Identifying System Vulnerabilities

Vulnerabilities can be identified by numerous means. Different risk management schemes offer different methodologies for identifying vulnerabilities. In general, start with commonly available vulnerability lists or control areas. Then, working with the system owners or other individuals with knowledge of the system or organization, start to identify the vulnerabilities that apply to the system. Specific vulnerabilities can be found by reviewing vendor web sites and public vulnerability archives, such as Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE - http://cve.mitre.org) or the National Vulnerability Database (NVD - http://nvd.nist.gov). If they exist, previous risk assessments and audit reports are the best place to start.


Additionally, while the following tools and techniques are typically used to evaluate the effectiveness of controls, they can also be used to identify vulnerabilities:

• Vulnerability Scanners – Software that can examine an operating system, network application or code for known flaws by comparing the system (or system responses to known stimuli) to a database of flaw signatures.
• Penetration Testing – An attempt by human security analysts to exercise threats against the system. This includes operational vulnerabilities, such as social engineering
• Audit of Operational and Management Controls – A thorough review of operational and management controls by comparing the current documentation to best practices (such as ISO 17799) and by comparing actual practices against current documented processes.

It is invaluable to have a base list of vulnerabilities that are always considered during every risk assessment in the organization. This practice ensures at least a minimum level of consistency between risk assessments. Moreover, vulnerabilities discovered during past assessments of the system should be included in all future assessments. Doing this allows management to understand that past risk management activities have been effective.
 
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