With attack surfaces rapidly expanding as government agencies add cloud capabilities and incorporate hybrid work solutions, the issue isn’t going away. Instead, attackers are ramping up their efforts as undetected vulnerabilities become the norm rather than the exception.
Vulnerability and penetration testing (VAPT) can help state and local governments gain increased visibility across networks and reduce the time required to respond. Here’s how.
What Is Vulnerability and Penetration Testing?
VAPT combines the disciplines of discovery, analysis and exploitation to help agencies reduce total risk. Vulnerability assessment comes first and is the process of exploring networks to find and analyze potential weak points. Penetration testing then leverages these weak points to simulate an attack and provide agencies with actionable data on effective mitigation strategies.
Jim Richberg, public sector field CISO and vice president of information security for Fortinet, puts it simply: “Vulnerability assessment and penetration testing is an evaluation method that enables organizations to review their systems for potential security weaknesses and can help improve the security measures of organizations’ networks and systems.”
He notes that while VAPT programs may focus on specific elements of an IT environment, such as network connections, applications, servers or databases, “all of them focus on identifying, analyzing and remediating potential vulnerabilities.”
Once vulnerabilities have been identified and exploited, data gained from penetration testing exercises provides actionable insight that security teams can use to address specific issues and inform long-term cybersecurity investments.
How Can VAPT Benefit State Agencies?
VAPT programs offer several benefits for state and local agencies, including:
- Improved cyber hygiene. “A robust VAPT program can conduct regular cyber hygiene checks such as automated scans of web applications, networks and cybersecurity protocols to detect warning signs of vulnerabilities,” Richberg says.
- Early attack detection. VAPT efforts also make it possible to minimize the gap between attack inception and detection. “For example, network scanners can detect suspicious activity around packets and help identify potential vectors for intrusions early in the attack cycle,” he says.
- Protection against high-risk threats. Once VAPT programs have identified and analyzed the scope and scale of existing vulnerabilities, agencies can take specific action to guard against common high-risk threats. Consider ransomware: If assessments discover weaknesses in user identity and authentication management (IAM) solutions, agencies can proactively implement solutions such as multifactor authentication or zero-trust network architecture to reduce their total risk.
- Customized defense creation. Richberg also highlights the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence tools to rapidly build out customized, application-specific defenses that provide a layered approach to overall network protection.