities and increase the resilience of systems in the event of an attack. For example, a penetration test might attempt to exploit a vulnerability in a web application in order to gain access to sensitive data, this will help to see if the security controls put in place such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and web application firewalls are working as intended.

Improve incident response capabilities

This includes having a plan in place to quickly and effectively respond to an attack. This plan should identify the roles and responsibilities of those involved, as well as the steps that need to be taken to contain and mitigate the effects of an attack.

Compliance

Many organizations are required to comply with various regulations and standards, such as PCI-DSS, HIPAA, SOC 2, etc. VAPT can help organizations to comply with these regulations by identifying vulnerabilities that could result in non-compliance and providing recommendations for mitigation.

Why Does Your Organization Need VAPT?

It is vital for every organization to have a VAPT conducted to test the integrity of their systems

Source: cyberdb

In today’s digital world, organizations are increasingly reliant on technology to conduct their business operations. This reliance exposes them to a range of risks, including cyberattacks.

Organizations need to be aware of these risks and take steps to protect themselves. All things considered, one way to do this is by conducting a Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Test (VAPT). Some of the reasons for conducting a VAPT include the following:

  • Customer needs: In some industries, customers may require that a VAPT be conducted as part of doing business with them. For example, banks and other financial institutions are often required to undergo regular VAPTs.
  • Regulatory requirements: In some cases, regulatory bodies may mandate that a VAPT be conducted. For example, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) requires that organizations which process credit card payments perform regular VAPTs.
  • Internal audit requirements: An organization may have an internal policy that requires a VAPT to be conducted on a regular basis. This is often the case for companies with a strong commitment to security.
  • Security requirements: In some cases, an organization may be required to have a VAPT in order to do business with another company. Albeit, many banks will not work with companies that have not had a recent VAPT.
  • Data Breaches: If an organization has suffered a data breach, it may be required to conduct a VAPT as part of the aftermath and investigation. As you can see, there are many reasons why an organization might need to conduct a VAPT.

Types of VAPT

There are different types of VAPT tests

VAPT can be divided into two main categories:

  • Static testing involves reviewing the code of an application without running it. This method looks for vulnerabilities by examining the code for known vulnerabilities, such as buffer overflows, SQL injection, and other types of security issues. Examples of static vulnerability testing tools include: Fortify, Checkmarx, Veracode, IBM AppScan Source.
  • Dynamic testing, on the other hand, involves running the application and testing it for vulnerabilities. involves executing a system or application and observing its behavior. This method looks for vulnerabilities by simulating an attack on the system or application, such as attempting to exploit a web application or connect to a network service. Examples of dynamic vulnerability testing tools include: Nessus, Nmap, Metasploit, Burp Suite.

Alternatively, it can also be divided into:

  • External VAPT: This type of test focuses on the organization’s externally facing systems, such as its website and web applications.
  • Internal VAPT: This type of test focuses on the organization’s internal systems, such as its network and servers.

Vulnerability scans

  • Application scans: The type of scans include web application security scans, database security scans, and network infrastructure security scans. A good example is the Burp Suite. After all, this is a software platform that helps you secure your web applications by finding vulnerabilities in the code and providing information on how to fix them.
  • Network scans: The type of scans include network discovery, port scanning, and vulnerability assessment. A good example is the Nmap tool. This is a network exploration and security auditing tool that can be used to identify hosts and services on a network, as well as find security vulnerabilities.
  • System scans: The type of scans include system hardening, application security, and database security. A good example is the Lynis tool. This is a security auditing tool that helps you harden your system and improve its security posture.
  • Wireless scans: The type of scans include Wi-Fi network discovery, rogue access point detection, and interference analysis. A good example is the Kismet tool. After all, this is a wireless network detector, sniffer, and intrusion detection system.
  • Database scans: The type of scans include database discovery, vulnerability assessment, and security configuration review. A good example is the SQLMAP tool. After all, this is an open-source penetration testing tool that automates the process of detecting and exploiting SQL injection flaws.
  • Host-based scans: The type of scans include operating system fingerprinting, service detection, and vulnerability assessment. A good example is the Nmap tool. Additionally, this is a free and open-source network exploration tool and security scanner.

