The System and Organization Controls (SOC) compliance framework sets the standards of a secure information architecture. By design, the framework leaves a high degree of flexibility to allow businesses to make their own decisions regarding how they ensure the security and privacy of their information assets. This is primarily because every service provider has different needs and systems.
Having this level of flexibility means it’s up to individual auditing firms (those accredited by the AICPA) to decide whether or not to mandate certain measures, such as vulnerability scanning and penetration testing. Due to the proactive nature of continuous vulnerability scanning, it's a vital practice for determining and maintaining a high cybersecurity maturity level.
What is Vulnerability Scanning?
Continuous vulnerability scanning is a proactive measure that focuses on preventing security breaches before they become a threat. Critical network vulnerabilities can result in serious problems ranging from data breaches and compliance failures. In sports, as in IT security, the best defense is a good offense, so a proactive approach is crucial.
The first step towards implementing regular vulnerability scanning is building an updated inventory of systems connected to your network. This includes physical endpoints, such as laptops, servers, and desktops, as well as software-based resources like virtual machines, cloud apps, and storage. The inventory should also cover networking hardware and systems, such as routers, switches, and firewalls.
The vulnerability scanner will then identify and monitor every system, such as which operating system is running, which ports are open, and which user accounts are accessing it. Being an event-based measure, vulnerability scanners attempt to log into systems using default or other credentials to provide maximum visibility into your network and security posture.
Finally, the system will check every item in the inventory against databases of known vulnerabilities. With the assistance of a managed services provider (MSP), this process will be augmented by expert manual review, as well as cutting-edge solutions involving AI and machine learning.
External vulnerability scanning can help you achieve SOC 2 compliance in five ways:
- Reducing costs
- Staying ahead of cyber threats
- Gaining an outsider's perspective of your security
- Maintaining compliance and security (at scale)
- Enabling a cycle of endless improvement (one of our Charles IT core values!)
5 Ways Vulnerability Scanning Helps with SOC 2 Data Security
1. Reduce the cost burden on your business
The costs of a serious data breach can easily run into hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. According to a 2022 report published by IBM, the average cost of a data breach in the United States is 9.44 million dollars. On top of that, there are indirect costs like reputational damage, which are often difficult to quantify. Even if sensitive client data doesn’t end up exposed during a security incident, the costs of remediation incurred by factors like extended downtime are far higher than the proactive measures needed to prevent such incidents from occurring in the first place. As such, vulnerability scanning reduces unexpected costs by reducing risk.
2. Stay one step ahead of cyber threats
Bad actors (cybercriminals) use an increasingly wide and sophisticated range of tools and tactics to penetrate business networks. It's not enough to react to an incident, today you always need to stay one step ahead. Often, this means using similar tactics to those that cybercriminals use. For example, attackers often use readily available port scanners to detect open and unprotected entryways into your network. Vulnerability scanning works in much the same way, giving you a chance to close the gaps before attackers can exploit them.
3. Gain an outside perspective on your IT security
Although you should never underestimate the prevalence of insider threats, most attacks are perpetrated from the outside. That’s why it’s so important to have an up-to-date, external perspective on the state of your security. While many organizations rely solely on in-house resources, it’s also easier to miss something important when you only have an internal perspective. External vulnerability scanning and penetration testing use the same tactics as cybercriminals and work like a simulated attack. This realm of IT security strategy is part of a rapidly growing area known as white-hat hacking.
4. Maintain compliance and security at scale
You can’t protect what you don’t know, just as you can’t expect to achieve compliance if you don’t have complete visibility into your network architecture.
Pop Quiz: Can you list all your company assets and indicate how they're being protected?
Many businesses aren’t sure where all their assets lie, nor which controls are in place to protect them. Given the rapid proliferation and diversification of digital systems, it’s not so easy. Achieving a decent level of security maturity becomes exponentially harder at scale; we don't want decent; we want best-in-class IT security! Vulnerability scanning helps not only achieve SOC 2 compliance but also prepare for other audits and certifications.
5. Enable a cycle of continuous improvement
As technology continues to evolve, so do the tactics cybercriminals use to exploit it. What may have worked perfectly yesterday might be less effective tomorrow. This is why businesses must think in terms of continuous improvement and adaptation. Continuous vulnerability scanning paired with regular, quarterly reviews and audits help you keep up with the changing world. This also allows you to patch newly discovered vulnerabilities and innovate quickly without adding unnecessary risk to your operations.
Fun Fact: A core value at Charles IT is "endless improvement," and if you spend some time in our office, you will hear the term more times than you can count...that's how much we believe in it!
Charles IT provides external vulnerability scanning services to help you identify possible issues and meet the demands of compliance at scale. Contact us today to find out more!
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in January 2021 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.