Vulnerability Assessment Report: A C-Suite Guide

Another financial quarter, another Board of Directors meeting on your schedule. As a Chief Executive Officer (CEO), the pressure is on. You need to set and execute your company’s organizational and business strategies while ensuring that you consistently achieve revenue targets. With a volatile economy, allocating resources and mitigating risk begins to feel overwhelming. 

If you’re the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), you’re focused on revenue and spending. You’re worried about your current market segment, rising costs, and budget requests.

As the next Board of Directors meeting approaches, your Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) hands you the most recent vulnerability assessment. Now, you need to work as a team to decode the technical details and translate them into business impact. 

Understanding how your cybersecurity vulnerability assessment report fits into your strategic c-suite mission enables you to allocate resources and mitigate cybersecurity risk more effectively and efficiently. 

What are a vulnerability, a vulnerability assessment, and a vulnerability assessment report?

If you’re talking about vulnerabilities and vulnerability assessments from a technical point of view, it’s easy to feel like you’re going down a Matrix-like rabbit hole. When you approach them strategically, they become more valuable. 

Vulnerability

A security vulnerability is any system weakness that attackers can use to gain unauthorized access to a website, application, network, or device. 

Some examples of vulnerabilities include:

  • Software or operating system “bugs”
  • Gaps in input validation
  • Outdated software
  • Infected plugins

For non-technical c-suite members, vulnerabilities represent risks to the organization. Some risks include:

  • Data breaches
  • Compliance violations
  • Business interruption

If you have vulnerabilities that attackers can use to steal sensitive information or shut down your business operations, they become a strategic and revenue problem. 

Vulnerability Assessment

A vulnerability assessment is a process that usually uses automated tools to identify, categorize, and report security vulnerabilities found in websites, applications, networks, or devices. 

For a comprehensive evaluation of vulnerabilities impacting your environment, you probably use more than one of the following scanners:

  • Network
  • Web application
  • Internet of Things (IoT) device
  • Container security
  • Host-based
  • Wireless
  • Database
  • Port

Although both vulnerability assessments and penetration tests review the security weaknesses affecting your organization, they differ in several ways:

  • A vulnerability assessment is an automated process while a penetration test is manual
  • A vulnerability assessment lists security weaknesses while a penetration test tries to use the vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access
  • A vulnerability assessment can be conducted regularly while a penetration test is usually conducted annually because it’s expensive

Vulnerability Assessment Report

The vulnerability assessment report is the document that details all the vulnerabilities identified during the vulnerability scan. Your vulnerability assessment report aggregates the various types of vulnerabilities detected, indexes them by severity, and provides remediation suggestions. 

7 Steps to a Vulnerability Assessment

From start to finish, the vulnerability assessment process consists of seven discrete steps. Some steps, like the initial assessment, are done once. You will repeat other steps regularly because you need to continuously review and monitor your environment as researchers publish new vulnerabilities. 

1. Engage in Initial Assessment

Your initial assessment includes:

  • Identifying all assets
  • Defining risks
  • Assigning responsibility for assets
  • Engaging in a business impact analysis to determine risk level, risk tolerance, and risk appetite for each device or service
  • Determining countermeasures, residual risk treatment, risk mitigation practices, and policies for each device or service

This is also when you define your critical assets or those resources whose security and availability are critical to business operations and revenue. 

2. Define System Baseline

After completing the initial assessment, you: 

  • gather system data to review devices for services, processes, or ports that create security weaknesses
  • Determine basic secure configuration for each device, software, and driver

When defining the system baseline, you should also ensure that you know what sensitive data could be compromised. This includes:

  • Knowing what devices, networks, applications, and databases contain sensitive data
  • Understanding attack paths between different devices, networks, applications, and databases

3. Perform a Vulnerability Scan 

Vulnerability scanners review devices and assets connected to your network looking for common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs). Vulnerability scanners use CVEs to identify weaknesses like:

  • Open ports
  • Running services
  • Outdated software versions
  • Misconfigurations

4. Analyze the Vulnerability’s Impact

Once you have the vulnerability assessment, you determine the potential business impact that the vulnerability could have on your organization. 

Typically, the analysis considers the following:

  • Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) Score: Industry standard determining CVE severity as critical, high, medium, low, or none
  • Threat: potential for adversaries to use the vulnerability during an attack
  • Exploitability: ease with which attackers can use the vulnerability to gain unauthorized access to systems, networks, or assets

During the analysis, you review the potential business impact that the vulnerability poses. Typically, this means correlating:

  • CVE information
  • Threat intelligence
  • Current IT architecture, including connections to the public internet and connected assets

Your analysis should enable you to prioritize your vulnerability management activities so that you patch your critical assets and riskiest attack paths first. 