Penetration Testing

Black-box testing:

In this type of testing, the tester has very little or no knowledge about the internal working of the system. This method simulates an attack from an external source and looks for vulnerabilities by interacting with the system or application in the same way an attacker would. Examples of black box testing include:

  • Nessus or Nmap help to identify open ports, services, and vulnerabilities on a network.
  • Burp Suite or OWASP ZAP help to identify vulnerabilities in a web application by interacting with it through a web browser.
  • Attempting to trick users into providing sensitive information, such as login credentials or personal information.

White-box testing:

In white-box testing, the tester has complete knowledge of the system internals. This method looks for vulnerabilities by analyzing the source code, configuration files, and other internal components of a system or application. Examples of white box testing include:

  • Tools like Fortify or Checkmarx  help to analyze the source code of an application for known vulnerabilities.
  • Checking the configuration of a system or application to ensure that it is properly configured and secure.
  • Testing the security of low-level components of a system such as Operating system, firmware, libraries, etc.

Gray-box testing:

Gray-box testing is a mix of both white and black-box testing in which the tester has some knowledge of the system internals. This method involves having partial knowledge of the internal structure and implementation of a system or application, but not complete knowledge. This method simulates an attack from an external source but uses information from the internal structure and implementation of the system or application to identify vulnerabilities. An example of grey box testing the use of tools such as Metasploit or Core Impact to identify vulnerabilities in a system or application by interacting with it and also having knowledge of the system components being used.

Vulnerability Assessment Process

The VAPT process means checking off on these points

Source: ecsbiztech

Generally, Vulnerability assessment is a part of vulnerability management. The assessment process comprises two crucial steps: Identifying vulnerabilities and Evaluating vulnerabilities.

Identifying vulnerabilities:

Identifying vulnerabilities is important because , if you do not know where your weaknesses are, you cannot protect yourself from attackers who might exploit them. To identify vulnerabilities, you need to perform a vulnerability scan. This can be done using automated tools, which will check for known vulnerabilities in your systems and applications. However, these tools can only find common vulnerabilities; they cannot find every possible weakness. That is why it is important to supplement automated scans with manual testing.

A vulnerability scan is able to identify the various systems running on a network, such as laptops and desktops, virtual and physical servers, databases, and firewalls. Once done, it uses any one or multiple combinations of scans to check for various categories of vulnerabilities.

For example, the most common type of scan is a port scan, which looks for open ports on systems. This can be done with a tool like Nmap. Once the open ports are found, the next step is to identify what services are running on those ports. This information can be used to determine which CVEs (Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures) are applicable.

Alternate Methods:

Vulnerability scanners are not the only way to scan for vulnerability data. Other methods include:

  • Manual reviews: This is where someone goes through the code or system looking for vulnerabilities. This can be done with a tool like Burp Suite, which has a number of features to help with this process.
  • Automated static analysis: This is where a piece of software analyses the code for vulnerability data. This can be done with tools like Veracode and AppScan.
  • Penetration testing: This is where someone actually tries to exploit the vulnerabilities that have been found. This can be done manually or with tools like Metasploit.

The output from these scans will often contain false positives, which are results that appear to be vulnerabilities but are not. False positives can occur for a number of reasons, such as the way the software has been coded or because of how the scan is configured. It is important to check each result to confirm that it is a true positive before taking any further action.

Evaluating vulnerabilities:

Once all the vulnerabilities have been identified, they need to be ranked in order of severity. This is so that the most critical issues can be addressed first. The Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) is often used for this purpose. CVSS assigns a score to each vulnerability, based on factors such as its impact and exploitability.

