Vulnerability assessors are professionals who help organizations identify vulnerabilities to data breaches and develop strategies for addressing them. Vulnerability assessors can work with IT professionals, security operations teams, and other stakeholders to catalog network deficiencies, create detailed vulnerability assessments, and mitigate cybersecurity risk for the entire organization.
In the ever-changing cybersecurity environment, the importance of vulnerability assessment cannot be overstated. A study by Verizon found that 90% of all data breaches were because of preventable vulnerabilities that would not have existed with earlier intervention.
What is Vulnerability Assessment?
Vulnerability assessors are cybersecurity professionals who help organizations identify potential threats to their systems and conduct vulnerability assessments to appraise all aspects of an organization’s information security infrastructure. The goal is to identify any areas that need improvement before attackers can exploit them.
Vulnerability assessment, as a profession, can go by various names. For instance, you may see these titles associated with the role:
- Ethical Hacker
- Vulnerability Analyst
- Internal Enterprise Auditor
- Network Security Engineer
- Information Security Analyst
- Reverse Engineer
- Vulnerability Manager
Regardless of title, vulnerability assessors are professionals tasked with identifying cybersecurity liabilities. Once identified, weaknesses are prioritized for resolution by the following criteria: risk level, the likelihood of occurrence, impact on the system if exploited, and cost-effectiveness.
The most common tools used in vulnerability assessments include network scanners and web application scanners that help identify vulnerabilities in a company’s network. Vulnerability assessors can also use web applications, such as SQL injection flaws or cross-site scripting bugs to conduct the security check. These tools work by scanning an organization’s entire network or web applications for known software flaws that attackers who have access to the network could exploit.
What is the Role of a Vulnerability Assessor?
Vulnerability assessors test for security holes in company systems, looking for ways a hacker could access sensitive information or disrupt the company’s operations. Using various tools to conduct assessments, including scanning software and data gathering applications, they examine the company’s policies regarding system access and permissions and its physical security measures.
They may also help companies develop new strategies for addressing cybersecurity threats, such as creating an incident response plan detailing a step-by-step plan in the case of a data breach. They may conduct a vulnerability evaluation as part of an overall risk assessment or periodically throughout the year, depending on the organization’s needs. In addition to identifying weaknesses within an organization’s system, this process can help companies identify areas where they can improve overall security.
They may also develop action plans for relieving potential damage by implementing security controls, such as firewalls or intrusion detection systems. Generally, their responsibilities include:
- Identifying potential threats to computer systems, networks, applications and software
- Analyzing potential solutions
- Implementing strategies to protect against threats identified during testing (e.g., installing security patches)
- Developing policies that outline the acceptable use of technology resources at work or school (e.g., setting file-sharing rules)
Vulnerability assessment allows organizations to identify and prioritize the most critical weaknesses in their security posture. It also enables them to determine the best ways to fix these weaknesses and protect their systems from attacks.
Vulnerability Assessment Versus Penetration Testing
Another role similar to a vulnerability assessor is that of a penetration tester, sometimes called a ‘pen’ tester or ethical hacker. Vulnerability assessment and penetration testing are both used to test the security of a system but are different in that vulnerability assessment is a passive method of identifying vulnerabilities.
Penetration testing is an active method of exploiting through a direct and thorough evaluation. A penetration tester will check for vulnerabilities in a network and its devices by breaking into the system as if they were an outside hacker trying to gain access.
Vulnerability assessment doesn’t imitate a hacker. Instead, it uses automated tools to scan the entire network for security holes that could allow attackers to gain access or cause damage. They typically store the results of these scans in a report highlighting areas where problems exist to fix before real hackers find them.
Given the specialized nature of vulnerability analysis, few people qualify for these positions. With that in mind, organizations and companies are constantly looking for talented individuals with the right experience and skills to fill these jobs.
Skills and Qualities of Vulnerability Assessors
How a vulnerability assessor interacts with the people they are assessing is crucial to the success of their work. Vulnerability assessors must be able to build trust with the clients they are working with and sensitively handle any personal information that may come up during the assessment process.
Vulnerability assessors must be technically proficient, as they need to understand how systems work to assess them properly. They should also have experience working with data security issues, as these are critical factors in determining the level of risk in any system.
The ideal candidate for this position would have an education in computer science, mathematics, or engineering. A background in statistics might also be valuable. Expertise in programming languages like C++, Java, and Python is needed since these are the languages used to write software that protects computers from viruses and other cyberattacks.
Vulnerability assessors also need to know how to communicate well with others; they must explain their findings clearly so their clients can understand the risks involved in keeping their systems unsecured. Many companies don’t have the time or resources to do this themselves, so they hire outside experts.
Good knowledge of security protocols is necessary, as is expertise regarding how the malware operates and how it reaches its target systems.
Job Outlook and Salary Potential
While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not include information on vulnerability assessors, it does include data on computer system analysts, which requires similar skills, qualifications and education. The BLS predicts a 9% rise in job opportunities for computer system analysts between 2021 and 2031. The salary potential also looks promising.
According to BLS, the median salary of a computer system analyst is approximately $99,270 per year. Depending on location and position, some professionals in the field earn as much as $158,010 annually.
Becoming a Vulnerability Assessor: Education and Training
Generally, a good first step toward growing career prospects in the cybersecurity industry is to earn education in a relevant field, such as computer science, information technology, cybersecurity, or a related field.
A more advanced option is Florida Tech’s Master of Business Administration with a Concentration in Cybersecurity which prepares graduates as cybersecurity professionals and managers. The curriculum aims to provide students with the knowledge and skills to understand how information systems work, identify vulnerabilities, and develop strategies to manage and reduce risks.
Students learn about various aspects of computer forensics, such as investigation techniques, computer networking protocol analysis, and malware analysis. The program also covers issues related to information assurance, such as cryptography, electronic commerce security, and network security.