Vulnerability assessments, also known as vulnerability analysis, is a process that defines, identifies, and classifies the security holes (vulnerabilities) in a computer, network, or communications infrastructure. In addition, vulnerability analysis can forecast the effectiveness of proposed countermeasures and evaluate their actual effectiveness after they are put into use.
Vulnerability analysis consists of several steps:
- Defining and classifying network or system resources
- Assigning relative levels of importance to the resources
- Identifying potential threats to each resource
- Developing a strategy to deal with the most serious potential problems first
- Defining and implementing ways to minimize the consequences if an attack occurs.
If security holes are found as a result of vulnerability analysis, a vulnerability disclosure may be required. The person or organization that discovers the vulnerability, or a responsible industry body such as the Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT), may make the disclosure. If the vulnerability is not classified as a high level threat, the vendor may be given a certain amount of time to fix the problem before the vulnerability is disclosed publicly.
The third stage of vulnerability analysis (identifying potential threats) is sometimes performed by a white hat using ethical hacking techniques. Using this method to assess vulnerabilities, security experts deliberately probe a network or system to discover its weaknesses. This process provides guidelines for the development of countermeasures to prevent a genuine attack.