After identifying the vulnerabilities present in your systems and applications, you need to evaluate them to determine which ones pose a risk to your organization. To do this, you need to consider various factors. For example:

  • The potential impact of an exploitation
  • The likelihood of an exploitation occurring
  • The ease of exploitation
  • Difficulty to exploit this vulnerability

Once you have evaluated the risks posed by each vulnerability, you can prioritize them and start working on mitigating the most critical ones first. After the vulnerabilities have been prioritised, it’s time to start fixing them. For each issue, there will be a different solution, depending on its nature. Some common fixes include installing security patches, configuring firewalls and changing passwords.

It’s important to test the fixes to make sure they actually work and don’t introduce any new vulnerabilities. Once all the vulnerabilities have been successfully addressed, the system can be considered secure.

Vulnerability Assessment vs Penetration Testing

A vulnerability assessment generally has a penetration testing component to identify and evaluate vulnerabilities in an organization’s personnel, procedures or processes. These vulnerabilities might not normally be identifiable with network or system scans. However, penetration testing is not as sufficient as a complete vulnerability assessment and is a separate process.

Vulnerability assessment and penetration testing are both important tools for keeping systems secure. However, they differ in several key ways.

Vulnerability assessment is identifies potential security issues. It doesn’t attempt to exploit any of the vulnerabilities. Penetration testing actively attempts to exploit vulnerabilities to see if they can be used to gain access to the system.

Vulnerability assessments are usually less expensive and time-consuming than penetration tests, but they don’t provide as much information about the true security of the system. Penetration tests are more expensive and time-consuming, but they give a better indication of how vulnerable the system really is.

It’s generally recommended to perform both a vulnerability assessment and a penetration test to get the most complete picture of the system’s security. This process is called VAPT.

Conducting a VAPT

VAPT is a very important security measure that should be taken by all organizations. As a matter of fact, it can help to identify and protect against a wide range of attacks. Arguably, by understanding the stages of a VAPT engagement, you can ensure that your organization is better prepared to defend against attacks.

Pre-engagement

The first step is to determine the goals and objectives of the test i .e. scope of assessment. This helps you determine what kind of testing needs to be done and what kinds of attacks you need to look for., along with assessing the different limitations involved. For example, in the case of an ecommerce website, the scope includes web server, database, and the application.

Reconnaissance

In this stage, the attacker gathers information about the target system and networks like IP address, operating system, open ports, etc. This also includes identifying hardware and software, determining network architecture, and identifying known vulnerabilities. For example, conducting a port scan on the web server, identifying the Operating System being used, and reviewing the website source code to identify the technologies used.

Scanning

In scanning, the attacker uses different tools and techniques to identify the vulnerabilities in the system and reviewing system and application logs for signs of suspicious activity. This is the vulnerability assessment. For example, using Nessus or OpenVAS to scan for known vulnerabilities on the web server and database and reviewing the web server logs for any suspicious activity.

Gaining Access

In this stage, the attacker tries to exploit the vulnerabilities to gain access to the system. All things considered. this includes finding vulnerabilities in the system and determining how to exploit them.

Maintaining Access

If the attacker is successful in gaining access to the system, he/she will then try to maintain that access for future use. For example, using Metasploit to exploit a known vulnerability in the web application and attempting to gain unauthorized access to the application or data.

Covering Tracks

Once the attacker has finished using the system for their malicious purposes, they will try to cover their tracks so that they are not caught. The final step is obviously to provide a report that includes a list of identified vulnerabilities, their CVSS score, and the recommended actions to fix them.

These are the six main stages of a VAPT attack. However, there are also some other important aspects to consider, such as social engineering and denial of service attacks. Additionally, social engineering is a type of attack where the attacker tries to trick the users into revealing sensitive information or giving them access to the system.

What are the Deliverables From a VAPT?

