Strengthening Cyber Defenses: Guide to VAPT in Cyber Security

Anwita

Anwita

Mar 31, 2024

In late 2019, US government agencies were grappling with what unfolded to be one of the most sophisticated hacking campaigns – Russian intelligence injected a trojan virus into their network management system provided by a third party. The exploiters briefly managed to gain remote access to sensitive data because the US agencies trusted untested software. While incidents of this magnitude are rare, security breaches are regular. But thanks to VAPT in cyber security, you can minimize its possibility. 

If you don’t want your organization’s defenses to be breached and become part of cybersecurity statistics of breaches and data theft, implementing VAPT is a good practice to mitigate potential vulnerabilities.

Let’s explore what VAPT means in the context of cyber security, its principles, the advantages of VAPT, and how you can get started.

What is VAPT in cyber security?

Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing (VAPT) in cyber security is a process used to identify and analyze security flaws across systems and software using a set of tools or techniques. VAPT is an umbrella term that combines two components of security – detection (vulnerability assessment) and defense (penetration testing) to offer a holistic approach to improve the overall security posture.

Principles of VAPT at a glance

There are three ways(principles) to approach VAPT in cyber security. Let’s quickly understand these:

White box testing

The test has a full understanding of how the functionalities of the system – source code, documents, internal structures, workflow. This transparency allows testers to conduct tests much faster and build a granular analysis on the findings. 

Black box testing

In this case, the tester has no knowledge of the functionalities, codes, architecture, and structures. The purpose is to imitate real malicious attacks – the tester stimulates an intrusion and analyzes the system responses.

Gray box testing

As a balance between the two, gray box testing provides some information to the tester about the application. The idea is to identify errors due to improper configuration.

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Why is VAPT essential and what are its benefits?

VAPT helps IT teams identify security weaknesses in existing and new networks, applications, and assets. This exercise is often run before new versions/products are deployed that are accessible for use at scale. Malicious actors look for gaps to exploit IT infrastructures and compromise its integrity and confidentiality.

In a bid to counter continuously evolving threats, new defense technologies are launched every day. As cyber defense mechanisms grow stronger, cybercriminals develop ways to penetrate secure systems in new ways while becoming proficient in bypassing older VAPT guardrails. To win against malicious actors, your team needs to stay ahead in the game by deploying VAPT solutions that are future-first.

VAPT is not just to keep Cybercriminals at bay anymore. Concerned by the alarming number of incidents globally, regulatory frameworks & laws have included a plethora of security-related requirements and VAPT is one of them. Conducting VAPT periodically and demonstrating a security posture that includes deployment of technical measures based on the findings of the VAPT report is a requirement in PCI DSS.

One of the best practices is to patch gaps once identified, rather than taking corrective actions post-disaster. VAPT helps you proactively fix risks in your product than addressing them after a breach attempt. A report by IBM shows many businesses learnt this the hard way, as 57% of organizations had to increase the price of their service to recover from the loss caused by a data breach.

Types of Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing 

Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing is a broad term that has multiple use cases across your IT ecosystem. Here are some of the most common assets that the scope of a VAPT instance includes:

Network pen testing

Network pen testing provides insights into the security flaws of your organization’s network and its connected systems like firewalls, routers, DNS, etc. Scanning the network for vulnerabilities surfaces gaps like risks in sensitive data, compliance requirements, and firewall strength.

Mobile application pen testing

Pen testing for mobile applications helps to scan vulnerabilities and loopholes within native, hybrid, and progressive web apps. An effective pen test surfaces issues like misconfigured platform security controls, insecure data storage, insecure authentication protocols, poor code quality, reverse engineering, and more.

API pen testing

An application programming interface test helps to validate if it can withstand a wide range of attacks. You can address common API security gaps like excessive data exposure, security misconfiguration, poor asset management, insufficient monitoring, and SQL injections.

Cloud pen testing

Cloud penetration testing evaluates the gaps of the components in your cloud infrastructure such as system configurations, encryptions, passwords, databases, and more. Cloud service providers like AWS and Microsoft Azure provide policy for their customers to conduct security assessments.

Web application pen testing

Web application pen tests help to analyze the overall posture of your database, backend code bases, and more. Security teams can fix issues like cross site scripting, SQL injections, file upload errors, unauthenticated access, and caching server attacks.

Web application pen testing

Web application pen tests help to analyze the overall posture of your database, backend code bases, and more. Security teams can fix issues like cross site scripting, SQL injections, file upload errors, unauthenticated access, and caching server attacks. 

Check out: Best Penetration testing tools

How to get started with VAPT?

