How to assess your organization’s vulnerability to cyber hacks

Knowing how vulnerable you are to cyber-attack is a critical first step in protecting your company from future hacks. Some companies make the mistake of learning only after the fact. But there are ways you can assess your weaknesses proactively. Here are some tips to give you more insight into where you can make improvements fast.  

Vulnerability Assessment 

A vulnerability assessment is usually delivered with automated network security scanning tools. It will show how susceptible your network system is to various vulnerabilities, as well as their location. It will also show the severity of every vulnerability benchmarked against industry standards. That provides you with a broad understanding of where your weaknesses may be from a hacker’s perspective.  

While the information gathered may tell you whether a vulnerability is exploitable, it’s important to note that it’s not verified.  Something that shows as relatively low risk in a vulnerability assessment may be exposed as far more dangerous following a penetration test. For instance, an attacker might be able to pivot from a system normally deemed unimportant and then use it to take control of a more critical system. 

Penetration Testing 

Penetration testing entails identifying vulnerabilities in a system, then attempts to actually exploit them. This technique involves penetrating the identified weaknesses in a system to establish whether they are legitimate. Essentially, a tester attempts to infiltrate the system with the client’s consent. This exploiting stage is normally not present in a vulnerability assessment. Penetration testing will also show vulnerabilities that cannot be exploited, usually declared as theoretical findings-unrelated to false-positives.  

While typically, a vulnerability assessment is automated to allow for as broad vulnerability coverages as possible, penetration testing is a combination of both automated and manual procedures. This allows for deep inspections into the system’s weaknesses. The benefit of one is limited without the performance of both.  

A vulnerability assessment report is essentially an extensive list of possible weaknesses. The high-risk vulnerabilities are then prioritized to help your business respond accordingly. A penetration testing report logs all weaknesses that were successfully exploited, along with solutions and remediation advice, essentially making it a “call-to-action” document. Think of the first as an FYI and the second as a to do list.    


Ideally, a vulnerability assessment is performed every 14 days and in line with the organization’s patching policy frequency. Ad-hoc scanning should be performed as the need arises. Examples can include when changes have been implemented in the system or network. Penetration testing is mainly done once a year or more frequently for compliance drivers. However, this can also be performed more regularly, especially for systems that are yet to be security-mature, identifying all possible security weaknesses and making sure something is done in response.  

For more information about how to keep your business ahead of the curve when it comes to data security in the modern age, connect with the team at Happy Faces Records Management. We can help you understand your weaknesses, and make a plan for how to best protect your data.

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