5. Create a Vulnerability Assessment Report

Your vulnerability assessment report includes the details and recommendations that align to your business and security objectives. The report provides the narrative that brings together:

  • Vulnerability
  • Business impact
  • Next steps

With this report, you understand the next steps and can make informed decisions around how to proceed. 

6. Consistently Repeat Activities

A vulnerability assessment provides a point-in-time view of your security posture. Your risk continuously changes. As you add new resources, whether it’s Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications or virtual machines, your risk changes. As you add new devices to your networks, your risk changes. Every time researchers publish a new vulnerability, your risk changes. 

Depending on your environment, you should complete a vulnerability assessment anywhere from weekly to quarterly. Additionally, you want to incorporate your vulnerability assessment into your risk management strategy, repeating the process whenever you make changes to your systems. 

7. Improve Vulnerability Management Processes

Iteration is fundamental to establishing a cyber resilient organization. Your risk continues to evolve, especially in dynamic cloud environments.  You need to review, iterate, and improve on your vulnerability management processes by continuously monitoring assets and mapping them to new vulnerabilities. 

As your environment changes, your business impact assessment will change, and you need to change your processes in response. 

What should be in a vulnerability assessment report?

1. Executive Summary

The executive summary provides an overview that enables you to get the high-level understanding necessary to align vulnerability management, security, and operational goals. 

A vulnerability report’s executive summary should include:

  • Objectives: time period covered, alignment with security goals
  • Scope: Assets and/or networks sccanned
  • Testing Narrative: Vulnerabilities detected, vulnerability criticality, business risk impact
  • Remediation Summary: Patches applied, controls added

 

2. Assessment Overview

In this section, the vulnerability assessment report gives insights into vulnerabilities and their technical details to support the results outlined in the executive summary. 

The assessment overview section should include:

  • Scan results: list of assets and vulnerabilities for each, false positives, false negatives
  • Tools: Scanner types, makes, and models used
  • Risk assessment: List of vulnerabilities detailed by severity

3. Results and Mitigation Recommendations

 Finally, the vulnerability assessment report outlines appropriate mitigation steps. This can include patches that you need to apply or other risk mitigation controls. 

Why you need a vulnerability assessment report

As a senior leadership team member, you need information that enables you to incorporate security into your current role. Fundamentally, the vulnerability assessment report’s executive summary should provide this information. However, vulnerabilities can be highly technical. Often, visualizations can help you understand risk more effectively so that you can make data-driven decisions when performing your responsibilities. 

Compliance Purposes

Vulnerability management is a fundamental compliance requirement. Nearly every security and privacy compliance framework or mandate incorporates secure baselines, configuration management, and vulnerability scanning. Additionally, nearly every mandate relies on your ability to analyze and mitigate risk. 

Your vulnerability assessment report enables you to gain visibility into:

  • Assets with vulnerabilities
  • Number of assets with critical vulnerabilities
  • Attack paths that threat actors can exploit 
vulnerability assessment report critical asset

Further, your data tells you about a vulnerability’s business impact. Correlating data breach cost information with your industry vertical, company size, and open source threat intelligence enables you to quantify risk in dollars. 

vulnerability assessment report business risk

Resource Allocation

Senior leadership sets the annual budget, allocating financial resources that enable teams to purchase tools or hire staff. Having robust vulnerability management processes enables both your vulnerability management and security teams. 

When researchers publish a new vulnerability, attackers actively look for ways to exploit it. Your vulnerability assessment report can give you visibility into whether you have appropriate staffing for vulnerability management efforts needed to mitigate security risks. Too many potential exploits means you need more staff. 

vulnerability assessment report exploitability

Additionally, if your vulnerability assessment report indicates that you have a high number of unpatched critical assets, you might need to add more staff to your vulnerability management team. 

vulnerability assessment report critical assets

KeyCaliber: At-a-Glance Vulnerability Asset Management Reports for the C-Suite

As a member of the senior leadership team, you need business impact and risk data. For a data-driven approach to security, you need to understand your critical assets. Unfortunately, the manual processes are time-consuming, expensive, and error-prone. 

KeyCaliber’s platform automates critical asset identification by building the data you need into its machine learning algorithm. Our platform leverages existing internal and external data inputs for holistic visibility into risk. By using the Factor Analysis of Information Risk (FAIRTM) methodology, we align our metrics to your business needs so that you can meet your compliance and organizational objectives. 

With KeyCaliber, you can make the data-driven risk decisions you need to protect your business operations and ensure continued revenue growth.