Get started by conducting VAPT internally or externally. Internal tests are usually conducted by an internal resource of your organization and the entire business environment is scanned for security gaps. External vulnerability scans are conducted by third-party organizations that specialize in penetrating secure systems. The approach to VAPT remains unchanged in both instances.

The VAPT process has multiple steps and here we’ve explained them all:

Set pre-test strategies

Before starting your VAPT instance, it is a good practice to define details of the instance and assign process based owners. The details include:

  • Who is responsible for which activity?
  • Which operating system will you use?
  • What type of testing (black/gray/white box) is required?
  • Do you clearly understand client expectations or your expectations (if this is an internal run)?
  • Have you set up a process to prioritize vulnerabilities based on risk level? Have you defined risk levels?
  • Have you set a clear timeline to conduct each phase?
  • What security controls will you implement to address the gaps?

Once you have answered these questions, let’s start testing.

Start scanning

An important step in VAPT, scanning helps your team gain visibility into how the system or application will respond to different intrusion attempts. You can do this using static or dynamic analysis.

Static analysis examines the system thoroughly by evaluating codes or application binaries for vulnerabilities in one go without actually executing the code. You should conduct it during the early stages of development.

Dynamic analysis is performed when the system is running to find errors in real time. It surfaces vulnerabilities that static tests fail to find. This process takes longer as it includes both functional and non functional testing. Dynamic analysis is performed at a matured stage of development.

Attack!

Time to launch the attack. At this stage, pen testers aim to penetrate your systems using cross-site scripting, SQL injection, exploit scripts, custom scripts, backdoors, etc. Testers attempt to gain access into confidential data, damage data, or try to encrypt it to prevent authorized personnel from accessing it. They may also try to access more systems using compromised systems.

Analyze

Now that you know the risks, collaborate with your team to understand the gaps.

  • What was the weakest point of entry?
  • What are the levels of threats?
  • Which systems are the most vulnerable?
  • Which data was most susceptible to a compromise?
  • How much data can you lose during an incident?
  • How long did it take to break into the system?
  • How long does my incident management plan currently take to resume business continuance?

Answering these questions will help your security administrators set up a strong posture.

Set up guardrails

The final stage of VAPT is remediation. Now that you know what brought your walls down, gather the tools to build it up and make them stronger. Implementing security best practices that combine technical, physical, and administrative controls is an effective approach to strengthening your posture. These include access management, continuous monitoring, compliance automation, anti-malware system, encryption, sandboxing, and cloud security – just to mention a few.

Check out: Best Vulnerability Scanning Tools

How to choose a VAPT provider?

Here are a few things to keep in mind before finalizing your VAPT partner:

Understand your requirements, goals, and customer expectations. Elements like IT infrastructure, type of data, and applicable compliance standards are also important factors to evaluate.

Check if your partner has a proven record of successfully helping similar businesses or products launch. Check for certifications like Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP), or Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP).

Evaluate your partner’s tools, technologies, and methodologies. Inquire about the guides, scanners, frameworks, and processes they use for the end-to-end process.

Check their reporting capabilities. The report can make or break your product’s success. A detailed report comprehensively listing the vulnerabilities with a C-level summary.

 False positives are dangerous as they reduce engineering bandwidth and make it difficult to prioritize risks. To ensure lower number of false positives and improve accuracy, partner with a tester who relies on manual testing more than automated ones.

Conclusion

Did you know that one of the best ways to strengthen your security posture is by adopting a compliance framework with comprehensive guidelines on best practices, processes, and strategies? 

Sprinto, a compliance automation solution, actively monitors your IT environment for security gaps, collects evidence, and recommends ways to patch security holes. 

 We periodically conduct tests for third party solutions and patch vulnerabilities using pre-defined SLAs as soon as they surface. Additionally, we partner with some of the most reputed VAPT partners globally who helped hundreds of customers improve their security posture. 

Contact us to get certified on popular frameworks and close more sales deals!

FAQs

How often should you conduct VAPT for cyber security?

While VAPT is a continuous process rather than a one-time activity, you should strictly conduct VAPT whenever you deploy a new application, tool, or system.

What are the components of vulnerability assessment?

The components of vulnerability assessment include understanding the scope, scanning for vulnerabilities, analyzing the findings, and implementing corrective actions.

How does VAPT defend against data breaches?

VAPT helps security teams gain insight into the possible vulnerabilities and patch the system security issues before deploying the product.

Anwita

Anwita

Anwita is a cybersecurity enthusiast and veteran blogger all rolled into one. Her love for everything cybersecurity started her journey into the world compliance. With multiple certifications on cybersecurity under her belt, she aims to simplify complex security related topics for all audiences. She loves to read nonfiction, listen to progressive rock, and watches sitcoms on the weekends.

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