A vital advantage for security professionals is the ability to come up with robust vulnerability assessment reports. A clear and concise vulnerability assessment report aids an organization’s network security team in fixing and alleviating vulnerabilities, the risks they pose, and the possible occurrence of cyberattacks.
In this article, we will explore how to create a strong vulnerability assessment report and understand the aims of its creation. We will also provide you samples of best practices in making these reports to help your organization prepare for future threats and attacks.
The vulnerability assessment report is a part and most crucial step of vulnerability assessment. The findings of this assessment are all included in the vulnerability assessment report. When creating a report, it is necessary to understand the vulnerability assessment process. First, we need to explore the things that comprise vulnerability assessment and define its components to get real value from the vulnerability assessment report.
What is a Vulnerability Assessment?
Vulnerability assessment is a process that identifies risks and threats is performed through the use of automated testing tools such as vulnerability scanners. Because security vulnerabilities can allow cyber attackers to infiltrate an organization’s IT systems, it is essential to identify and consequently remediate vulnerabilities before they can be penetrated and exploited.
Vulnerability assessment is crucial because it gives an organization the needed information about its weaknesses and offers solutions on how to assess these vulnerabilities.
The tasks of vulnerability assessment include identification, quantification, and ranking of security weaknesses known in the applications, hardware and software systems, and network infrastructure. It also explains the consequences of an assumed scenario of the found security hole. Vulnerability assessment also creates and develops a plan and practical approach in responding to threats. Lastly, it has the task to provide recommendations to enhance an organization’s security measures.
Four Steps to Vulnerability Assessment
To get a better understanding of the vulnerability assessment process, let’s take a look at the following four stages:
1. Initial Assessment
This step includes the identification of assets and definition of risks and significant value for the devices to be used, such as a vulnerability scanner. It is essential to know the importance of these devices. It is also necessary to identify if any member of the organization can assess these devices such as authorized users or administrators using a kiosk or a public computer.
The initial assessment also includes a clearer understanding of the strategic factors and the details including business impact analysis, countermeasures for each device or service, residual risk treatment, risk mitigation practices and policies for each device, risk tolerance level, and risk appetite.
2. Definition of System Baseline
The second stage includes the gathering of system information before the final assessment. This is where an organization reviews the devices and if they have services, processes, and ports that shouldn’t be opened. This step also involves getting a clear understanding of the basic configuration of each device and the approved drivers to be installed on the devices. For example, if the method is a perimeter type, there shouldn’t be a default configured administrator username.
Moreover, an organization should learn what public information should be accessed depending on the baseline configuration. These are some of the questions to be considered: Are the logs saved in the central repository? Do the devices send logs to SIEM (security information and event management) platform?
3. Performing a Vulnerability Scan
This step includes the usage of the right policy to achieve the needed results. An organization should look into any compliance requirements depending on its type of business before performing the vulnerability scan. It is essential to identify the context of the client industry and classify if the vulnerability scan can be segmented or can be completed all at once.
To come up with the best results and findings, an organization can use related plug-ins and tools such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) policy scan for compliance, PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard preparation for web applications, OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project Top 10 Scan or OWASP Checks, full scans of exploits and DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks, aggressive scan, stealth scan, firewall scan, CMS web scan and popular ports.
If an organization needs to conduct a manual scan, it should be made sure that the credentials are configured on the scanner configuration to perform a better vulnerability assessment.
4. Vulnerability Assessment Report Creation
This stage is the most crucial step in the vulnerability assessment process. An organization should pay great attention to the details and add more value to the recommendations stage based on initial assessment goals. All vulnerability assessment reports should have a detailed output that may include the following:
- Name of the vulnerability
- Date of the discovery
- Score based on CVE (Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures) databases
- A detailed description of the vulnerability
- A detailed description of the affected systems
- Details of the process to correct the vulnerability
- POC (proof of concept) of the vulnerability for the system
- A blank section for the owner of the vulnerability, the time it took to correct, the next revision and the countermeasures
Critical Components of a Strong Vulnerability Assessment Report
A strong vulnerability assessment report includes the following elements: Executive Summary, Assessment Overview, and Results and Mitigation Recommendations.
1. Executive Summary
The Executive Summary consists of an overview of the scan’s results. This part of the report offers a glimpse of the results of the scan, how well or poorly the performances of the applications and systems are during the scan. The severity of the vulnerabilities discovered can be identified by highlighting the overall risk level of an organization. These levels can be low, medium, high, or critical.