A sample VAPT report

Source: Lean security

A VAPT should ideally provide a comprehensive report that covers all the aspects of an attack. Additionally, the report should include details on the vulnerabilities found, how they were exploited, and what could be done to mitigate them. Finally, it should also include recommendations on how to improve the security of the system. All things considered, a typical report should contain the following:

  • Identifying the Auditee (Address & contact information): This includes the name and contact information of the organization that commissioned the VAPT.
  • VAPT schedules, locations, and timelines: This section includes the dates when the VAPT was conducted, which systems were tested, and what type of testing was done.
  • Terms and conditions of the engagement: This section includes any agreements made between the organization and the VAPT provider, such as nondisclosure agreements (NDAs).
  • Project deliverables and specifications: This section includes a description of the VAPT deliverables, such as the final report and any other agreed-upon outputs.
  • Executive summary of findings and recommendations: This section includes a high-level overview of the VAPT findings, including any recommendations for remediation.
  • List of vulnerabilities found with details on how they were exploited: This section includes a list of all vulnerabilities found, along with details on how they were exploited.
  • Proof-of-concept (PoC): This section includes any PoC code used to exploit vulnerabilities.
  • Security risks associated with each vulnerability: This section includes a description of the security risks associated with each vulnerability.
  • Recommendations on how to mitigate the vulnerabilities and risks: This section includes recommendations on how to mitigate the vulnerabilities and risks.
  • Personnel who took part in the audit: This section includes the names of all personnel who took part in the audit.

What are the Benefits of VAPT?

VAPT has a huge number of benefits, especially for companies that store huge amounts of confidential data

Vulnerability Assessment and Pentesting (VAPT) is a process of identifying, assessing and mitigating known and unknown vulnerabilities in an IT system. Therefore, the goal of VAPT is to reduce the risk of exploitation of vulnerabilities by providing comprehensive visibility into the system’s security posture.

Some benefits of VAPT are:

Identifies and assesses known and unknown vulnerabilities:

VAPT provides comprehensive visibility into an organization’s system security posture. It does this by identifying and assessing known and unknown vulnerabilities. Therefore, VAPT helps reduce the risk of exploitation.

Helps organizations prioritize their remediation efforts:

VAPT can help organizations prioritize their remediation efforts by identifying the severity of each vulnerability. This allows organizations to focus their resources on addressing the most critical vulnerabilities first.

Provides an independent assessment of security controls:

VAPT can also provide an independent assessment of an organization’s security controls. This helps ensure that these controls are effective and meet industry best practices.

Provides actionable intelligence:

VAPT provides detailed information about each vulnerabilities, including its exploitability and business impact. Additionally, this information helps organizations make informed decisions about which vulnerabilities to remediate first.

Safeguards the business from loss of reputation and money:

By conducting VAPT, organizations can find and fix vulnerabilities before they are exploited. This helps to safeguard the business from loss of reputation and money. VAPT is a critical component of any organization’s security posture. It helps to identify vulnerabilities in systems and applications, and provides actionable intelligence to help remediate those vulnerabilities.

Secures applications from internal and external attacks:

By identifying and patching vulnerabilities, VAPT can help to secure applications from internal and external attacks.

Ensures compliance with industry and government regulations:

Organizations must comply with various industry and government regulations. VAPT can help to ensure compliance with these regulations by identifying vulnerabilities that could lead to non-compliance.

Conclusion

VAPT is a critical security measure for any organization that wants to protect its data and systems from attack. It is a process of identifying, assessing, and mitigating security vulnerabilities in a digital system or platform. Therefore, VAPT can be used on any kind of digital platform, including websites, web applications, mobile apps, and even IoT devices.

By conducting a VAPT assessment, organizations can identify vulnerabilities in their systems and take steps to mitigate them. Therefore, many web development companies offer VAPT services, and there are also open-source tools that can be used for conducting a VAPT assessment. Therefore, it is vital to choose a reputable company or tool that has experience in conducting VAPT assessments. At Pixel Street, we believe in implementing VAPT assessments on a regular basis to ensure our systems are secure.

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Khurshid Alam
Founder

Khurshid Alam is the founder of Pixel Street, a web design company. He aspires to solve business problems by communicating effectively digitally. In his leisure, he reads, writes, and occasionally plays a game of table tennis.