The Executive Summary has critical sections, and these include Remediation Summary, Testing Narrative, Assessment Findings Summary, Assessment Scope, and Objectives Summary.
The Executive Summary phase clearly explains the number and severity of detected vulnerabilities without overwhelming the reader with many details. To make the information understandable, the vulnerabilities discovered are graphically enumerated. Pertinent information is clearly identified, such as the name of servers scanned, and dates and times of the scan, among others.
This part of the vulnerability assessment report gives a bigger picture. This provides information about the overall risk level, how many vulnerabilities the organization is facing, kinds of issues that need to be addressed, and how crucial it is to address the uncovered vulnerabilities.
The executive summary also makes clear what kind of danger an organization may be encountering and which weaknesses to prioritize and address first.
2. Assessment Overview
The Assessment Overview gives an introduction and a concise overview of what was achieved in the assessment. This part of the vulnerability assessment report includes the following sections: Analysis Verification and Approach, Assessment Tools, and Assessment Methodology.
The Assessment Overview is a summary of the validation, investigation, and deliverable generation processes that ensued as part of the assessment. It also summarizes the types of activities done to assess the security of the target. This part of the assessment report also illustrates the commercial, open-source and custom tools utilized as well as the approach navigating the functionality of the target and validating of the results.
3. Results and Mitigation Recommendations
This is the heart and most important part of the vulnerability assessment report. Each vulnerability is reviewed and described. It includes an explanation of what the issues are, the causes of the issues, how they were found, their importance, and recommendations on how to fix them.
This section is sometimes called Assessment Findings and includes the following: information on remediation for all the vulnerabilities discovered, detailed explanation and description of all issues, and a tabulation of all discovered and validated results, categorized by the severity level.
Tips for a Stronger Vulnerability Assessment Report
It is essential for an organization to come up with a strong and clear vulnerability assessment report in order for the readers to understand it quickly and take action immediately. The following tips can be of great help to an organization that’s having a hard time creating an effective vulnerability assessment report:
1. Compose a descriptive title
The first and most important component is the title of the report. A strong title is a mix of where the vulnerability occurs, domain or endpoint, and the type of vulnerability. The report title should focus on the main point and be descriptive to the point that it quickly provides an organization’s security team a clear idea of the report and its possible criticality.
2. Write a direct, clear and short description
The security team, program owners and clients don’t have to spend too much time on reading, so the description should be concise. A strong way to come up with a description is to provide and include links or references to credible sources that can aid others to understand, identify and solve the issues. This could be CVE references or an OWASP link. It is advisable to avoid referencing Wikipedia or other websites that are less trusted.
3. Include a severity assessment
A strong vulnerability assessment report should have an honest severity assessment of the vulnerabilities. Security teams have other work to attend to, so it is essential to create an honest severity assessment to help them prioritize which issues to address first. This is to ensure that the major and crucial problems discovered are taken care of immediately.
Studying the CVSS (Common Vulnerability Scoring System) can definitely provide an organization with a general idea of the criticality of the vulnerabilities.
4. Provide clear steps of reproduction
This is one of the most important parts of the vulnerability assessment report. This is written from the perspective of the attacker and includes a step-by-step guide to follow by the security team. It is best to attach proof-of-concept files, images or video links to aid in explaining the complicated steps. In order for the issue to be fixed in less time, make sure to include all the required steps and make them specific.
5. Describe the impact of the vulnerability
The impact reflects the report’s level of severity. A strong report describes and explains what the attacker can do by referring to the result of the attack. Also, provide what information can be accessed by these attackers and how this problem can affect all the system users. It is best to escalate the impact of vulnerability and give the security team a realistic scenario of how the issue can be exploited by future attackers.
6. Recommend mitigations
Providing potential mitigations can help the security team save time from researching. However, this should be done if the root cause of the issue is very clear and the organization has a good idea of that certain vulnerability.
In writing a vulnerability assessment report, always remember that the readers are human, too. Make sure to write the report in a conversational tone and include references for complicated information. Because the concepts are complex and technical, the report should be written to be read by non-technical readers, too.
Miscommunications will happen, but it is possible to minimize these mistakes by providing an effective and comprehensive report. Keeping a vulnerability assessment report simple, concise and clear makes it stronger and so is the mitigation. Contact RSI Security today to get started.